The Daily Grind And How To Change It

Do you know what you call those who use towels and never wash them, eat meals and never do the dishes, sit in rooms they never clean, and are entertained till they drop? If you have just answered, ‘A house guest,’ you’re wrong because I have just described my kids.” Erma Bombeck

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Brewing beneath the surface of most households is the inevitable and quiet resentment of parenthood. Knowing that you are required to take on task after task, giving away your time and space because “that’s your job” is a really, really hard thing to do.  You know you need to teach your kids life skills, but honestly, after a long day of work and negotiations about well, everything, that last thing you want to do is manage and argue about household chores. So, good intentions and important lessons on responsibility go by the wayside.

But what then happens to the parent(s)?  Burn out and then, burn out turns to anger and in the end, we find ourselves in a crazed state shouting at the sky wondering why no one will help us. Well let’s be frank, a lot of the time it’s because we didn’t ask for it in the first place.

We’ve all been there. We want to provide a safe and organized home for our children. We unselfishly want to make it easier for them and encourage them to do the things we did not always get a chance to do. We want school to be a priority and for them to reach their full potential. We want them in bed at a decent time. (‘Cause you know it’s wine-o’clock!) But in reality, the cost can be too high.  At least for me it has been. I was tired. Very tired.

So, I regrouped. Took a nice, long break and started asking some hard questions. What could I do differently moving forward to make long-lasting significant changes? Consistency. Instead of letting the wind decide what chores or responsibilities my children have, I wanted a regular schedule. I wanted more help around the house. Plain and simple. My molly maid days were over, and I told them so, again. But this time I meant it.

The most important thing to make this a success was letting go and then, choosing the things that mattered the least to me. Dishes. Laundry. I don’t care how or when they get done as long as they get done by the end of the day. These chores are low stake tasks that will teach my whole family life skills, responsibilities and give me a break to go and read that People magazine. (Or write this blog!)

So we started this new reality a few weeks ago, but at a snail’s pace. First, I stopped micromanaging their homework. Of course I help them when asked and still ask everyday, “What homework is there tonight?” But I took a step back, a huge step.

When you have three or more kids, you can’t be a homework coach to all of them at the same level. I have to decide who needs me most in what way and let the rest go. My 5th grade student is going to have to start figuring some stuff out on her own and managing her own time so I can focus on a fundamental skill like reading with my 1st grader. And thank goodness my 3rd grade student seems to have a teacher who does not give homework, at least that’s what she tells me.

Next on the list, dishes. Some people like doing dishes. I do not so the kids can do them. After all, I have six little hands that can put a dish away, load the dishes, wipe sinks and vacuum floors.

Next? Laundry. For the last year they each have to put their clothes away. I leave a basket of freshly laundered and folded clothes each weekend and don’t look back, at least until I need the basket back. It is time to up the stakes and teach them how to use the washing machine and dryer. Maybe they will learn to really consider if something is dirty or not once they start seeing the huge piles of clothes.

And last for this crazy new world, dinner preparation. One night a week if I have to eat hot dogs and nacho chips with melted cheese and sour cream that they made – then so be it. At least they are learning to prepare something, use the appliances and set up dinner at the table. Although I will be encouraging them to think about nutrition moving forward and include a vegetable with every meal.

The research backs this philosophy up, time and time again the benefit of children doing chores outweighs anything else. After all, are we not supposed to be raising competent, capable adults? Chores and sharing the household responsibilities can be the stepping stones for other things. Doing chores as a family increases time spent together and provides children a sense of pride that they helped out, at any age.

Now, my children have had their certain “chores” over the years. Once a week room tidy up. Putting laundry away. Bring garbage bins in. Feed the pets. Other chores too as asked. But as of yet, we have not set a serious schedule that will really help me out. It’s been a kind of ad-hoc system where I still end up doing the majority of things around the house.

The first week was a bit rough. Remember, my children are older so resistance was expected, especially with the older two. I tried to carve out time for me to “take breaks,” and keep myself together because (and let’s be honest here) it’s hard to be the bad guy.

The second week has been a bit easier. I pinned a rough outline of the chores expected on the fridge, let them know that chores may shift as things come up (as in life it does) but the plan was to be followed the best we could.

Now, I had to let stuff go. A load of laundry sat unfolded for a couple of days,  we ate hot dogs for dinner and I bit my tongue as I wiped up the puddles of water on the cupboards.  I also had to endure whining, eye-rolling and complaining. But I did it. You know what, this may actually work if I stick with it. This past weekend as we all did chores Saturday morning, well it went a bit quicker and I was met with a bit less resistance. Progress. It’s all a parent can ask for some days.

How long does it take to break a habit? 66 days seems to be the most recent consensus. So I figure with a family of five, breaking bad habits and replacing them with new ones will take 3 months. So I’m setting a goal date of August 22, 2017. A little longer than the norm but with summer, change of schedule and let’s face it, a large family to re-train, I think it is realistic.

Wish me luck and I will post results the week of August 21, 2017.

The New Birthday Trend

Gray and rainy days of spring are perfect for thinking back over the past few months. It is also that time when parents give collective sighs of relief when, at last, the weather  turns and we can gently nudge our children outside to play. If you are a lucky, you’ve reached that sweet spot where your kids can be outside playing in your backyard, street or even better, neighbour’s yard, with minor supervision. If you are not there yet, well, you will be.

For me, the beginning of April is a time to reflect, renew and plan. I survived holiday season, birthday season and March Break. There are a few challenges along the way, but one thing we did this year that was different were birthdays.

To recap, we moved out of suburbia last summer. Life is different when you live rural. Playdates are sparser, birthday parties are ordeals in logistics with most being held in homes. My girls have not quite yet made the social connections to have sleepover  birthday parties with their classmates and still pine for their old friends. I also have birthday season starting right after Christmas and go to the end of February and then March Break hits. (To note, not just my children’s birthdays. Mr. L’s birthday, my sister’s birthday and my Mom’s birthday.)

