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!

 

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.

Helping your kids, helping yourself.

As per my a previous post, I am on a mission to help my kids (and myself) be more organized and teach responsibility. Knowing this needed to be done but also being a parent to three small children, I always feel as if I’m playing catch up and one of my goals is to get ahead of the game. Or at least try to. In doing this, the hope is to help our household run a little better and teach the kids about organization at the same time.

Some of this was derived from report card time. My eldest child, a bright easily distracted nine-year old, is struggling with her current school program. The standard message has come home the last few years,

“Elizabeth is a bright, empathetic child. She would greatly benefit from focusing more during classroom time, completing her work in an organized way and using the resources available to her.”

Meetings with teachers generally end with the same conversation.

“Yes, we know she can do the work if she wants to, but her work is too inconsistent to be marked at grade level. If she would just focus in class a bit more and take her time, we think there would be huge improvements.”

My standard question is, “What are the resources available during class time and within the school to support this goal of motivating her to focus on her work? Timers? Reward charts? What?”

Usually I am taken through the standard in class resources. But telling me in February that you are just starting to do things like giving her a private area to focus on her work or inviting her to join a guided reading club twice a week at recess is frustrating with more than half the year is gone. I know teachers are limited to what they can do in a day and it is the hardest job. I empathize and know you try your best. But as a parent, I would like not to wait until the year is half over to address concerns, but deal with them as soon as they are noticed and see mechanisms in place after the Progress Report if you think they are needed. Not four months later. As for other available at-school resources outside the classroom for these types of learning skills, well they are non-existent at our school.  Basically the continued message I have received is that she will continue to be marked low until she writes neatly, focuses all the time during class on a more consistent basis and uses the resources for her spelling.

Ummm..okay.

On one level, I can’t argue with them. It is the same frustrating battle I have at home trying to balance her free-spirited ways knowing she understands the material, but she really doesn’t seem to care if she spells are without the “e” because,even though she knows it’s supposed to be there (as she can spell it correctly when she edits her work or spells it orally) so why should she write it down properly? She just wants to finish and get on with the next thing. Sigh…

Trying to walk the line of working with the school system while encouraging them to perhaps look at alternative ways to motivate her, I am tempted to write a standard letter  to every one of her teachers at the beginning of the year.

“Please excuse my daughter. She understands everything you are saying but unless she sees the personal benefit to write neatly and in an organized way, telling her to do it just isn’t going to work. Perhaps rewarding her with smarties will entice her to focus on her work. I invite you to try any positive reinforcement at your disposal but please try those things now and not in March.”

But some teachers may not appreciate my sarcastic sense of humour.

The only thing I can think of as a parent trying to juggle multiple kids homework etc. was to go back to basics. I researched chore lists, homework lists and found some great online free resources. Some of them customizable.

As a first step, I created a simple system to encourage personal responsibility. The system needed to contain visual cues and reminders to teach what is a good use of one’s time as I do have an emerging reader in JK.

What does this mean in kid language?

The Wall

The Wall

Each child has a folder jammed full of their specific paperwork, homework, reminders and special pencils. To be cleaned out once a month. (As the picture was taken last week, as you can see not emptied for the month yet!)

Above that, each child has a list of expected age-appropriate daily tasks to be checked off. If the whole week gets checked, they get extra time for a movie on the weekend, or trip to the book store to cash in that last birthday gift card. Some sort of “good job” incentive.

Beneath that, each child has a daily schedule with slotted times for piano practice, homework time, free time, lessons,  extracurricular activities etc. I also included their in school library days, or weekly dictation tests. These will change every four months as activities change. My hope is that if they can visually see how much time they have for items or upcoming due dates prompting  them to use their time wisely.

This is as much for me as for them as my head was getting full of so many school-related details.

Now as simple as this looks (and let’s be real, this is not staged so yes I use markers to draw things and items are askew) the point is that it is there for reference.

We went through a tutorial with each kid outlining their charts with an emphasis on independence. What is that? Simply put, if they don’t know what to do, check the chart first. If they still need help figuring out how to use their time, ask a parent.

This also can help any grandparent, child care provider and Mr. L in the event the main organizer, (me) is ill or away.

