To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my situation. It gives my relationship with money some context to the situation I am now in.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not. Depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid and it was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and making my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes budget each fall for school and supplies that my parents gave me. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was left on my own. No sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. Just enough sense to know to pay my bills on time and work so I had money.

Money was also a contentious issue with my parents. Bills were always a stress point and money was considered scary. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching them so they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money? I’m still trying to figure it out.

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit, she tried but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my attempt to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I had failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. Parent fail.  The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up and three little voices and amounts owed in my head was giving me a headache and something had to shift. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance.” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already buy you a book via Scholastic from school each month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public today. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

Travel With Kids

For the last few months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to write guest articles for www.sixsuitcasetravel.com. An informative website about traveling with your large family and a great resource I have used for a few years.

My latest article was about our trip to The Poconos a few years ago.

To read the article you can find it here:

7 Must Do Magical Moments in The Poconos

Poconos Countryside

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.

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.

 

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.

From overwhelmed parent to grateful parent. Repost.

I decided to repost this blog from May, 2014. It is still relevant, albeit with some minor changes in our lives but I thought it was a good reread for this time of year for parents of three or more kids. Happy reading! 

There are generally three times each school year that leave me feeling breathless, rattled, unsure of my ability to be supermom, flying from this to that. And that was when I had just one kid in school full-time. Having two this year and a third gearing up for kindergarten in September, I wonder how I’m going to handle it all.

The first time is back to school. If you have one or eight kids this is a crazy time as you prepare you little student for their upcoming year. Second is just before Christmas break. Concerts are planned, gingerbread house making nights, presents to buy and the holidays to prepare for. Third is right now – mid-May until mid-June. Four weeks of frantic activity from everyone involved.

The kids start getting their first taste of warm sunshine. They want outside. All the time. Desperate to soak up the rare vitamin D in our part of the world and chase the explosion of white butterflies and bumblebees. Especially after a year like 2014 that has been low on the sunshine and a what seemed like we lived in the movie, “Frozen” where snow and ice-covered our land.  Trying to get them to bed at their regular bedtime is challenging, even with blackout shades as the older ones know how to raise them up and peek out the window at the sunset.

“Mooom!! It’s not bedtime yet. The sun is still out. I can’t possibly sleep when it’s not dark.”

“I know honey, but while school is still on you have to go to bed at your regular time. Read for bit.”

So they read, chat and play and don’t fall asleep until after 9 pm and it is dark outside. For some reason it doesn’t phase them getting up with the chirping robins at 630 am. The only person in the house who is still going to sleep no matter what is Jacob, the three year-old.

“I’m done everything and ready for school. Can I go in the backyard?”

“No dear. There’s still a heavy dew on the grass. You’re feet will be soaked.”

So, trying to match their boundless energy I coerce them into completing homework and practicing for upcoming recitals and performances.

Yes, every single program my kids participate have their end of year performance, recital or celebration within this four week period. If you are blessed with children who like the performing arts, it means costume trials, dress rehearsals and early morning line-ups to buy tickets to your blessed child’s five-minute routine during a three-hour show. It also means trying to prepare them for these routines the best that you can while they blow bubbles in the backyard because how can you deprive them outside playing time when they have waiting almost seven months for warm summer breezes?

But we try. Oh do we try.

end of school year

Another testament to my patience this time of year is the endless “end of school” celebrations. I admire and appreciate the school’s desires to honour parental volunteers and celebrate the end of the year. But between you and me, having three kids means I have to squeeze in trying to attend all of their school-related stuff. Spring concerts, BBQ’s, Fun Fairs and volunteer teas. Not to mention the onslaught of trying to do that last-ditch attempt at fundraising so movie nights and art nights. Trying to attend them all,  I enthusiastically cheer and really do appreciate the time it takes to organize these things and have a lovely time when I’m there. But then my kids can’t complain when their summer clothes are being pulled out of the bins as the temperatures increase and I really can’t send them in cords and long sleeved-shirts any longer. A quick check to see if too wrinkled and a sniff to see if items pass the smell-test I throw summer dresses and short-sleeved shirts their way hoping they haven’t grown out of them. Something has got to give!

Oh, did I mention soccer started? Yes, all the spring activities start during this time frame as well and with that means extra nights for picture nights and Friday evenings fraught with on the go dinners to get two kids to soccer.

In between all of the above are teacher-parent meetings as teacher’s start collecting their marks for the year and parents try to encourage their kids to “give it all you got for these last few weeks!” Time to shop for year-end gifts and decide if other parents are giving the jazz class instructor a token of appreciation and who makes the cut and who doesn’t in my quick and dirty gift-shopping spree. Having three or more kids means you also have to remember, did I give that gift to that teacher last year? Will the bus driver appreciate yet another gift card from me for coffee at Tim Horton’s or should I do something new?

Oh and I’m trying to pack for our first summer trip of the year, finish editing a book (this is where I am glad I finished it before this time period), exercise to get ready for two and a half weeks at the beach and squeeze in those last playdates with my kid’s friends because goodness knows there are some kids they won’t see all summer (gasp!) and they absolutely must have them to our house one more time.

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But yet, although I may complain about how crazy life is about to get I am aware this is brought all upon myself. I can pick and choose how absurd our life gets and for that I am thankful. I am thankful I have schools in our area that care enough about their students/teachers/parents to celebrate a successful school year. It is with gratitude I give tokens of appreciation to all the people who taught my children all different things this year or kept them in safe environments. I will buy tickets to support a local community theatre group and try to coerce my relatives to come and see our kids play pirates in an hour-long play or drive to the obscure theatre to watch my daughter dance for five minutes. For these are the markers of another year gone by. One where despite the full and crazy life we have, I manage to get out once a week for a run. I get to travel a little bit with and without the kids. I completed a novel. I took my son to his first professional baseball game. These are the memories they and I will have.

And that, makes it all worth it.

One last note.

Even though all worth it, do not think for a moment that this particular mom of three, will not hesitate to pour a big tumbler of wine after dinner while the kids sing “Let It Go” to the neighbours and sit with my feet up on my toy-laden patio table looking forward to bedtime each night. For it is only after my little darlings are finally asleep and the house is quiet can I permit myself to do nothing. Absolutely nothing at all and for the next four weeks and I refuse to feel guilty about that.