Monday, 30 June 2014

Oh Canada, Our Giant Tie Dye Flag

     Happy Canada Day!  This year, for whatever reason I am so completely unprepared!  I have to agree with Christopher this time.  He always says that we do better on the odd years, and worse on even years. When he first said this I rolled my eyes and mentally called him an idiot.  This year I have been so scatter brained, and just the polar opposite of organized, that I hate to admit he may have a valid point!
    At our house Canada Day is a big deal.  In years past I have made the kids complete outfits with Canadian Flag inspired prints.  Every year Tweed has this neat little Canada Day parade.  Everyone is welcome to join in.  My kids have been taking part in this little parade for the last 15 years.  They love it!  This year I decided to be a little creative.  I have to admit that I am pretty pleased with Grace and my project.  We used an old white sheet and made a giant tie dye, Canada Flag.

    I consider myself pretty crafty, but I will admit my faults (in crafting and artistic ability only).  I stink at drawing, much and all as I would love to be gifted.  I know my limitations.  To create a template for our maple leaf, I used an entire sheet of bristol board.  I folded it in half, and traced out a maple leaf that had come as an insert in our week-end paper.  I then attempted to enlarge said insert, free hand.

    When I had created my stencil, I took all of my craft supplies outside.  I decided that I would much rather get red fabric paint on my deck, than on my floor, fridge, table, everything else.  I folded my sheet in half and used clothes pegs to mark the middle.  I then centered my stencil between my two clothes pins.

     I used a Tulip brand fabric dye spray to begin our project.  It was just not enough, so I ended up mixing red acrylic paint and fabric medium with a little water in a spray bottle.  This went on really well, and also allowed Grace and I to both work at the same time.

    We let the stenciled maple leaf dry a little before moving on to the tie dye process.  When it did not seem like our maple leaf would run, we folded the sheet accordion style and put a big elastic around it to create the line that would separate the white from the red on our flag.
   When we had separated the areas of the flag, we then added our elastics to the sides that would be red.  We did it the same as you would to tie dye a shirt.  We then sprayed each end with our red fabric dye.

    When we had covered the ends in red fabric paint we let it sit for a few minutes.  When the paint looked like it had set a bit, I very carefully hung it on the clothes line to dry.  My hands looked a little like I had committed a grisly murder.
    As we speak that giant flag is still on the clothes line.  I am really happy with the outcome of our project.  It was fun because it was just Gracie and I working on it.  When she came out and saw it on the line she let out a gasp of delight.  It was easy and inexpensive and most importantly it was a lot of fun.
    At this point you may be thinking that we are ever so clever, but asking yourselves why on earth would anyone need a giant Canadian flag.  My plan is for the kids to all hold it, like a giant parachute in the Canada Day parade.  In my head it looks awesome, the wind gathering under it, causing it to billow.  It may or may not happen like that.  Most likely, one of the kids will drop their end, and the others will trod all over my work of art, that is the most likely outcome.  Whatever the out come, making it was fun.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Maple Glazed Salmon

    A few years back we had a family vacation to Florida.  Yes, our primary reason for said vacation was to visit Disney World, but I insisted that we see more than just cartoon characters while in Florida.  One of these Non-Cartoon destinations was St. Augustine.
    St. Augustine boasts to be the longest occupied city in North America.  It also had an amazing restaurant called "Harry's".  At Harry's I ordered maple glazed salmon.  It was like angels sang, and the rays of the sun shone only on me.  From that day forward I have searched for that maple glaze recipe.

    After a few years of searching I believe that I have found something similar.  The angel's sing and the clouds part to emit celestial rays of sunshine.  I searched the internet and of all places found this recipe in Canadian Living, a magazine that I have been given as a gift from Christopher's parents since we were married!  The best part is it's only like three ingredients... how easy is that!

    My children who will all venomously tell you that they "hate salmon", actually liked it.  Not only did they like it, they asked for seconds.  This after I had to force them to try it!  I served it with my mixed rice casserole , and asparagus.  There was not a scrap left on any of the plates!  All of this after Riley complains every single meal that she "hates" eating healthy food.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

What You Need To Rember About Soccer Coaches

    Soccer season is just minutes away from being over for another year.  I rejoice at this.  My kids love soccer season, and the big kids love having their Dad for their coach.  Christopher loves being a coach. I believe that Gabe was 5 or 6 when Christopher began his coaching career (putting that at 15 years-ish)
He gets a big charge out of it when he sees kids that he's coached over the years and he gets a big "Hi Coach".  He has made an impression on many children's lives.
    Over the years he has coached some hum dinger kids and had to deal with many a pain in the butt crazy parent.  He has had belligerent parents screaming in his face,m spittle flying that he wasn't playing their kid enough.  He has had fathers (it's pretty much fathers) screaming at their own children, putting way too much pressure on them.  One boy he coached just crumbled and began to sob when he let a ball thought the goal, because he knew that his father would loose it on him.  Too often parents forget that this is house league and it's supposed to be fun.  For the last few years Christopher has had one win.  That's it, one win in about three seasons.  He's o.k. with that because his team is having fun.  None of the kids has ever complained to him about their lack of a win.  He jokes that if this was a paying gig he would have been fired.

    Here is what we as parents need to remember, these people, these coaches are volunteering their time.  That means that they work their regular job, do their regular chores around the house and then put time into planning practices, worrying about your child, then going out and actually coaching.  Yes at the beginning of the year you paid money for your child to play.  That money goes toward insurance for the association, it pays for the refs, oh heck I don't know everything it pays, but I do know what it does not pay.  It does not pay the coaches.  These people (and it's generally the exact same people every single year) are giving you their time, free of charge.  They are stealing from their private lives so that they can share themselves with your child(ren).