We got through week one of using the charts and for the most part it went well. Especially with Elizabeth. She likes knowing what is expected of her and having a resource to refer to. It helps keep her focused on the task at hand. It also helps a mom who hasn’t showered in two days take a breath and state the mantra, “Did you check your lists?” With that reminder, the two eldest children figured out what they were supposed to do without much more input. Also freeing up my time to teach a rambunctious four-year old his alphabet.

Next on my list? Investigating and brainstorming simple but creative ways to entice a nine-year old girl to care about her work without overwhelming her. I want to motivate her but more importantly, I want her to learn to motivate herself and be proud of her accomplishments.

Charts were all found from: www.freeprintablebehaviourcharts.com

It’s Complicated

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Audrey

 

The staircase groans under the thundering steps of my eldest child.

“Mom! Audrey is crying again.”

Sighing, I glance up from the weeklong emails I am trying to answer. “What is it this time?”

She shrugs the way an older sister does with an impatient tap upon the ceramic tile in the foyer.

Moving the cat off my lap and placing the computer back on the desk, I stretch out my stiff back and follow her up the stairs. Sore legs? Her sister called her a name? It could be a number of things. The middle child, Audrey is the most sensitive. She is the one I worry about letting in the joys and sorrows of the world with no idea how to filter them.

Walking into the dimly lit room I am relieved to see the girls have turned off their lamps. The tiny stars on their finely webbed fairy curtains drape each of the beds.

“What is it darling?”

“I lied to you.”

Wondering what crime a six year old believes she committed, I sit on the bed rubbing her back. “Well, tell me about it and you’ll feel better.”

“I tried to do what you said and stay on the blacktop at school but Emily went into the field and I followed her.”

Trying not to smile I nod, “Okay. But why did you tell me you stayed on the blacktop when you got home?”

“Because I didn’t want you to get mad.”

Knowing that sometimes I can be a bit abrupt and stern about rules, I pause.

“I’m not mad. But you have to stay in your line so you don’t miss going into the school. If you want to take the bus you have to do that so I know you’re okay and the teachers know where you are. When you’re older you can play in the field. We talked about this last week, actually I talked to both you, Emily and her mom who agreed.”

After a spontaneous visit to the school playground last week, I was surprised my grade one student and her friend were playing in a restricted area. Taking a “watch and see” approach, they did not hear when the bell rang and were left behind as the lines went inside. Afterwards, I had spoken to both girls about being responsible and staying in their area. Following up with Emily’s mother she agreed that in grade one, they were to stay in place during the chaotic morning drop off. It was too easy for two little girls to go missing.

Audrey’s brown eyes look up at me, “But Mom, Emily’s mom told her it was okay to play in the field.”

Here it was, another conversation about my parenting tactics versus another parent. Did I believe Audrey? Yes. So either her friend Emily was telling a tall tale or her mother contradicted me, again.

Keeping the annoyance out of my voice I parrot my standard phrase, “Well honey, I’m not concerned with what Emily does. You are to follow our rules.”

“Okay Mommy, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” I hug her wiping away the remaining tears. “Now go to sleep. And thank you for telling me the truth.”

As I close the door for the second time, relief washes over me because for now I outrank her friends. At this age what they do is relatively harmless, easily fixed with a hug and repetitive message. Hopefully when the time comes, my voice will be louder than the lure of her peers or other parents.

 

Where did the pumpkin seeds go?

Minutes ticked by.

“Is it Halloween yet?”

“I want to get my costume on. Now!”

“When are we carving pumpkins?”

“No kids. Chill. It’s Monday. Halloween is Thursday.”

This was the conversation that started early last week at our house. Having to downgrade this blog to a once a week posting due to my other writing committment, a preschooler who has dropped their naps and Halloween, it is only now with Jacob taking a bit of a rare nap due to the time change, that I can try to post something about our Halloween experience.

Usually in our house, pumpkins are carved the weekend before Halloween. It saves my sanity instead of trying to squeeze carving jack-o’-lantern faces during the after school rush. In our house, three kids equals three pumpkins to gut and carve. However, Mr. L and I took a rare opportunity having my in-laws babysit the Saturday before Halloween and whom agreed to stay overnight to go on a “super date night” complete with renting a hotel room in downtown Toronto and ordering room service for dinner. (And yes, for breakfast the next morning too.) A little reprieve which was so exciting that Mr. L fell fast asleep halfway into the rented movie we were watching from the king size bed. Another luxury.