The weeks between December – March are often like parenting boot camp. I’m not kidding. If anyone wants to some real-life experience what having 3 kids is like, be my assistant next year. Come see what life is like with three or more kids during Christmas, Hanukkah, birthday season and March Break. It can be great fun, and exhausting.

I am also birthday-partied out.  For the last eleven years I have coordinated: full-class indoor birthday parties, outings, theme birthday parties, favourite cartoon character meet and greet parties, sleepover, tea parties, art parties, movie parties, surprise parties, family parties combined with holiday gatherings and I’m sure there are a few more. I am on auto-pilot when it comes to coordinating all the details and the same spreadsheet is used for all birthday planning.

Planning typically starts mid-November for the upcoming season. If I lived in another era, it is almost like every year, the kids have a “coming out” party schedule. Besides coordinating schoolmates for any celebrations, there is family to consider. Now that we have moved further away, this is a challenge.

Not to speak of the cost. I always try to have a budget for each child, but as it goes things get added and life happens. Remember, Hanukkah and Christmas fall in there too. Before you know it, you close your eyes, cross your fingers and hope it all works out in the end.

This year, Mr. L and I took stock.

  • We live further away from family. The big family parties of the past inviting both sides to our home to celebrate are over.
  • Our kids are in a new school this year and have not yet made the friendships that lend themselves to a birthday sleepover.
  • They desperately miss their friends from where we used to live.
  • Places to have kid birthday parties here are more limited.
  • It is winter. Any home parties are all inside and we just came off a lot of entertaining for the holidays. Mr. L vetoed big in-home parties this year.
  • Every year he is desperate to go away somewhere warm.

So the decision became easy that we pitched to the kids. A family trip in lieu of birthday presents or parties this year. The girls were all in, old enough to understand the birthday parties of the past were  pleasant memories and staying at home would be a reminder that they were not with their oldest friends. Jacob, being in first grade, was a little harder to convince.

We had unintentionally put a pattern into place with Elizabeth. One large all-class party (usually in kindergarten) and then dwindling numbers until Grade 4 when it would be down to a few close friends. Both the girls had gone through this pattern. Jacob had not. He got his all-class kindergarten party last year complete with Iron Man. But to go from that to no party at all, well, his face said it all.

So we relented and planned like mad to have his birthday party with one caveat, it had to be outside of the home. His birthday is right after Christmas, two days to be exact. I could not wrap my head around hosting Christmas and New Year’s with family and then planning for a birthday party in our home.

Jacob chose a bowling party. Considering the lack of indoor birthday party spaces in the area and availability during the holiday break, it was an easy one to plan. His class this year is also only 12 kids so that seemed a reasonable amount. (For reference, his kindergarten class last year had been 24 children.) Except, unbeknownst to me unlike the suburbs, siblings come along to birthday parties. The time commitment to drive to the bowling alley in the nearest town means that parties are family affairs. So our little party of 12 kids ended up being closer to 20 kids. Not too big of a deal as being held during the holidays meant that some of his classmates could not attend anyway.

Around this time, we also booked our family birthday celebration, a cruise the week of the girl’s birthdays in February.

Post birthday party, holidays and back to school, the cruise seemed ideal. It was for the most part. Weather was great. We made sure to try to celebrate each special day and the crew decorated our state rooms. Docked for their actual birthday meant they got to choose a family activity for the day. We had a great time exploring underground caves and relaxing by the pool.

But sitting here on a damp cold April morning I have to wonder was all the cost and planning worth it?

There were great times and not so great times as there always is when you travel with kids. The dining room staff were on top of things. They brought cakes and sang for each girl on their respective days. Even Jacob got a birthday cake in honour of his birthday back in December.  We spent time together and got some sun on our faces.

The cost was certainly more compared to having two smaller parties and three presents, but it was also a trip full of experiences. Of course I had small gifts for each girl to open on their morning, but we also went that extra mile and booked a very fun but expensive excursion for Elizabeth’s birthday. Another experience. Our kids have way too much stuff anyway, why do they need more?

In the end, I don’t think the girls liked not having parties this year. It took some of the pressure off them and us. Would we do it again? Maybe.

As kids get older, birthdays shift from huge all-class parties to smaller gatherings or maybe no gathering at all. It doesn’t have to be a birthday to have a sleepover with friends or family come to visit. I think ensuring your child feels celebrated and special is all that matters. Our kids weren’t happier with large or small birthday parties or even no party at all. They just wanted the day to be about them.

The real question becomes, are you having the party for your child, yourself or their friends? It is tricky because we all want our children to have fun, make memories and feel special. Having done it all, it does not matter. If you are not the kind of parents who want to host a birthday party. Don’t. Go out and invite a group of friends to join you. Or having a small family dinner with a favourite meal. That may be just what your busy family needs. Even take a trip all together or just do something special for the day.

When I was a kid, my Mom used to pull us each out of school on our birthdays and we spent the day with her doing whatever we wanted and eating whatever we wanted. It felt special. We also had parties and sleepovers but I remember no matter what, we got that one great day.

Ultimately, I don’t think it matters what kind of party or event you have for children’s birthdays. From my experience, as long as your children know that for one day they have your undivided attention, to is good enough.

Now, are birthday parties a thing of the past for our family? No.

Elizabeth turns 12 next year and with that comes the possibility of a Bat Mitzvah. Mr. L (the Jewish contingent of our household) wants each child to experience this traditional coming of age party. I think this is a gray area, tradition coupled with what the parents think is best versus what the child may really want.

What if Elizabeth doesn’t want a huge party? What if she simply wants to spend a night in Toronto and see her best friend? Each child is different and we will have to consider what they want too as each birthday season arrives.

But who are we kidding? When we asked her about her 12th birthday and mentioned a huge Bat Mitzvah, of course she wants the party. She is that kind of kid.

Now, try planning a Bat Mitzvah with family and friends who are spread across the province in a rural part of Ontario, in February.

Oh vey.

When A Carefully Built House Of Cards Collapses – You Build It Again

Yes, yes. It has been a long while since I paid any attention to this little blog. I do have my reasons.