    At the end of the school season most of us purchase a small gift for our children's teacher.  We want to show them our thanks for the year that they have given to our child(ren).  It's something that we do freely, knowing that these individuals are paid, this is their job.  We know that this is their profession, but we also know that they spend their non-teaching time thinking about their students, wanting the best for them.  Very few of us bat an eye about purchasing a gift.  How many of us do the same for the individuals who have donated their time time to our children?  Somehow we feel that paying for the sport is all we need to do.  We forget that we also are out of pocket for paying for teachers it's just it's under the big title of "taxes", and we don't think about it.  Please don't get me wrong I am NOT anti-teacher.  I love teachers, they do something that I could never do.  My point is that most of us forget that our children's coaches are not paid.
    Here is what I have to admit, over the years this is something that I have been guilty of myself.  I have never taken the hardcore stance that "I paid money, and I'm not spending a penny more!"  I have more just forgotten that these individuals are not being paid to help my child.  This year I remedied that situation, Elly and I made a gesture of gratitude.
    Christopher does not have the patience to coach the little ones.  He loves coaching, and has promised Elly that he will coach her, just not quite yet.  Elly had a lovely coach, and an adorable assistant coach. They made a difference.  They were out there encouraging this group of little rug rats.  This is the first introduction that most of them have had to the game of soccer.  These are 3, 4 and 5 year olds.  They are sitting in the grass picking flowers, they are running off the field mid game, in other words they are being 3, 4 and 5 year olds.  Through it all there were her coaches laughing and praising these little tikes.
    My go to gift for coaches, well heck everyone is a Tim Horton's gift card.  You just can't go wrong with a gift card.  Even if you don't like coffee, there's something you will like.  The problem is that both of her coaches work at Tim Hortons.  They are probably so tired of Tim Hortons that a gift card there for them would be an insult.  Elly and I got creative, we made them shirts!

    Elly loves doing crafts, oh heck who am I kidding, I LOVE doing crafts!  Selfishly sometimes our homemade gifts have more to do with how much fun we have making them, than the gratitude they are meant to express.  I purchased bright t-shirts and Michael's.  I went with bright shirts because both of these ladies are bright and shiny in their personalities.  We used a stencil for some.  I loved the look of concentration on Elly's face.

    We delivered our gifts to her coaches.  Elly was so proud to give them something that she herself had made for them.   By giving thanks to her coaches we are accomplishing a bunch of things at once.
First we are acknowledging that we know that these ladies have donated their time to help my child.  Although the gift itself has low monetary value, it has huge value in gratitude.
Second we are teaching our children by example.  I want to raise thoughtful, grateful children.  I do not want them for one second to think that the world owes them anything.  When someone does you a kindness you owe it to them and to yourself to acknowledge that kindness whether through words or words and action.
Third I want them to experience the joy of giving, of gratitude.  I want them to realize that when we give thanks to someone it not only feels nice to be acknowledged, but it feels wonderful to give.

    Thank you coaches.  Thank you for your time, for your commitment to our children.  Without you our children would loose the opportunity to play sports, to be a part of a team, to have fun.  To those of you who feel unappreciated I want to let you know that you are.  Perhaps not everyone is going to thank you, but I guarantee that they are grateful.  I also guarantee that they speak of you around their house.  You are making a difference in the lives of children.  Thank you.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Yeah, My Kid Just Won an Award ... AGAIN!

      I still remember that dejected look on Gabe's face, every award day at school.  He would come home, his head hung, "Today was the Terrific Kid's assembly at school, guess what?  I didn't win again.  Do you think I will ever win an award?"  I would wrap him in my arms, tears in my eyes, aching for his heart, "I think you're terrific" I would tell him, as if that was actually any comfort.  "You have to say that, you're my Mom".  Every time it was always the same kids that won those stupid awards.  I would get so angry.  It wasn't fair!  Oh, I know "it's not fair" sounds so childish, and yes I did always want to accompany it with a foot stamp. Gabe was a great kid, he was smart, and funny but just not a browner!  My poor little boy never did win an award.
    Rowan is following closely in his big brother's foot steps, no Terrific Kid awards, no medallions.  This time it's different, maybe even a little harder.  It still seems unfair that he continuously gets overlooked, but at the same time his sisters are cleaning house for awards.  My thinking has changed, the injustice no longer seems quite as stinging.  I've discovered a different train of thought, much to my own personal chagrin.
    Yesterday was the end of the school year.  The evening before Christopher took a call from the twin's teacher, Riley had won an award.  Riley has so many awards that she could never really hope to display them all in one place.  The thing is Riley deserves them all, this had never occurred to me in all of my years steaming over the injustice of the system.  This fact seemed to have floated over my head during all of those years.
    My Riley is a type "A" personality.  She is headstrong, and determined.  She has this unyielding moral compass.  I don't say this in a boastful way, but in a factual way.  The thing is, this is not always a great thing to live with.  She digs her heels in.  We have always said that Riley would go toe to toe with Satan.  The only way she will ever be lead down the wrong track is if she is at the front of the pack leading the rest of them.  She knows what she likes and is usually quite inflexible when it comes to a battle of wills, which she and I come to several times a day.  Case in point yesterday morning.  We wanted to surprise her with the award (even though she asked every single day if the school had called to say that she had won an award).  Yesterday morning I suggested that she wear something nice for the last day of school.  She has gotten into the is irritating habit of wearing comfy clothes, that while comfy, do not look great.  She was bound and determined that she wanted to wear the shorts and t-shirt that she had on.  I took out this beautiful panda bear dress that my sister had bought her.  "Just go and try on this beautiful dress that your Dee Dee got you."  "No, I want to wear what I'm wearing".   In the end there was a shouting match, and I ended up screaming at her that she had won an award and I wanted her to look nice!"  She looked beautiful, but it was a hard won battle.
   Riley is the type of person that if she does not succeed, she will exhaust herself until she has mastered what at first she did not succeed at.  She works hard.  There is no accident to her winning all of those awards, she has worked her butt off for every single one, while her laid back brothers sat back.  When I say sat back, I don't mean in a lazy way (although honestly that is pretty close to it).  Both of my boys have not really cared to push their own boundaries, they are/ were far too comfortable in the skin that they are in.  Rowan and Gabe before him, is very laid back. He just kind of goes with the flow.  This is much easier to live with, but does not bring a truck load of awards.  Sometimes I worry for Riley because she is so driven that if there comes a time that she does not succeed she will be mentally unprepared for it.
    We sat in the audience of the clean and bright school gym.  Riley and Rowan's teacher was up on the stage describing the criteria for this award, the Citizenship Award.  "This person is a strong peer helper!  Willing to help anyone and everyone do anything whether it's fun or not.  She leads by example.  She displays a positive attitude not just to staff, but fellow students.  She is involved in extra curricular activities and is very involved in her community."  All of these things were true.  Riley was the one who this year who wanted to sell Rainbow Loom bracelets to raise money for ALS.  She deserved that award, the criteria sounded like it had been created specifically for her (it wasn't).
    My girls are over achievers.  They want to be their best, to make a difference in their world.  I would like to say that they have learned by the example that their father and I have set for them, but that does not explain my boys.  My girls work hard at school.  When I look at both sides of this once injustice I see that individuals who work hard should be rewarded.  An award means nothing if everyone gets a turn to win it, with no work involved.  Yes it is the same families in that school gym every single year, and yet when I look at the children who win those awards every time, they share those same over achiever qualities.  They are those students who strive to be their best, and honestly aren't those the people who deserve to win awards?   I still feel badly for my Rowan, and my Gabe, but life is not always fair.  If life was fair then no one would work hard to overcome adversity.  No one would strive to be their best.  There would be no technological advancement, there would be no cures for diseases.  This world needs type A's and it also needs the laid back people, it needs everyone to make life better.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Mrs. Bateman's Teacher's Gift