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto, ON

Room Service Dinner at Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto

Although a little piece of personal heaven, getting back mid-afternoon on Sunday rushing through homework, dinner and all the rest, the pumpkin carving time was pushed to early in the week, after school.

I tried to plan the week carefully. Monday – piano lessons equals no time for pumpkin carving. Tuesday – free except normal homework.  So an early dinner was planned, homework for my grade two student completed so we could get right into pumpkin carving as a post-dinner activity. I even managed to paper the table pre-bus pick-ups and lug in three good-sized pumpkins to warm up. Homework went a little later as did dinner prep and the light outside was fading fast as were my three little monkeys. Gulping back a scalding cup of coffee I rolled up my sleeves, put away the spelling duotang and opened up each pumpkin letting each kid start digging. While they made their first foray into the still cold, although thankfully not freezing pumpkins I tried to capture their grossed out faces on my camera, finish dinner and help the smaller ones. Dinner was served alongside pumpkin guts and seeds plunked onto the waiting baking sheets and my crew took bites in between pulling out stringy orange goo. Mr. L walked through the door,

“Where am I supposed to eat?”

Shrugging I suggested he get changed first or risk a splatter of pumpkin juice on his nice blue suit.

Thankfully, after a meal, he got right into the last part. The carving. As each kid chose their face, I stenciled and he carved I was able to clean up from dinner and finish the final cleaning of the other waiting pumpkins. Team work at its best. Elizabeth wanted to roast the pumpkin seeds that night but I explained they had to dry.

“Can we have them Halloween?”

“Sure.”

Pumpkins complete.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Elizabeth digging into her pumpkin.

Next came the dreaded Halloween cake.

“Mom, I want a homemade Halloween cake this year.” Said my 7.5 year old Elizabeth her hazel eyes pleading with me.

“Oh honey, you know Mommy doesn’t bake very much. Really?”

She looked so forlorn that I immediately gushed, “Of course I’ll bake you a Halloween cake.”

“From scratch?”

“Ummm..sure.”

Wednesday. Time was running out.

“You’re making the cake right?”

“Yes.”

“I want to help.”

“How about I make it before you get home from school and we’ll decorate it together?”

“Okay!”

So after gymnastics, lunch and all the rest I started the cake. Not hard. I’ve done it before. Devil’s food cake from Betty Crocker. Best mix ever. Actually got it done before bus pick up and the three cakes were cooling on the racks. I was so proud of myself when I realized. Crap. Dinner. Wednesday is also the night I have a writing class. A must-go for me. So scrambling I pulled out leftovers for another attempt at an early dinner. During homework time, I quickly made the homemade icing. Three little hands reached for the beaters and I passed them off ignoring the “you’ll spoil their dinner” mantra in my head. Their faces were amazing. I vowed then and there always to make homemade icing. After half eaten dinners, we melted marshmallows and four sets of hands reached into the warm gooey mess stretching the white goodness all over the iced cake making spider webs. Lastly, Elizabeth added the plastic spiders. Cake complete.

“Can we have a piece?”

“No. It’s for tomorrow night.” I call blowing kisses as I run out of the door. Thankfully I am only five minutes late to class.

Spiderweb Cake

Spiderweb Cake

Halloween Night. Costumes are all tucked into three knapsacks ready for costume day at their respective schools. Little treat bags, made post-class last night at 11 pm for my kindergarten daughter and her friends are ready to go. It’s pouring outside. One nudged onto a waiting bus.  Another is gratefully picked up by a neighbour as she doesn’t want her son’s costume getting too soaked before he gets into school and has offered my daughter a ride.

“Don’t forget to roast the pumpkin seeds!” Elizabeth calls as she skips out the front door.

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Thor and Supergirl

The third is dropped off with his big hammer. Little blonde Thor in all his glory.

Halloween celebrations have started. Having all three out of the house allowed me time to finish decorating, get the dinner table ready for a planned pre-trick or treating pizza dinner with another friend and her two sons.

After school is a blur as the kids anxiously await their friends dancing around the table. Soon our friends arrive with pizza balancing pizza boxes and we commence convincing five kids (all 8 and under) to eat at least one slice while we give out popcorn and cut up veggies. Finally it is  cake time and it is a success. All of them got a huge piece, took two bites and then the doorbell rang. Our first trick or treaters of the night. That ended our dinner as five kids went flying to get their costumes back on and out the door not caring if they had coats on or it was drizzling rain. Thankfully, we got a reprieve from the rain and spent an hour and a half chasing the kids up and down our neighbourhood.