  •  I started a new blog about our move to a rural life at Small Town Gal that I am trying to keep updated.
  • I took on paid writing work.
  • I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo again to flush out a story idea that a few encouraging people told me to finish.
  • I started binge watching Netflix, again.
  • I began excercising more seriously, again.
  • I realized I require more sleep.
  • I have three kids.

Nonetheless, I also wasn’t sure if I had anything of value to share on parenting three or more kids that I haven’t either already wrote about or was written about in the general blog, Facebook, Twitter space. After all, I’m just one mom in a million who have multiple kids and I struggle with time management, to-do lists and priorities just like everyone else.

I also had to take a step back, is it really different having one versus two versus three or more children? I think so, but maybe it’s just because I’m not great at the juggling act as others. Of perhaps it’s because I feel guilty that I find managing three little people at times, challenging and unrewarding. Maybe it’s because I just turned forty and I’m tired. Or finally, is it simply that this is my reality so I think having three kids is unique or different in some ways and I tell myself I deserve a space to vent so I don’t go out of my mind. Who really knows? Not me. It could be all of it or none of it.

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From mycity4kids.com

 

But now that I’m here, I have noticed that spending the last few months having little bits of time with one or only two of my adorable munchkins, it seemed, well easier. A breath of fresh air. This small thing along with discussions with others about kids made me realize something. Having kids is hard. Having more than one kid is hard. Having three or more is crazy. Crazy fun sometimes, but crazy.

This fall, I’ve been dealing with a lot of emotional management. Sometimes I do okay and other times I fail, big time. I find having kids that sponge off me physically and emotionally although necessary and wonderfully empowering as a mom who tries to be there for them that they take my advice, hugs and want me there is not so great for me as an individual who requires some personal space and time. The whole thing is sometimes very draining.

But, we have had a lot going on and they have required more attention than normal. We moved. Across the province. Away from our support systems, friends and schools. Big picture it makes sense for us. After all, this was not an easy or whimsical decision but a well thought out, hard one. Regardless, the last few months have been an emotional roller coaster for us and the kids. Happy one minute, enjoying their new home and exploring  the area with unbridled passion all seems wonderful. Then, in a snap they can be in tears. Homesick for what they know, friends they used to see everyday. So much so that it tugs at our heart strings and we wonder if we robbed them of their idyllic childhood.

I almost wonder sometimes as a parent of three or more kids, do they secretly strategize out a plan to keep me on my parenting toes? To see how much I can stretch as a mom?

This past week or so,  just as I finished dispensing hugs and encouragement to my almost eleven year old, told her  that she will indeed find new friends in her new school, the next day my eight year old starts to well up, her eyes full of tears as we leave a playdate back in our old town and wham! I’m back in the therapist chair. The house of cards is starting to fall.

Then, (oh yes..not done), I get her calmed and excited about seeing her new friend at school the next day when the next day wham! My little man, the five year old, breaks my heart when he draws a picture of two very sad stick people, separated by a line. With crocodile tears running down his face he sputtered,

“It’s me and P. Separated forever.” (P was his very good friend from SK last year who we haven’t yet visited since we moved this past summer, although they’ve exchanged a few letters only the way five year old boys can.)

The house of cards is down. Something has been triggered in all three of them. Maybe an unseen hand knocked my thriving kids backwards and I was back to square one. At least it wasn’t all at once, someone had the foresight to only give me as much as I could handle. One emotional tailspin at a time.

I picked Jacob up, he sobbed onto my shoulder and part of me wondered at the sensitive nature of my usually happy-go-lucky man. (I secretly hope he maintains this side of himself and doesn’t hide it away. ) In this moment, although he needed me both physically and emotionally, I had to reach over to stir the taco meat on the stovetop. I rocked him back and forth and told him it was okay to be sad. For on this night, I also have a starving and cranky tween daughter who kept hollering that I can’t expect perfection from her, a reaction because I made her rewrite her messy assignment.  I bit my lip and looked longingly at the glass of untouched red wine on the counter. It had to wait. At least the eight year old seemed content today.

The house of cards is down and I woke up today and started to rebuild. Because that’s what we do. Thankfully, all three of them are seemingly better this morning after a week of roller coaster emotions, the only thing I can think is thank goodness it wasn’t all at the same time.

But it  never ends, not really. There will always be one of them out of sorts. Always. For that is life as we know it and I think I’ve learned to accept that. It’s part of the deal being a parent to three or more kids, the difference if you will between having one or two or three or more kids. You oftentimes will have a fire to put out, a flare-up to manage or a full out storm so intense it takes your breath away, there are no real breaks in between. And perhaps that is what I can offer; how to survive the constant barrage on your own self. I can offer strategies to cope, suggest how to be kind to yourself and most importantly be someone who can empathize when you say, I have three or more kids. For I get it. I really do.

So for today, for all those parents who throw up your hands and ask will I have a day where there isn’t any drama from one of my multiple children? My answer is yes, yes you will. It may not be a whole day, it may be an hour, but take it. Grab tight and do something you love. For me, it was yoga first thing this morning. It calmed me. Maybe I’ll get to do it again this week, maybe, if I’m not busy with the hose.

 

 

Surviving Social Media

Bit by bit we are settling into our new digs, but it will be a long process as the five of us, plus Chip the Labradoodle and Sally the Cat, as urbanized as the rest of us, get used to country life.

Back up. What?

Yes, this urban mom, along with her even more urban husband and three children up and moved to the country a month ago. Crazy? Perhaps. But so far we’re enjoying it.

I won’t get into the whole backstory here, you can check out those details at my other site, www.smalltowngal.com where I am capturing our journey and acclimatization to the country.

As part of a way to de-stress over the past few months of packing, moving, boxes, end of school, I listened to podcasts. At first it was just a few and then I got finger happy and downloaded a whole slew of podcasts on parenting, short stories, current events, all things I could play in the background as I drove from place to place and packed up my house.