    Today was the last day of school... YEAH!  I say YEAH, but it was a really amazing year for all of the kids.  I couldn't have asked for better teachers for all four kids.  To me it means everything to know that the adult my child is spending more time with than me, is having a positive influence on their future.   That sounds ridiculous, but it is so true.  Think back on your own school career.  Think about the teachers that were wonderful and inspired you to be your best, now think about the teachers who made you feel small, less than.  I spend the majority of my time as a parent building my children up, but it only takes a hurtful, careless word from an adult authority figure to tumble that self-esteem tower down.  The kids spend so much of their year with these adults that we as parents do not pick.  If you think about it, so much could go wrong, and yet for my children, so much has been right.
    We have been blessed to have beautiful supportive teachers for our children, most especially this year.  One of those beautiful teachers was Elly's.  Elly's teacher,  Mrs. Bateman taught Riley and Rowan before her.  She is that rare gentle, beautiful soul who encourages "her" children to be their best.  I say "her" children because that is the way she treats them.  When you catch her looking at the students in her class, she has this ethereal look of love on her face for the most part.  She has a gentle voice that encourages them.  She has warm arms always ready to embrace them when they need that.  She doesn't care if she may look silly to adults she will dance and sing with her children, basking in their innocent joy.  She is that rare gem in teaching.  If I could hand pick a teacher for my children, Mrs. Bateman would be it.  She is that gentle introduction to school.  She encourages them to take risks academically, but allows them to feel safe to make mistakes.
I do not have enough words to sing her praises, there is only one huge fault with our beautiful Mrs. Bateman, she decided to retire at the end of this school year.

    The question is what do you get as an end of school gift for an amazing teacher, an amazing teacher who will never again receive another end of the year gift.  I try to give thoughtful gifts for teachers, most especially the great ones.  Christopher's sister Shannon is a teacher, and I know that she could safely have no hydro for ten years and never be without light.  The scented candle is a favourite teacher gift.  She also has enough mugs and Tim's cards to give coffee to the town of Acton.  Because I think that it is a thoughtful gift, doesn't mean that said teacher will.  I try to stay away from cute child crafted gifts because honestly how many macaroni necklaces does anyone really need (or even want)?  Having said all of this I decided to ignore my own rules, just this once.  When Gabe went to nursery school, he had the most beautiful, kind hearted nursery school teacher.  As an end of the year gift I made her a pillow with Gabe's hand print in the center.  I was a young, poor mom at the time, and thought it was an adorable gift.  As I became the mother of more than one child and be came more worldly I often thought about what a lame gift that was.  If I was Maureen I would have tossed that cushion in the Good Will donation box.  I ran into a now retired Maureen a couple of years ago.  She made a point of telling me how much she had loved that cushion, and that it still sat on her couch, and every time she looked at it, it made her smile.  It was this memory which caused my change of heart for Mrs. Bateman's gift.

    For Mrs. Bateman's last gift from a class, Elly and I created a picture.  I cut down a piece of bristol board and placed it on the kitchen table.  My very excited little artist was chomping at the bit, too excited to get working on her teacher's gift.  I applied craft paint to her tiny baby hands, and she slapped it down, again and again onto that bristol board.  Her little face was just glowing with joy.  When we had finished her part, we put the picture up to dry.  When Christopher came in from work that night she dragged him over to see her art.  She was vibrating with excitement and pride.  That night I worked on highlighting her hand prints and making her adorable little finger and thumb prints look like lady bugs and bumble bees.  When she got up the next morning for school, the first thing she had to do is peek at her art.  She let out a gasp, "Oh Mommy", her little chubby hand clasped to the smile on her little rosebud mouth.  Her eyes twinkled with pride and delight.

    The night before she was going to give Mrs. Bateman her gift, I got out my poster paint markers. We discussed what she would like to write on her picture.  I wrote down what she transcribed.  She then copied my words, and added her own little bit.  When she wrote "from Elly" she added "and Mommy", and then "We love you Mrs. Bateman".  That night she could barely sleep for the excitement of giving her gift.