The pizza party.

The pizza party.

“Mom, where are the pumpkin seeds?” Elizabeth asked as she counted her candy warming up on our family room floor.

Shoot. Caught red-handed. They were still on the baking sheet in the oven, but not roasted. I had forgotten about them.

“Umm…how about we do it this weekend? They still have to dry.”

“Okay.” Distracted by the bucket of candy, she is easily distracted.

Halloween complete. Week complete. Thank goodness for the extra hour on Sunday night.

But then I wake up this morning. Puttering around the house, cleaning up while Jacob nicely plays with his toys. We go to get groceries. Come home and I’m opening the oven door to get some pans out. I spot them.  There they are. The pumpkin seeds, still “drying.” Damn. Thankfully Elizabeth hasn’t mentioned it yet. Maybe I can surprise her and roast them this week. A nice reminder of Halloween.

Post-Race Round Up

It is hard to believe but autumn is upon us! The first official day today and the weather has gone from balmy humidity to crisp fall air in a microsecond. All I am thankful for is that I finished my first mini Tri race last weekend when it was cool but not crisp outside!

Yes, I finally reached my own personal fitness goal. The race was swam, cycled and ran last Sunday at Lakeside, Ontario organized by MultiSport Canada. A four-hundred meter swim, ten kilometer bike and two-and-a-half kilometer run all in one shot. I reached deep into my own stubborn nature and pushed my training the last two weeks getting ready determined not to let my first race intimidate me. How do you train with three small kids? In truth, pockets of time are so precious that more and more thought goes into how I spend any time I can carve out for myself. This race took precedence over everything else. I had committed to it and was determined to finish it. I went swimming at night after I had kissed my babies good night at a local health club. I ran in the dark the last couple of weeks. I cycled on the weekends as Mr. L napped during a mandatory quiet time in our house.

We managed to fit it in my training and Mr. L was supportive, for the most part. I tried to run anywhere I could. My little guy, still at home with me most of the week, would jog with me to the park his cute little laugh echoing down the quiet streets once the older kids went back to school. At times it was tough to fit in training. Family events, a friend who needed a shoulder for support, Mr. L’s insanely busy schedule. They all took precedence over the training because for me, my training does come second. It is as important, but being flexible and creative organizing my time was paramount. I had to be okay if my Sunday morning planned run was delayed because we decided at the last-minute to squeeze in one more family outing. I still did it, just later that day.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Two out of three kids with me at starting line.

Race day came. I plunged into crisp lake temperatures on a gray day as my family looked on cheering. I ignored the weeds at the bottom of the lake and used whatever stroke felt right swimming to the  finish line praying I would not have to pull the cap off and wave down one of the nearby aides. I shook off the stiff fingers as I pulled socks over wet feet and tried to do up the laces on my shoes ignoring the others bypassing me in transition as I stumbled over what shirt to pull over my wet bathing suit. I groaned but kept pedalling up the rolling hills of the Ontario countryside cursing myself for only road bike training on the flat and safe streets by Lake Ontario. I threw my bike onto the rack and hit the pavement during the run ignoring my feet that had gone numb from the cages on my bike and let my legs do their job. And I finished, not last and not feeling like a truck hit me. My family was at the finish line cheering me on as I sped up and I felt great. Great for finishing and then cold. Asking for a sweater to pull over my quickly cooling body, my sister-in-law asked, “Wasn’t that fun?”

Finish Line. Photo by Zoomphoto Inc.

Finish Line. Photo by Mike Cheliak My Sports Shooter

Fun? No. No it wasn’t. Challenging. Satisfying. Absolutely. I had set a goal and accomplished it. But fun? It was not the first word that came to mind. My hip hurt, a residual post-pregnancy ache that will probably haunt me whatever I decide to do next for the rest of my life. I was tired. I was cold. I was hungry. It was absolutely nice to see all the encouragement from my family, the other racers and the great spirit of camaraderie at the event, but for me, fun? Not really.