Now, living a more rural lifestyle, the trips in the vehicle are longer with kids in tow, (shockingly not enrolled in camps this summer as I had no idea about the landscape here), so my podcast listening is reduced to Story Pirates and other kid-related podcasts. Until a couple of days ago.

Having found a reliable babysitter and knowing my kids were bored to tears with my company, I took advantage and started having her babysit at least once a week so I could run into town. You see, errands that used to be quick jaunts to the grocery store have been replaced with planned errand days that take double the time. The kids are beyond grumpy and hungry by the time I drag them in and out of three or four stores to get all my groceries. A babysitter seemed a good option halfway through summer break.

On this particular errand day, I got a chance to listen to a parenting podcast called, Only A Parent (June 28, 2016 Episode). They were discussing a topic I quite enjoyed called, I’m Bored. I loved their discussion and nodded in agreement as they reaffirmed what I knew. It is okay for kids to be bored. I have witnessed (after some prompting and whining) some great imaginative moments when my three kiddies (without planned playdates or friends as of yet) coming up with ways to entertain themselves.

Part of the discussion entered around the pressure parents feel to be “the entertainment” for their kids and dove into a slight side topic of social media. You know what I mean, the Facebook, twitter, Instagram and Pinterest boards where well-meaning parents post beautifully organized crafts or ideas for “How to keep your kids busy this summer.” or “10 DIY Crafts for Summer.” I am not of that ilk, I’m the mom that pushes my kids outside with bottles of water and tell them to play in the backyard so I can get something done. But, I also try to balance that with fun stuff. We go on outings, parks, beaches, hikes, I love exploring and take the kids with me.

And I post on social media, I have for years before it exploded. What I realized listening to this podcast discussion was that I may be considered one of those people who posts only the good, never the bad and ugly side of parenting. Some people would construe my social media participation as trying to depict “perfect family moments.” And, looking back over my posts, I can see their point.

Most of my social media centres around a few things; family life, where we travel, pets, flowers, food and my personal writing. I don’t tend to concentrate on the hard days, parenting or otherwise, when I’m going nuts trying to control the puppy, wash a dish and mediate a new punching game between my two eldest girls. Or the days when I give up and just let them play WiiU and watch movies so I can think for a couple of hours. Maybe I should, but honestly, why?

In truth, social media is a way for me to connect with people. Most of our family lives overseas or away and they enjoy seeing the places we visit and pictures of the kids. Grandparents don’t want to see my kids embroiled in a nasty argument with me as I patiently try to talk to an emotional ten year old and sometimes succeed and oftentimes do not. They see that when they visit. Posts about us enjoying life, well it brightens their day, or so I’ve been told.

I also like to receive and share information. A great place to take your kids, or go on a rare date night, or even finding those quiet spots to go by yourself. I love it when I connect with someone and they tell me, I went to that place too or those times a small business sends me a quick thank you for promoting their business in my small way. Really, how else are people going to be aware of what is in their communities if we don’t share the information? Social media for me is about informing and sharing. If you notice, I’m hardly in any pictures. Because most of my social media is captured by my own personal lens, how I view my tiny area of the world, that does not lend itself to being in front of the camera.

I also like to remember where I’ve been, (okay, to be honest my memory sometimes sucks and by posting where I’ve been I can recommend things to people or go back, so part of it is journal-esque in that way). I capture a special moment and record good things about a day. Life and news feeds can be really hard to read some days and heart-breaking. By putting a little more joy or happiness out there, maybe it will help someone else who is having a bad day.

I live with my feet well planted in reality and by capturing something wonderful or memorable about our simple lives it also helps to remind me that everything will be all right. It is therapeutic for me and I realized listening to the podcast that posting on social media has replaced a regular journal. Life also moves very fast, so on those busy or harder days when I want to just stand still and yell for help, I can scroll back over my posts and remember a lunch somewhere with friends, the way the waters looked at sunset and the precious smile my youngest had eating a huge ice cream. Self-serving? Perhaps, but if it also helps others in the same boat, wonderful. Win-win.

The podcast was great, it mad me dig into a topic I really didn’t think about much. How I use social media and made me stop and think about the lens I captured our life. It also reaffirmed for me, that however you use social media, it is a personal choice. I choose to share the better in life or what I hope people may find useful or interesting. I guess at the end of the day, if you do not want to see my posts, you can always unfollow although I hope you stay. But just know, the story of my life is not carved on social media.

What you see is what I’ve mindfully chosen to share because I hope it helps, informs or brightens people’s days. The rest of it, that bad and ugly part, ask me. I have war stories to tell of being in the parenting trenches and the scars to prove it. I’m happy to share those things if someone wants it. It’s just not going to ever be part of my regular social media presence and that suits me fine.

 

Gifting Made Easy – Fun Father’s Day Gift Idea

It all started with my mom asking what Mr. L wanted for his birthday. I was tapped out of ideas.

“I’m having a hard time figuring out what to get him too.” Then as per most of our conversations, I launched into something one of the kids had done that day.

After that I vaguely remember her mentioning something coming in the mail, that she had found a really cool idea for Mr. L, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was. At least I don’t thinks she did. (But since most of the time my brain only processes and retains some bits of daily conversation, I may be wrong on this point.)

A few weeks later, on a cold January morning I opened our community mailbox and found a strange, soft package addressed to him. Curious, I wanted to open it but didn’t. I hate it when people open my mail so try to respect that rule for others.

Mr. L arrived home and the package sat on his usual pile of unopened mail and during the inhaling of food, kid bedtime and typical fall asleep on the couch utterly exhausted, we both forgot about it until the weekend.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked holding up the mystery package.

“I don’t know.” The company name wasn’t familiar, Purple Moose.

He ripped it open and smiled, it was a pair of designer socks with a Van Gogh painting imprinted on it. “This is cool. Who sent these?”

Socks 1

I scoured my brain unable to remember anything. Had I ordered them and forgot? We both shrugged, he wore them that night and life went on. A few weeks later, now into a new month, another package arrived. Now I knew someone was sending him socks, but who? Then I remembered the long ago conversation with my mother and everything clicked into place. For the next four months ,a new pair  of socks arrived from Purple Moose. Each pair was carefully chosen by their resident sociologist who, based on initial conversations with my mom about Mr.L’s interests, job etc., picked out a pair each month and then mailed them out.