    I honestly don't know if Mrs. Bateman liked her gift, I mean she was an excellent actress and acted like she did.  It doesn't matter if she liked her gift or not.  I mean I really do want for her to have liked it.  If she didn't like it, she can always pop the picture out and use the picture frame.  What really matters is how much pride it gave Elly to give that gift.  She was so proud of the art that she had created for her beloved teacher.  Beautiful Mrs. Bateman acted like it was her most favourite gift EVER, and not in that fake way that I do.  This made Elly feel so important, so validated.  Oh Mrs. Bateman you are such an amazing teacher, and not just teacher, person, our school will not be quite the same without your warm smile.
   Happy summer!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

That's Me "The Embarrassing Mom"

    So today's blog was going to be on my whole food zealot line.  I had a thought however that I've been calling this "Whole Food", when really whole food would not include anything processed, and well I have been using some processed ingredients, I mean not really processed like cheese or meat... I digress.  The blog plan changed this morning after a conversation with my oldest daughter.  I mean I knew this day was coming and I thought that I would be o.k. with it, but thinking about and reality are quite different, as I have discovered.
    I have always considered myself a slightly cool Mom.  My kids would have begged to differ I'm sure right from the beginning, but it is a label I self affixed and planned to keep that label for a while.  I will admit that my sister Mandy takes the "Cool Mom" title, although I'm sure that her kids would beg to differ. She bounces on the trampoline with them, plays hockey and lacrosse, knows all the cool kid lingo, and she knows the Texting short forms.  I felt like I was up to date on music, and that made me cool. That is until Gabe's friend Ryan introduced me to "Scream-O", I had no idea it existed.  I thought that I was really pushing the wild boundaries because I like Linkin Park.  It was around this time that my "Cool Mom" label began to fray around the edges ever so slightly.
    Grace ripped that "Cool Mom" label off my chest like a hot wax treatment on a bear.  Last week Grace's class went on their end of the year class trip.  They had to be at the school early and picked up later.  I was sitting waiting for her when I noticed that one of the kid's in the class's Dad's had a back pack on, exiting the bus.  Hum.  Grace got into the van.  "How was your day?  Was it fun?" a noncommittal grunt was returned.  "Hey wasn't that Maggie's Dad I saw getting off the bus?"  Another noncommittal grunt "um-hum".  "I didn't know that they needed parent volunteers."  She is still looking straight ahead... "It was on the class blog."  Silence.  My brain is processing this, knowing what the answer is, but hoping it was just an over sight.  
    There was a time when my kids thought that I was a DemiGod.  They thought that I had super powers, super strength.  If there was a class trip, they would beg me to come.  I always knew that when I climbed those grey metal stairs of the school bus for class trips I would see the same Mom faces looking back at me.  My group was the one that all of the kids wanted to be in.  I was a cool Mom.  I knew that would fall off eventually, I knew that I would begin to get stupider and more embarrassing the older the kids got, I just wasn't prepared for it to be this soon.
    "You didn't want me to go on your trip ... did you?"  I said it with a smile (perhaps a little more pretend than completely authentic).  A slightly sheepish look crosses her face.  "Maggie's Dad was the only parent that went."  The lack of words shouted out volumes.  She has reached the age where she wants independence.  I would honestly be more worried if she didn't want independence at this age, but still it's a bitter pill even knowing that it's healthier.  I knew that those giant, foul tasting health food store vitamins my Mom fed us growing up were good for me, it didn't however improve their taste.
"I wanted to go on the trip by myself".  It was at this point that my evil alter persona came out.  "You know that I am signing up for your Quebec trip next year.  I'm going to ask that you and I share a room." She became horrified.  I'm not going on her trip next year, but you have to keep them guessing.
    This morning the kids were getting ready for school.  "Hey hon,"  I shouted into my shaving husband "did you know that your oldest daughter didn't want us on her class trip?"  A deeper "hum" reaches me from the bathroom (I do wonder where Grace gets it from).  "I think she finds us embarrassing."  I say "us", but we all know that it's "She thinks I'm embarrassing".  "Well Mom" she says rolling her eyes. This eye rolling thing is becoming increasingly more prevalent in our house.  "You told my teacher that his hair was 'cute'."  I am flabbergasted.  "I told him he suited his hair like that." "No Mom, you told him it was 'cute'"  "But it looks adorable."  Her face contorts into this look of horror mixed with revulsion, and just a hint of "I might puke".  "Mom, you don't say that to teachers!"  I am still stammering "But his hair really is adorable".  I think she thinks I'm hitting on her teacher!  Her teacher who is just a kid.  "You know he's only in his thirties right Mom?"  I'm not sure how being in one's thirties makes their hair any less adorable.  It also makes it sound like I'm in my 80's.  It is at this point that I surrender. Sometimes that is all you can do is surrender.
    So here I am, "Embarrassing Mom" badge taped onto my chest, over top of the raw weeping sores where my "Cool Mom" label once was.  I have three choices at this juncture in my parenting career.

#1.  Act like nothing has changed, I call this the ostridge option.

#2.  Try to prove your coolness, by dressing the part and learning all of the cool new lingos.  I call this     the peacock option.

#3.  Embrace the Embarrassing label.  It doesn't matter what you do, I mean you are going to be embarrassing, why not have a little fun with it.  I call this the demon spawn method.

As I write this I am leaning more towards a combination of #2 and #3.  I mean if I pick option #2 I'm really picking #3.  We have all seen those idiots trying to be cool wearing the "in" clothing that even kids should not be seen in.  