A week post-race where I indulged in massage, chiropractic care, a facial and even a new pair of running shoes (Hot pink Saucony pair much lighter weight than my old clunkers. This alone is new behaviour!) where my only exercise was chasing my kids and a couple of much-missed yoga classes (something had to give during training and it was yoga which I desperately missed), my hip is still aching. I got some writing done for my new class I started as well a couple of weeks ago with my new free time. However, as much as I resist, the fitness mama has been born. My body used to the regular activity and exercise craves a run down by the lake or a few laps in the pool. Even a quick bike ride. Something that gets my body moving. I know something has shifted, slightly, when yesterday morning during the girl’s tennis lessons, instead of hiding drinking another cup of coffee typing on my laptop, I asked Mr. L if he wanted to play tennis instead. I needed to move.  To help my hip, I have to balance light running with training to give it a chance to rest but my body is starting to scream…no! Get out before it snows. This alone is a new outlook for this parent who craves a good nap, warm bed and good book.

So what is the lesson learned from this experience? Do it. If you’re thinking about it, go for it. It may be fun, challenging or a goal but whatever your reason, if you want to do it, you can.  If I can find time to train for a mini tri, you can find time if that is what you want to do. I did this as a goal and truthfully, to get my behind moving knowing I needed a bigger goal than “let’s go to the gym” to reach for helping create what is I hope a regular lifestyle choice for me that includes some fitness. The biggest question people have asked me this past week, “Are you going to do it again?”

Without hesitation I answer, “Yes. I want to better my swim in open water.” Even six months ago, I had no idea I would say something like that and mean it. Than I usually add, “And maybe have some fun next time.” Because, at the end of the day, if you cannot find the fun in what you are doing, what is the point?

Refresh and Recharge

Drinking wine at lunch on a sun-soaked patio overlooking a glorious turquoise pool. Having a nap, in the morning after a full breakfast complete with egg-white omelette that I did not make. An impromptu massage before a 9 pm dinner. Glasses of wine served in pristine glasses overlooking beautiful vineyards. Feeling a cold wave crash over your head fighting the Niagara Rapids in an open jet boat. Having a conversation with adults (including a husband) that is not interrupted by “please do not eat with your hands.”

These are a few of the precious memories this mom of three took with her into this past week from a luxurious, too-short mini trip away with Mr. L to Niagara-on-the-Lake. An agreeable grandmother who took on all three of the kids (plus the dog) for a weekend so we could sneak away for some much-needed R&R led to a weekend full of food, wine, friends and fun. And much too short….

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I could write away with abandon on everything we did, the amount of wine consumed, the delicious food, but all I will state is that if in the area, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Pillar and Post are two of my favorite things right now and if you can, run for a visit.

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Poolside at Pillar and Post

Instead, it became clear to me how much I needed a little recharging. As parents, couples well, people, I find if we don’t find a balance in life and slow down, life can turn from being busy and full to difficult and something you have to endure. As a mom home alone with three kiddies, dog and on her own for much of the time, it was a necessity.

The whole trip was based upon another couple. Good friends who were celebrating their twentieth anniversary, they had never been away from their son for one night. He is now sixteen. At dinner a winter ago, and after a cocktail or two the subject of their upcoming “china” anniversary came up. I volunteered to take them on a wine tour, something they have never done and we would make a weekend out of it. Planning is a strength for me, even in these crazy days, so with a little research I booked everything and then tacked on an extra night for Mr. L and I as a belated anniversary gift to ourselves.

From www.clipartof.com

All during the spring and early summer I looked forward to our weekend knowing that my hard work at home with the kids would be rewarded. And it was, very nicely. It was a picture-perfect weekend, (except for my red-eye due to severe allergic reaction this year to ragweed) and it seemed the weather gods had even listened providing the perfect weather to take a wine tour and enjoy the posh amenities at the Pillar and Post.

The other couple was so grateful  and had enjoyed themselves so much, another tentative trip back is planned in January. I have a feeling now that they have a taste of alone time away from the responsibilities of house/child they will crave more of it. Or perhaps they were finally at a place where they felt comfortable to leave their son for a night or two with good friends or family. Either way, the embraced the weekend.

For me, a SAHM who spends most of her time catering to the demands of four other people,  these carved out chunks of time are a welcome respite from well, normal life. I learned on this trip that it was not only me who craved and appreciated these times. Mr. L and our friends enjoyed a couple of days away from, well, the kids. Time away could be something as simple as a visit to my mother’s house, alone, but to be able to hear one’s thoughts for even a day is welcome. I have been known to take long walks to clear my head in order to achieve a little clairty.