I know Mr. L enjoyed receiving the socks because around the start of every month he started rifling through the mail on his own, eagerly seeking out his new, fashionable pair of socks. He also made a point to toss aside his usual boring black and blue dress socks to find his Purple Moose Socks, constantly asking me when they would be washed. At the same time, I noticed a trend among the other men with whom we socialized. At one memorable party, I caught all the guys comparing their designer socks. For once, Mr. L was part of a new fashion trend, interesting, unique dress socks for men.

Fast forward to June. Father’s Day is fast approaching and as usual I’m desperately trying to think of ideas while doing a million other things at once. Such is the life of a parent of three or more kids this time of the year. One afternoon when my mom was over, she casually commented on Mr. L’s socks. He was wearing the first Van Gogh pair he received back in January. We find out from her that the birthday gift was for  only six months of socks. After all, my mom can’t pay for his socks indefinitely.  Mr. L seemed genuinely disappointed and lucky for me, I had my father’s day gift idea.

After obtaining the information from my mom, I contacted Kevin at the Purple Moose Sock Company. One of the most responsive people I have had the pleasure to chat with, he knew exactly who the customer was (Mr. L), remembered my mom, was ecstatic I wanted to continue the remote sockologist experience and helped ensure I had my Father’s Day surprise all done within a day.

At the great price of $15/month including shipping costs, what a fabulous gift idea!  Especially for those of us looking to give a quality, fun and unique gift this year. Discussing socks with an experienced sockologist is a fun experience and will provide a little style for that special someone in your life for any occasion. Based out of London, Ontario, the Purple Moose Sock Company is open to the public every Saturday at the Western Fair’s Farmer’s & Artisan Market, books private sock parties and is very responsive via Twitter (@purple_moose) and Facebook (Purple Moose Sock Company). A big shout out to Kevin and Purple Moose Sock Company for helping take one more thing off this parent’s list during a very, very busy time of year.

 

I May Not Be The Best Cook But..

I had a dream, of creating home made meals from scratch, learning to bake more than muffins and having an expertly designed meal plan each week. Reality check. Three kids later and on the average, this doesn’t happen. Most times I scramble, (as a lot of parents do), to make healthy, well-balanced meals. But once in awhile, I surprise even myself.

Last week, I had a craving for pasta. Not whole wheat pasta topped with tomato sauce, the tiny frozen meatballs mixed into the pot. But pasta like I used to prepare, before the kids. The kind where I tossed it with olive oil, added whatever spices I had on hand, vegetables and protein.  Nothing complicated but always good. I would mix and match from different recipes I had learned over the years as I experimented in the kitchen. With a crusty bread and glass of wine, Mr. L and I would sit and enjoy each unique dish. It took him awhile to accept pasta as a main course, for him it had always been a side dish, an afterthought. But when he did, it was a staple each week.

Last week I went for it. I grabbed the remaining regular pasta, (the kind I keep on hand and mix with the whole wheat most of the time), leeks, garlic and some Italian deli meat that needed be used up and set them all out on the countertop. I coated the bottom of the pan with olive oil and caramelized the leeks. Added the garlic, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Threw in the deli meat and let it all simmer down, scraping the bottom of the pot so nothing would burn. The already cooked pasta went in next along with a cup of shredded parmesan cheese. It smelled, heavenly.

Once it was done I slid the whole pot into one of my pasta dishes, used rarely these days, and presented it to the family. They tried it. In a family of three or more kids, if at least one finishes your meal, it’s considered a success. I had two finish it, the third picked at it but ate half. Mr. L finished the whole thing off when he returned home that night from work. I loved it. For the adult dishes, I added a couple of dashes of Turkish Red Pepper, sent directly from a friend who lives overseas straight out of the Turkish spice market.

It was divine. It was like drinking  a cold beer after a long hike, much needed and refreshing. I may not be the best cook or have the prettiest presentation. I will never win Pinterest awards or Instagram mentions for my everyday fare. But, I can whip together a gourmet pasta dish for my family to enjoy.

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Recipe – Quick and Easy Carbonara Twist:

Half package of pasta (I find spaghetti, capellini, spaghettini works well.), Olive Oil, crushed garlic, diced leeks, Italian deli meat (I used pastrami but anything), 2-3 eggs frothed, cup of shredded parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, spice of your choice.

Directions: Boil and cook pasta al dente and set aside but try to keep warm as possible. (I strain the pasta, put it back over the pot to drip and place a lid on top. Keeps pasta moist and warm.)

Coat pot/deep pan with olive oil, add leeks. Simmer until softened. Add garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add deli meat. Throw in salt and pepper. Stir in your spices of choice. Simmer ingredients scraping at bits until all the ingredients are slightly sizzling. Add warmed pasta. Add frothed eggs, toss pasta with all the ingredients in one pot and remove from heat. Cover the pot for a few minutes then add in parmesan cheese, and top with whatever other spices you want. I added the Turkish Red Pepper afterwards for the adults. Egg should be cooked and well mixed. The heat from the pasta and the ingredients will cook the eggs quickly leaving small pieces throughout. Toss together. Serve.

Enjoy!

A Moment of Distraction

Let’s face it, life is busy. Not just for me, for most people I know. Especially this time of year, just go back and read any of my annual May posts. One in particular that I seem to respost each year is From Overwhelmed Parent to Grateful Parent because it holds up over time.  When you have children, especially those families with three or more little darlings things get a little, let’s use the word, chaotic in the spring.  For fun, throw in some additional and/or unexpected life events and crazy takes on a whole new level of meaning.

Due to my continued (albeit it not intentional) lack of regular postings, let me give you a brief recap.