     Anyway you slice it I'm now embarrassing.  My mother was embarrassing, her mother before her was embarrassing, it's a right of passage.  It's interesting that this embarrassing stage seems to coincide with the arrival of grey hair.  Coincidence, I think not.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Healthy Eating, Rice Casserole

    When Christopher and I escaped to Deerhurst on our mini- adults only vacation, I became recharged.  
It was an awaking.  I had been in a slump of sorts.  The kids had been in school for a long time, and life was monotonous.  With four kids and activities after school I had begun to reach more often for the garbage food... ie processed.  Time was short so I reached for hot dogs.  I justified it by the fact that we were in a rush, life was busy, and I made a veggie tray to go with it, so that canceled it out right? Right?    I truly whole heartedly like to make as much of our food from scratch, I like to know what we are eating, and yet in a pinch I would turn to the easy.  Easy was becoming too easy.  
    Our trip away made me remember what good food tastes like.  It made me remember why I like whole foods.  Why I like to know what we are eating.  Most especially our dinner at Three Guys and a Stove awakened my love of food.
I came back from our mini-vacation, recharged and alive.  It was a life awaking experience!
    I am not proud to say that I have become a bit of a zealot.  It's not unlike those who feel like they have been sinners rediscovering religion.  I feel like I want to convert everyone.  I want to open their eyes to the love of food, to what it can be.  I want to go door to door with my recipe cards asking if people have taken Whole Foods into their hearts.  Food can be a beautiful thing to be treasured and loved, and oh here I go again.  I think that if my friends and family hear me say "Whole Foods" one more time their poor eyes may permanently stay rolled in the back of their heads.  They are also tired of hearing me talk about wanting to eat the "French Way".  According to most sources (I have no proof, never having been to France myself) the French love food.  They make rich sauces, delicious pastries, butter is it's own food group, in other words they love their food.  They eat until they are full, loving every mouthful, but not gorging themselves.  They also walk everywhere, and take life at an easier pace.  According to the sources I am quoting, although the French love their food, on a whole they are not an overweight nation.  The idea is that when you make "whole foods", your body does not crave that garbage full of chemicals that have altered the real food.  Food should be a vacation in and of itself.  Each bite should not just nourish the body, but enhance the soul.  O.k. maybe I'm getting a little corny, but hey don't you remember me sharing that I have become a bit of a zealot.  Zealots are not known for their lack of excitement and tendency to enhance the truth.
    My family has embraced my new love of cooking.  Heck, why shouldn't they, they are eating delicious food.  Riley likes to give me a hard time and often groans and says "I'm tired of healthy food".  She gives me a hard time, and yet I cannot help but notice that her plate is always clean.  When she gives me the flack I will reply with a variation on the traditional "There are starving kids in Africa" speech.  My speech goes something like "Do you know how lucky you are to have such good food.  Do you know how many people would LOVE to be in your place eating restaurant quality food?"  This gets me an eye roll, but she cleans her plate.
    Part of my reason for the extreme zeal, is that I have noticed a huge difference since I have set upon this quest.  I have more energy.  Since we began almost exclusively eating whole foods I am sleeping better, have more energy, and just enjoying life more.  The food tastes better and I feel better about myself and what I am doing for my family.  I also don't want to snack at night, I don't feel hungry, I don't feel like I need to do that consumption of garbage.  I can only imagine how much more energy we will all have when I can begin once again getting fresh produce from my local farmers!

    Now that I have tried to convert you and make you take whole foods into your hearts, I thought that I might share some of my better received recipes with you.  Having said that I am a whole foods convert, let me be honest with you.  I don't really like brown foods, by brown foods I mean bread and rice.  I prefer the unhealthy white, you know the stuff that has had all of the good nutrients bashed out of it and then as if that isn't enough they bleach it?  I decided to trick both my own taste buds, and the taste buds of my children, by mixing the not as delicious but healthier brown rice with the much tastier, but not so healthy white rice.

    While my rice was cooking I began to chop up some vegetables.  I heated my pan with olive oil and flaxseed oil. I sautéed finely chopped (finely chopped so that the kids didn't notice them) onion and grated garlic.  When the onion had softened I added chopped celery, green peppers and really finely chopped spinach (again to trick the kids).  The last thing that I added were cherry tomatoes chopped up.

    I mixed the two rices together in a big bowl, with salt and pepper and then stirred in the sauteed vegetables.  I put it in the oven for about half an hour, more just to let the tastes meld together and to keep it hot.
    The kids didn't even know that they were eating brown rice (and I really enjoyed the taste).  It tasted great, and got rave reviews from the family.  It was a winner!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

When is a Roller Coaster, not "JUST" a Roller Coaster?

    "We're going, going, going to Canada's Wonderland.  We're going, going, going to Canada's Wonderland."  The deafeningly, catchy song from my youth was screamed by my excited children in the back seat (I wondered after the first half hour why I taught it to them).  Each time they would see a sign for Wonderland, each time they thought about Wonderland.  I thought that they may pass out with excitement as we drove through the actual gates.
    In the car before we parked I read them the riot act.  "No one is to ask for anything, this day is your treat.  No one is to whine about the ride that they want to go on, because everyone will get to pick two rides that they really want to ride, and I promise that we will ride them.  We are not buying food in the park, so don't ask.  Do you understand?"  I took a deep breath, hoping that the excitement would not create demon spawns. "We understand Mom." Came the chorus from the back.  It was said not as though they understood, but that they knew they would not leave the car until they paid me lip service and pretended to understand.

    I was unsure what the day held for us.  I was almost certain that I would loose it on at least one of my children, and or have one of them reduced to tears of temper and over excitement.  Happily none of those things came to fruition.  We had an amazing day, not just an amazing day, but a day of amazing self discoveries... hold on you say, has she lost it?  Let me explain.
    My children are by nature frightened children.  They come by this naturally, it seems to be a genetic trait.  I myself lived a life afraid to try things, afraid to fail, afraid to stand out, well, just afraid.  As a young child I would try to make myself invisible, hoping that if no one saw me, no one would draw attention to me.  If you were to ask any of my former teachers what I was like as a student, I am certain that none of them would even remember having me in their class.  As a teen I disguised my fear with a big mouth and plenty of bravado.  Maybe if I looked like I wasn't scared, people would believe me.  In both scenarios I was afraid to try, afraid to fail.
    It broke my heart to see my children had inherited my irrational fears.  Most of the time they don't even have a concrete fear, it's just a general nervousness of the unknown.  When they felt fear I would cuddle and protect them from their fears, hoping that my strength would transfer over to them.  I thought that if I gave them my strength, then they would be able to conquer their fears.  What I was actually doing was reinforcing to them that all of their fears were founded in fact, otherwise, why would they need protecting?  When I realized this I felt like a failure as a mother.  In my desire to make them feel safe, I made their fears worse.  It was this realization which began the best thing I ever did for any of us.  I began to encourage them, and Christopher and I to push our comfort levels, to do things that frightened us.  I am not talking about jumping out of an airplane, but rather little things.  I have found that when you conquer a small fear, it feels amazing, it is empowering.  Since we began to encourage the kids (and ourselves) to face small fears, they walk taller, feel stronger.

       This brings me back to "When is a roller coaster, not 'just' a roller coaster?"  The kids wanted to try the roller coaster, but were a little trepidatious.  I personally am not a fan of heights (that's actually putting it quite mildly).  I am not really a fan of roller coasters, they scare me.  We began with Timber Wolf Falls.  It is a mini roller coaster that involves water.  For some reason, although I dislike roller coasters, I love Timber Wolf Falls, go figure.  So Christopher and I split up and each took some kids on the ride.  Elly was too small to ride, so we each took a turn hanging back with her, or taking her to a ride that she could ride on.  The kids were all nervous, but wanted to try this adventure.  Rowan looked like he was going to throw up as he sat in the seat.  He got off jumping up and down screaming "That was AWESOME!!!!!"  He was on a high.  I suspect his high was part endorphins from the ride and part endorphins because he just got a little braver.
    The kids all went on a few roller coasters.  We did The Ghoster Coaster (my type of roller coaster) several times, each time, loving it even more.  We conquered our fear of the unknown.  The kids all walked around of the park a little taller, looking a little stronger.  They had fought anxiety and won!  They were so proud of themselves.  They had done something that scared them a little, and realized that sometimes fear can be fun.  I could not be more proud of those kids.
    Sometimes a roller coaster is not just a roller coaster.  Sometimes a roller coaster is a metaphor for life.  You can lead the safe life, riding the merry-go-round, it's fun and it's safe.  There is no anxiety involved in the merry-go-round.  You know what to expect, wooden horses going around in circles.  A roller coaster is stepping outside of your boundaries.  It's still safe, because you are strapped in, no harm will come to you, most especially in a place like Canada's Wonderland, where roller coasters are their bread and butter.  You are safely facing the unknown, facing your fears, making yourself stronger.  A roller coaster is exhilarating, and still safe.  For us the roller coaster pushed our boundaries and let us know that we could be brave.  If you can face a small safe fear, then other things are easy.  Sometimes a roller coaster is an opportunity to grow, and make yourself stronger.

Monday, 16 June 2014

"Am I Pretty?"

    "Am I Pretty?"  with that question my world came crumbling down a little.  I thought that I had built up my girls self esteem, so that they were happy in the skin they are in.  I did not want them to have to suffer the way I suffered, and yet I now see it was inevitable.  Insecurity seems to a girls right of passage, I just pray that it does not take my girls the thirty odd years it took me to become comfortable with who they are.
    From the time that my children were babies I have told them how beautiful they are, how smart they are, how special they are.  When they were small and beginning their school careers I would ask them "Who is the prettiest girl in school?"  They would reply "me".  I would then pat their heads and tell them "That's right."   I truly do think that they are all stunningly beautiful children, that they are brilliant and a true gift to me and to the world that they will one day inherit.  It seems funny to me sometimes when I look at them and marvel that their father and I could have created such beautiful children.  It also seems a little vain, because the girls look like me and Rowan looks like his dad with red hair.
    Growing up I would look in the mirror, and I knew that I was beautiful.  I loved the shape and colour of my eyes, I loved my high celtic cheekbones.  I "knew" that I was pretty, and so I wondered why the boys that I so loved did not see that same beauty that I saw when I looked in the mirror.  It must mean that there was something wrong with me.  I was too fat, too strange.  I set out to change the "too fat" (even though now when I look at pictures of that same 'too fat' girl, I see a girl who is both beautiful and perfect) and developed an eating disorder, and yet there was no trail of boys knocking at my door.  The boys that I liked, liked my younger, naturally blonde, athletic, perky, demure sister.  It was devastating to my self esteem.  I set my self worth on the opinion of "boys".  I allowed others to set my value, and even saying that, they (those boys) never said a single negative word to me, I saw their lack of interest as distain.  It made me in many ways blame my sister for my ineptitude, and her natural beauty. It was not until university that the boys I liked liked me back.  Don't get me wrong,  I had boyfriends in high school, but university was different.
    I think about that girl that I was and I would like to shake her, and then bring her in for a comforting hug and whisper to her that she is perfect.  I would like to tell her to just be happy with who she is, don't allow others to set your self worth.  For me self acceptance came after I began dating my husband.  He adored me, he thought that I was beautiful inside and out.  It was his love and acceptance that allowed me to finally see what he saw in me, inside myself.  To be honest I did not gain this self acceptance and self love until I was in my mid-thirties.  That may seem like too long to wait, but some people never ever learn this, so I consider myself lucky that I learned that lesson, no matter how late.
    "Am I pretty?"  I take a deep breath, my mind trying to decide how to handle this, wanting to cry.  "Yes you are pretty, in fact I think that you are beautiful.  I am pretty, and you look like me, only you have all of your Dad's best qualities too.  You have my eyes, but Dad's beautiful brown eye colour.  You have my nose, but your Dad's full lips.  Oh you are beautiful, inside and out."   I then gave her a big hug, hoping that that almost painful love I feel for her, for them all would seep into her skin, her bones and her soul.  She seemed satisfied, it was like she needed outside reassurance.
    I know that this is not the last I will see of this female insecurity.  I was fooling myself when I thought that all my words of confidence, all of my almost painful love would act like a vaccine against self doubt.  In the end all I can do is try to act like a good example for them, to try to model self acceptance.  All I can do is love them, and pray that the world does not break them, and if the world does break them, I need to be there with my band-aids to help put them back together again.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Three Guys and A Stove