  • A puppy joined our household, Chip the Australian Labradoodle. He is loveable, goofy, sneaky and believes I am his bed or a cushion to sit on. It’s like having a toddler again.
  • I took on some paid writing work.  A few wonderfully complimentary small business owners decided I was a good fit as a writer for hire for their online content marketing strategies. Blogging takes a back seat when paid work comes along as well as my more creative flights of fancy via short stories and editing a manuscript take off all at the same time.
  • And the big one, THE MOVE. Because we are a little nuts, (after all who gets a puppy on labour day, right before all three kids go back to school full-time?), we have purchased a property on the other side of the province (Ontario). We decide to trade in our convenient and comfortable suburban life for a life in the country. Not too far away sit picturesque wineries and our new home is found along the shoreline of the gently lapping waters of the Bay of Quinte.
  • My eldest daughter is going for day surgery (tonsils) and will be off school, at home recovering for at least a week.
  • The kids are now ten, eight and five. If you have kids this age or have had kids this age, I do not need to write another word. You get it. If you’re kids are younger, just wait. You will soon learn the art of creative time management and juggling the demands of burgeoning little people with their own agendas.

As I swiftly change my hats faster than the Mad Hatter himself, I do try to slow down at times and enjoy moments of distraction. Right now basketball is a useful distraction for our whole family. It is huge in this part of the world and our whole family cheers when those Raptors sink another basket.

But the other thing I find helps is humour. Laughing at the absurdity of our crazy life is not unusual, but there are times when you realize you may be a little too distracted.

As a parent of three or more kids, I try not to take my kids grocery shopping with me. It is an ordeal, usually ending up with one kid trying to ride the shopping cart, another grabbing cookies and my voice in that special low growl that ensures their little hands are all affixed to the sides of the cart.  I often forget things if they are with me. So, you would think that grocery shopping would be a leisurely outing when I am on my own. Except, well see the above. Finding leisurely grocery shopping is a thing of my not so distant past. Oh sure, it will come again, but not right now. Right now it is all about survival.

So one afternoon about a week ago, I dashed into the grocery store noting (of course) that I had forgotten my list. I tried to rely on my lacklustre memory but all that came to mind were the dishes. I hate washing dishes by hand so yes, dishwasher tabs are a must. Even in my harried state, I always try to spot that special yellow or red tag that screams, “Sale! Buy me!” When I raced down the aisle, threw other random items into my cart, I spotted the  “Sale!” tag near the dishwasher tab section and grabbed an unfamiliar brand. “Oh well, it’s on sale.” I thought to myself. “It’s probably fine.”

Thinking nothing of it, I walked over to the cashier, paid and went home.

In our house, we keep our dishwasher tabs in a dark corner of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. We have to reach beyond the nearly full compost bin and grab the tabs from the bag or bucket each night.

After I arrived home, I threw the bag into the cupboard and went on my merry way.

It happened the first night. The dishes were still disgusting after the final wash cycle.

“What’s this?” Mr. L asked and held up a grungy glass.

“Hmm.not sure maybe the setting was on a quick wash. Run it again.”

We do that, over and over. The next load was a little cleaner but there were less dishes. We had spent a lot of time eating out over the weekend.

Sunday night. The dishes were supposed to be clean, after all it worked once, but they were still sort of grungy. “Maybe it’s the new dishwasher tabs, I got a new brand. Just use it and I’ll get a new one next time I’m at the store.”

I left Monday night for a mini trip to take pictures of our new rural digs and to order furniture. I arrived home Tuesday and my elder daughter, Elizabeth was unloading the dishwasher.

“Ewww.these are still dirty.” She shoved her small hands into the the large, yellow gloves not wanting to touch the clean/dirty dishes.

“Just leave the dirty ones.” I told her, tired and worn out after a very busy forty-eight hours.

Mr. L peeked at the dishes as well, and then at the unusually dirty dishwasher. “I hope it’s not the dishwasher.”

Remember, we are moving in six weeks.

Wednesday morning arrives. We tried to wash another load and this time, Audrey, the younger daughter was unloading the dishes.

“These feel gross.” She holds out a dirty knife like it was covered in something disgusting. I stood to the side, continued to cut up vegetables for their lunches, tried to organize my  day in my head, fed the dog and threw in some laundry.

“Just leave it. I’ll hand wash them.”

Later that day, when I finally got around to hand washing the dirty/clean dishes, I realized they were dirty, really dirty. The dishwasher soap in those little plastic tabs must be really bad. No wonder they were on sale. I managed to get out to the grocery store in the afternoon and picked up my regular brand. I was very happy, my regular expensive brand was on sale, score!

I got home, pulled out the not great dishwasher tabs from deep within the cupboard, and was ready to trash them when I actually stopped to read the bag.

Laundry Detergent. 99% natural ingredients. No perfumes. 

I bought laundry detergent tabs and have been using them in my dishwasher.

This my friends is the epitome of distraction and life’s wry sense of humour. Just when you pat yourself on the back on how well you are handling the chaos of life, you realize you not only bought laundry detergent instead of dishwasher detergent, but have been using it for the last six days.

Well, at least my kids will have no internal stains and the product was the most natural on the market.

Parents of three or more kids, find the humour. When life seems out of control, busy as hell just remember, at least you didn’t wash your dishes with laundry detergent today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Banana Bread Recipe

Long ago, on a hot summer afternoon in 2005, two professional young woman bantered back and forth on email trying to carve out and finish multiple conversations. One was on maternity leave, the other finding herself, working at a local arts council after leaving a stable corporate job.

Their emails were filled with affection and updates on their days, motherhood, marriage, gossip about friends and weekend plans.

Prior to the onset of civil pleasantries, a recipe for banana bread was shared. A no-fail recipe with chocolate chips. The receiver of the email (me) was spending some time honing her domestic cooking skills and asked one of the great bakers/cooks she knew, her friend L., for the recipe. Now, eleven years is a long time and I cannot remember if I had L.’s banana bread and that’s why the recipe was shared or I was just trying to fill up my empty cooking journal with something that was easy and delicious. Maybe it was because my partner, Mr. L, loves banana bread and I wanted to make something special. The reason is not very important really, what matters is that today, in February 29, 2016, that reciepe exists.