    Our week-end at Deerhurst began a food revolution for me.  My family is very happy that we went to Deerhurst.  At this point you may be wondering if I have lost it, or am speaking in code.  I shared with you yesterday that Christopher and I had a very relaxing, wonderful week-end get away, just the two of us.  It was long over due.  We really just enjoyed each other, and ate VERY well.
    Christopher really wanted to try "3 Guys and a Stove"in Huntsville.  To me the outside was very nondescript, but I am a good, kind and giving wife.  I didn't care where we ate, I wasn't making it, nor was I having to clean up after it, oh and I got to eat a hot meal, something that I haven't done in years.  3 Guys and a Stove, I was all in.

    As we walked through the doors I felt like I was Alice through the looking glass.  We stepped into the stunning oasis.  It was so, well honestly words escape me a combination cottage / arabian nights.  It just goes to show you that you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, or in this case a restaurant from the outside of it.  I guess the best description that I could use to describe the decor is "clean".  I mean yes, clean physically it was spotless, but it has clean lines, no kitsch to detract from the beauty.  As I sat down I could instantly feel myself relax, as if I left all the worries and troubles at the door.  I have never ever had a restaurant do that to me.  I became excited, if I get this feeling just from sitting here, what will I think of the food!

    We sat in that gorgeous interior while outside thunder and lightening rolled throughout the countryside.  We sat across from each other, just drinking it all in, just loving where we were, and each other.  When the waitress came, we poured over the menu, what to pick?  In the end we decided to be a little adventurous and picked the Ontario BBQ Skillet (it was a really good choice).

Let us skillet you up!

Ontario BBQ Skillet
Serves minimum of 2 people 
Comes with your choice of salad and side dishes

Select between kitchen or caesar 
Black Angus Fine Meats, our main supplier and butcher, provides high quality beef, chicken and lamb from local farmers & producers. 3 Guys And A Stove is proud to support Organic Chicken from Yorkshire Valley Farms, Peterborough area Lamb from Elm Crest Farm in Paisley AAA Ontario beef from Norwich Packers, Norwich.
Served in a hot black cast iron skillet,select your 3 favourite meat options
All meats served with caramelized onions and mushrooms

• top sirloin with creamy horseradish                       
• lamb sirloin with red pepper jelly                       
• bone-in chicken breast with citrus rosemary stewed tomatoes                       
• pork Walkerton sausage with Louisiana sauce
• pork backribs with honey and garlic
• corn fried Georgian Bay whitefish with tartar and lemon
• beef shortribs with molasses, mustard seed bbq sauce

Select your 2 favourite side options
• red-skinned smashed potatoes
• roasted vegetables
• coleslaw
• quinoa with black eyed peas and salsa
• steamed basmati rice
• fresh cut french fries

$39.95/per person
(I stole this from their website, because I felt that they could put it so much better than I could)

    After we had ordered our meal, our waitress came and brought us a basket with rolls.  The basket was lovely and gave the illusion of being filled with rolls.  When we peaked inside the basket there were a laughable collection of rolls the size of Timbits.  It was all we could do to not giggle, that is until we tasted them.  I am not personally a fan of any bread except for white, I know I am not that adventurous.  That was the rule, until now.  Those rolls might be tiny, but the flavour was mighty.  You tasted them not just with your mouth, but with your nose and your lips, and your hands even.  They were so warm and smelled so good.  As I spread the butter upon the split roll, it just melted in.  The taste is indescribable.  Suffusive to say, I am a convert and am not eagerly seeking out artesian breads.

    For our skillet meal we selected the caesar salad.  I have never ever tasted a caesar salad even nearly as delicious as theirs.  So often with caesar salad it is either a creamy dressing, or a vinaigrette dressing. I prefer creamy, Christopher prefers vinaigrette.  This salad was the perfect marriage of both!  The lettuce was so cold and crisp, the dressing generous but not heavy.  Excuse me for a minute, I need to grab a paper towel to wipe up my drool, from just thinking about it!

    For our skillet selection we chose, the whitefish, the shortribs and the chicken breast.  They were all good, but by far the best in my opinion was the whitefish.  The outside was flaky and flavourful, while the inside was tender and flavourful.  It was so good.  It is easily the best fish that I have ever tasted.

    For our sides we selected the smashed potatoes and the grilled vegetables.  Oh my were they good.  It's funny because those of you who are regular readers know how much I value local, whole foods.  I sound like a broken record every single summer because there is such a huge difference in the taste between the produce that you pick up at the store, and the produce that you pick up at the farmer's market or better yet, local farmers.  This is most especially true for potatoes.  They taste different when they are fresh from the ground. It's funny (some may argue, not funny, but rather monotonous) because I say this all the time around the house, and am usually met with a half smile from my husband (the half smile means I need to throw her this bone or she will be angry and make my life a living Hell.  I don't really care, but this half smile makes her think that I do).  The kids just roll their eyes at me, the wee darl'ins.  As we were eating our smashed potatoes, Christopher got this fervent look in his eyes.
"I don't know how they have done this, but I think these are new potatoes, you can taste that these are new potatoes!"  It was my turn to give him that half smile.  My half smile means 'I am finally getting through to you'.

    Every single mouthful of food that we ate was like a gift.  The flavours were amazing.  It sounds like a funny thing to say, but it is obvious how much care about what they put into their dishes.  You could taste the freshness, the wholeness.  I have so much respect for restaurants who care about what I am eating.  I like to know that I am eating something that is fresh, and prepared just for me, not come from a freezer pre-made.  Our meal in and of itself was a gastronomic vacation.

    In the end there was just too much food.  We ate until we were full, and savoured every single bite.  We ended our meal with a cup of coffee, the perfect ending to a perfect meal.  We pushed away from that table feeling full and like our taste-buds had been awakened after a long winter's nap.

    Word of warning, this is not an inexpensive restaurant.  It was however worth every single penny.  I will pay more knowing that they are sourcing out local ingredients.  I will pay more knowing that my food has been thoughtfully prepared for just me, and did not come from some factory where it was filled with all kinds of chemicals and preservatives.  That meal was not just "a meal", rather it was an experience.  I now want to only serve my family whole foods, sourced as closely as I can from local sources.  It has awakened my inner foodie.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Our Deerhurst Retreat -ALONE

     I can't believe that it has already been a week since Christopher and I were away.  It feels like it was a life time ago.  Our lives are busy with 4 kids and all of the activities that they bring with them.  I love my life, it is the life that I have chosen, but still there are times when it is nice for it to all slow down.

    Last week-end Christopher and I went to Deerhurst ... ALONE.  It was glorious.  Originally we were going as a couples get away.  My friends are amazing, and a get away with them and their significant others would be amazing.  It would be both fun and at the same time give Christopher and I some alone time that we desperately crave.  Unfortunately two of the three other couples have husband's that work far away from home and are only home for week-ends.  One of those husbands had to work that week-end, and the other had just put in 21 days away from his wife and babies, and so he really needed to be with them ... understandable.  What it all boils down to is that it went from four couples having a fun packed, busy week-end to one couple just enjoying each other.

    The trip began with a very good omen, an omen that I knew meant that we would have a wonderful get away.  I have never seen a moose.  They are unofficially one of Canada's mascots, and yet I had never seen one, and always wanted to.  My sister has lived in Northern Ontario for the last 15 years and to her seeing a moose is no more exciting than for me to see a cow. Still, it was on my bucket list.  Every time we would drive through Algonquin Provincial Park those yellow signs with the aggressive looking moose would mock me.  Each time I would announce to the kids "We are going to see a Moose today."  Each time, no stinking moose.  I would then shake my fist at those mocking yellow signs and shout "Why do you mock me!" (me over dramatic, how could you say such a thing... HOW).
This time, we saw cars all pulled over to the side of the highway... this was a good sign.  There standing oblivious to everything around him, was a moose.  It was the ugliest creature I may ever have seen with it's fur all coming off and it's big face, and yet I was in love.  I would like to add that I was in love from a safe distance.  My sister has long cautioned about getting to close to a moose because they are unpredictable and surprisingly fast.  I stood outside of the van in awe of this huge almost mythical (o.k. only to me) creature.  

      Seeing that moose made my day, oh heck it made my month!  It set the tone for my day, and for my week-end.  I saw this amazing creature, this ugly and yet at the same time majestic creature.  I climbed into the van on a high.  I looked over at my husband, my face so full of happiness that my checks actually hurt.  He gave me this little smile (you know that 'I am married to a little simpleton smile).  "Are you ready to go honey?"  "Yeah, " I said breathlessly "I think I am."  "Aren't you excited?" I asked.  He gave me that same poor little simpleton look again, "I don't really care that much honey".  With that we drove slowly off.

        We arrived at Deerhurst, with me still on my moose sighting high.  We smiled like idiots as we walked through the revolving doors.  We approached check-in holding hands.  I felt as though I had been magically transported back to being 20 again.  Back when Christopher and I were just youngsters dating.  The staff at Deerhurst are always so friendly and amazing!  We made our way up to our room, floating on air.  A very nice treat awaited us on the desk, a bottle of wine.
    You know you are an old married couple when finally alone in a hotel room for only the third time in an almost 21 year marriage, when you are excited to just jump on the bed, it's sad really.  Those 20 year olds we were, may have had different ideas of what was fun, ideas that are not family friendly.  The two old farts however were just delighted to be together and in love after all these years.

    When this mini-vacation was going to be a couples thing we had planned Tree Top Trekking, horse back riding, the boys were going to play a round of golf.  It was going to be action packed days and long soaks in the hot tub at night.  The vacation that we ended up having was VERY different. Our mini-vacation was all about R and R.  We snuggled together in the big bed that did not have children or a dog.  We watched dvd's uninterrupted by little people who needed us.  In other words we just enjoyed each other.  This was an amazing opportunity for us to reconnect.

    Here is what I discovered, I really love my husband.  This something that I always know, but that is just more true when I have time to spend with him.  He is truly my best friend.  There were quiet times, but no awkward silences.  So many people our age are divorced or their marriage is on the rocks, but ours is rock solid, it's a very nice feeling.

    That week-end was just about us.  We did nothing, and ate like royalty (I will have a few blogs to share our gastronomic adventures).  We went down to the Maple and ate lunch, which was delicious.  I had an alcoholic beverage, The Miami Vice (think of what would happen if a Pina Colada and a strawberry daiquiri had an affair, and that affair yielded a love child).   I savored every-single mouthful of my meal and my delicious drink.  We sat like we were on a date, soaking in the warm wonderful sunshine, being treated to an amazingly beautiful view.  Our waitress was out of this world, but then again we have come to expect amazing service from Deerhurst.

    So that was our week-end away.  It was nothing exotic, nor was it adventurous.  We took a walk down to the point and sat in those glorious Muskoka chairs.  It was, however everything that we needed.  We had peace, we had quiet, but most importantly we had each other.   Right now it doesn't feel like we will ever have an empty house, but we will.  When we have that empty house (that is allowing that the kids don't do that boomerang thing and move back in) we will be o.k.  We will not suffer from that identity crisis that so many married parents suffer.  That is a very nice feeling.

    So here I sit a week later, still reaping the benefits of a week-end away.  I have more patience with the kids.  I have a stronger bond with my husband of almost 21 years.  It was worth every single penny that we spent.  As a matter of fact it was a kick off to a more energetic life (at least for the minute).