Folded neatly into a cooking reference book my grandmother made years ago to store recipe and meal ideas (perhaps hoping I would turn out to be a domestic wonder in the kitchen), the recipe comes out every so often. Still printed on the same paper, it brings a smile to my face each time I use it as I wonder if L. knows how much I reread one of our hundreds of emails to each other over the years and use this long ago shared recipe.

Just last week, I pulled the recipe out and asked myself,  “Why can’t I commit this recipe to memory?” After all, I’ve been making it for 11 years, yet, for some reason it will not stick in my brain. The banana bread produced each time has been a hit with my now three children, friends and family members. It is often requested by people who have tried it.

I realized at last, on a cold day last week, I really don’t want to memorize the recipe. If I did, that would mean I would have no need for the paper, or be able to read the email exchange written beneath. I wouldn’t smile remembering that person long ago who had just found out she was pregnant after a long year and a half of trying, had visited her friend L. and her little girl so happy for all of them and was just starting to orient herself in a new community. A woman nearing thirty who was battling tiredness, loss of appetite and the heat.

So instead, I kept it. I tried not to spill anything on it and as soon as I’m done it goes back into the special recipe binder. I have treasured this piece of paper and the person who took time out of her busy day as a new mama to send her friend a Banana Bread Email .

For those who want an easy, no-fail banana bread recipe, I give you my friend’s Banana Bread recipe. Take it from a parent of three or more kids, it is delicious and it is a keeper.

Banana Bread Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 eggs, beaten

2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas (can substitute half with applesauce in a pinch, still tastes good)

Chocolate chips – optional – quantity determined as desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9.5 inch loaf pan. (I use butter but whatever you want.) In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter in prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for 60-65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into centre of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Enjoy!

 

Birthday Musings

The past couple of weeks have been rather chaotic in our little world. Frankly, life since my last blog seems to be busier than normal, thus the long absence! But whose isn’t?

Regardless, here in Oakville, Ontario winter did not arrive these past few weeks. With stir crazy kids and temperatures fluctuating wildly between spring temperatures with frigid wind chills, we plugged along into the busiest time of year, birthday season.

With Mr. L’s and all the kid’s birthdays falling between the end of December and end of February, this time of year has its challenges, nothing a semi-organized mom of three or more kids cannot manage. See  my past post on Surviving Back to Back Birthdays.

This year Elizabeth turned ten and Audrey eight. Over the years we have tried to pare back the guest count. Last year Elizabeth had to choose her three best friends for a first time sleepover. Being a milestone year, it soared back up to seven. Amelia’s excuse for inviting ten of her friends to her party was that we are moving out of the area and this would be her last birthday with these friends. Parental guilt ensued and I found myself planning two back to back parties, again.

After much discussion and trying to ensure invites were sent out a few weeks in advance as per my comment on being a semi-organized parent, the plans were set in January. Tea party followed by laser tag for Elizabeth. Splatter paint party at a local Oakville art centre for Audrey. One at home, the other out. Perfect. Oh, and a sleepover with their BFF’s forever.

Birthday weekend started with Elizabeth on the Saturday. Mr. L started the morning with her requested Nutella and toast plus sausages for breakfast and asked me what the agenda was for the day. By the time I had outlined all the activities, I thought his head was going to explode.

“It will be fine.” I assured him shooing them all out of the door to their individual Saturday morning activities before birthday madness ensued.

Thanks to some smart planning and wonderful ladies, all the birthday planning was a breeze, okay maybe a bit of a windstorm, but a manageable one.

During a holiday event, I had the pleasure to meet Renee, or otherwise known as The Traveling Tea Lady. I enlisted her help in creating a perfect, not too girly tea event at our house for seven little ladies. Renee was awesome. Responsive and organized she helped me find last minute decorations that Elizabeth requested, made up small tins of her delicious gingerbread loose leaf tea for the loot bags and even gifted me with a new blend of her Stress Free Tea which I cannot wait to try! She arrived with lots of time to get ready, decorated our small dining area, made all the petite goodies, served the tea,  cleaned up all of it done with a smile.

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In lieu of cake at tea time, Elizabeth requested cupcakes. Now I can make quick and dirty cupcakes, but she wanted something a little fancier. For this task I enlisted the help of Liana from Flavours Catering and Events in Oakville, Ontario. Having used her before, I was so happy with the twelve delicious chocolate and vanilla cupcakes she hand delivered to my house complete with mad hatter fondant icing.

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Post tea time and gift opening, I chauffeured the girls to Laser Quest on the west end of Oakville. It was busy being a Saturday night but I had booked the party room. There was no wait for our turn, they made sure our food, coats and cake were all taken care of.  We had a large room, with all place settings ready to go, pizza hot and delivered on time for the kids. You bring your own drinks and cake. They also give the birthday child a free laser tag game and come in for a “Zappy Birthday” song sung by the enthusiastic host when it’s cake time.  Loud but fun.

Now laser tag isn’t for all kids, those who have photosensitivity or wary of dark places. We had one child that needed to be pulled which was done quickly and handled without incident. But for those who enjoy it, it’s a fun way to entertain a bunch of nine and ten year olds. Party one complete.

Back at the house, Audrey and her sleepover guest were waiting for us to return. Elizabeth and her sleepover guest (note one guest)  quickly changed into their pyjamas and the giggles, nail painting started while they watched Harry Potter, a current favourite on our screen.

Audrey’s big party was the next day. After a waffle filled breakfast, family started to arrive. Some were going to stay at our house while I took some to the art party. As happens, sometimes there is an after party, especially when you have people coming from an hour drive away. The day before we discovered we had almost twenty people coming back to our house after the art party. Thank goodness for online ordering where we got everything from pizza to chicken skewers to be delivered for those waiting the hour and a half for us to arrive with the guests of honour.

4Cats West is an art studio that we have frequented a lot over the years. Their birthday parties are a lot of fun, well organized and messy. What else do you want in a birthday party? Audrey chose the splatter paint party, and in lieu of loot bags, I opted to pay a little extra and each guest got to paint their own take home canvas with splatter paint as well. The end result will be a huge canvas, splatter painted with Audrey’s choice of colours to be hung on her wall. All her friends signed the back of it. What better present is there, especially when this is your last year with this bunch of kids?  The facility does not provide food, you bring everything yourself. They give you the space and entertain the kids for an hour while you set up.

The splattered faces and paint drenched hair were a testament to the fun the girls had. Amelia loved seeing her friends get all messy and I was privileged to get many shots of her genuine smile, something that is sometimes hard to catch.

Back at the house, we finished off the birthday marathon with more food, ice cream cake for both the girls, family wishing them well, more presents and play. My mudroom was a disaster thanks to a couple of rambunctious boys who needed backyard time. The toys littered the house. I’m still finding pieces of chocolate mashed on the floors. But it was a memorable weekend, filled with kind and professional people to help make my girls’ birthdays special. All happening on a quiet street in Oakville, Ontario.

As I sipped a well earned crisp white wine chatting with my family as the kids played, well all over the house, Mr. L was quick to point out that this was it. Our last birthday celebration in this house. For dear readers, we move this summer to a new area in Ontario. A place where I must seek out everything from where to get awesome cupcakes to what grocery store to go to ease birthday filled weeks for a mom to three or more kids.  I will need to find a new village.

My mother, (being a mom), pointed out now that it was all done, I survived another crazy December to February, wasn’t it time to start packing? Yes, it is. But looking back, it will be bittersweet when I start filling that first box. After all, I’ve met some great people here in Oakville, Ontario. I have found great small businesses to support, have the stores I frequent, made lots of great connections along the way. I will miss it.

 

 

Thinking Ahead – Switch How You Meal Plan

Entering the month of August, (Here I will throw up my hands and try to excuse a lengthy hiatus from this blog but such is June and July in our little world, busy with a capital “B!”) a parent of three or more kids begins to sweat. Or perhaps panic is a better word. Their minds race plotting out fall schedules, back to school shopping and how to keep delightful children entertained for another four weeks. If you are back to work after some vacation time you are desperately trying to catch up while juggling various camp options.

If you’re like me, with three young school aged kids (or more!) you still glance at the huge amount of articles and Facebook posts hitting your computer screen. “Plan now!” “Set your schedule!” “Get on track for Fall with these tools!” You may or may not have learned to weed through the crap and bookmark the ones you will read later, maybe. Most of the guilt you used to carry about being super prepared vanished over the last five years. But yet, you still make a half-hearted attempt to plan. To at least have a map to follow when the days get dark and you can’t stand seeking out the perfect backpack for your eldest child because the one she was given earlier this year just isn’t the right one.

Then the messages from the mom’s group you joined a while back start. Women in similar situations with multiple kids pleading for advice on how to manage lunches and back to school shopping and still keep your sanity. You realize you are  not alone.

From one of these boards one mom posted this question:

“Okay I’m going crazy with menus and grocery shopping. How do you plan your meals. Any good websites that post weekly or monthly menus. Ughhhhh please help!”

Lots of ladies started posting links to multiple websites, suggestions on how to manage a meal plan. All great advice and resources. But one post caught my eye.

“I plan backwards from most people. The grocery store plans for me. I look at what’s on sale in the meat department, then see what’s on sale I can add to that to make meals. I save a lot of money and stress this way.”

I couldn’t believe what I read. Someone else bucked the trend of being utterly prepared at all times? An alternative to the huge amount of time and work that is menu planning? No way!

You see I realized something the last few years. No matter how much I try to plan ahead, something always buggers it up. It’s like an unseen force makes things a touch difficult to mess with me. Then I feel like a failure at this whole domestic stay at home mom deal, wallow in self-pity and get right back on the crazy train. A vicious cycle.

With specific attention to meal planning, I tried different apps on my wonderful device tethered to my hip this past year and combined it with a written monthly menu board. Not surprisingly, I made nothing that I planned for. Out of pure frustration, I attempted a whole different approach. I picked a day of the week where, unless there is an emergency, I go grocery shopping. The same day. (Yeah, yeah. My grandmother did it this way too..but it must have worked. She had four kids.) My kids were all in school so I spent an hour or so wandering the aisles, (No coffee cup in hand. Remember, I was meal planning.) and let the grocery store decide my menu. I based my weekly meal plan on what was on sale that day combined with what I already had in my pantry.

I did one other thing, I stopped trying to plan every day of the week. I planned only for four out of seven days. One day off to do whatever I wanted. (Leftovers or pasta but I had to use what was in the fridge.) One day I asked the kids what they wanted and ensured I had most requests in the freezer. (Usually tacos, hot dogs, chicken nuggets.) One day for spouse to make decisions.

Done.

Each Sunday night I wrote down my tentative weekly menu with just main ingredients, (No fancy quiches dishes) on a dry erase board based on what I bought at the grocery store and our weekly schedule. (Knowing each week is slightly different and how much time I have to prep and make simple or more complicated meals shifts each day.) I asked the kids what they wanted on one of the empty nights and filled it in. Having chicken nuggets one night a week is a treat for them and takes pressure off me. I can buy organic, locally grown, frozen chicken nuggets if that’s what I prefer. Most grocery stores carry a decent brand.

This system worked the best out of any I have tried the last few years. There is less stress trying to manage a list or app. Grocery store shopping is more relaxing without having to manage multiple recipes or the overwhelming list of ingredients I may or may not use. The best reward is that I use up most of the food in my fridge. Less waste.  If I need a recipe, with the abundance of websites it is easy to find one that includes ingredients I have on hand.

I mentioned the above to my sister, a person who is a shift worker, and she rolled her eyes. “Well for those of us who work shifts we need to have a plan.” Fair enough. If having a detailed weekly or monthly menu plan works for you, great. But for those of us parents of three or more kids drowning and overwhelmed with menu planning, perhaps switching perspectives will work. Stop trying to over plan and let the grocery store be your guide.