In the everyday rush of life, I think sometimes we forget a bit of silence, rest and enjoyment from pleasures like a bike ride down a country road can work tiny miracles upon ourselves. It has done wonders for me this week. I feel calmer. My head feels a bit clearer. I can see things not as a constant to-do list but the big plans ahead with time to complete what I need to do. Life does not seem as overwhelming. I call it the “post-vacation high.” Sometimes it lasts a few days, sometimes longer. But I will soak it in while I can.

And on the upcoming days when things seem to start to spin out of control, I will close my eyes and picture the vineyards and remember I can go back. Even for a day. Soon.

Summer Musings.

Monday. The day I have been looking forward to.

“Really?” you may find yourself asking. “But why?”

In the most basic way, I am free this week from camps. It was a day we could wake up and just float through the day puttering around. Last night as my pen wrote at a frantic pace filling in plans for August followed by the quick tapping of inserting all of the plans in my iCalendar, I came to realize how fast these summer weeks can fill up. My lofty dreams in June of hiking down the local trails with three little kids have given way to blocking out precious time at home where the most exciting part of our day is a trip to the library. I have no idea how this snuck up on me. Trying to plan a park/picnic playdate with a friend who I have not seen in a long time, I realize with horror we only have three open days in all of August. How is this possible?

Part of me embraces the rich experiences we will have and people we can share our summer with and the other wants to run and hide playing board games with two older ones in our rec room while Jacob naps and stop answering calls, texts and emails.

So, I will protect those days like a fierce tiger mama and try to remember it is all brief. Soon enough school bells will ring and my voice will become once again raspy as I plead with three kids to get out the door. I want my kids to have a fun and full summer. I have the rare opportunity of being able to be with them for two months and see all their little eccentricities.

Now all of the above is coming off a crazy mixture of insane baseball playoffs for our two girls Saturday morning followed by trying to celebrate our eleventh anniversary Saturday night. Having three or more it was a “divide and conquer” type of weekend. I took Audrey to her baseball play-off/fun day and Mr. L took Elizabeth. We flipped to see who would take Jacob with them. I won. Now we love spending quality family-time with him, but a rambunctious two-year old trying to emulate his older sisters in well, everything, would spend some of the time running onto the field trying to also play baseball. So, I ensured to pack his mitt and plastic bat along with a few choice Tonka trucks to play with in the gravel dug-out if need be. The text messages from Mr. L started as soon as we arrived at our noon hour game,

“It’s raining here and I didn’t bring an umbrella.”

‘”:(” I wrote back while trying to grab Jacob’s attempt to hug his sister as she went up to bat.

“Damn” I thought to myself, “hope it doesn’t rain here. Good thing I brought my umbrella.”

Audrey and her baseball trophy.

Ten minutes later another text from Mr. L.

“It is POURING here and they are still playing. I have to go to the bathroom but can’t find it. I am soaked. There is nothing to eat, you said there would be a concession stand.”

“:(” Then I added, “Look around, they said there would be a concession stand. That is probably where the bathroom is. I don’t think there is one here either.”

As I pop up our umbrella watching the drizzle of rain start to fall but happily watch Jacob munch on the pizza organizers of the league had brought over to the parents/siblings.

I can’t help myself. “They brought us pizza, thank goodness. Jacob and I were starving! ;)”

After that I don’t get too many other text messages.

After eleven years of marriage, kids and everything in between, I’ve learned how to get my digs in now and then. After all, I spent the entire baseball season driving one, two or sometimes all three to various baseball diamonds since May sitting through freezing cold nights wrapped in blanket, arranging babysitters for the other kids when he couldn’t make it home on time, boiling in the heat and sitting in the rain. I thought it fitting I get the better end of the deal this last Saturday.

The day ended with Mr. L taking a nap once our babysitter arrived and waking upon my  nudges (and a huge cup of coffee) so we could make our dinner reservation. Good thing he sent me a beautiful bouquet of roses earlier in the day!

Eleven year anniversary!

Eleven year anniversary!

After the baseball frenzy of Saturday, a quiet Sunday was very much welcome. Our first inaugural family bike ride with two out of three riding was a milestone for our family. How much I look forward to future bike rides!

First family bike ride!

First family bike ride!

Yet, as it goes during the summer, my parents stopped by with their anniversary gift. They had brought beautiful plants for our backyard, which they planted, bonus!  I have learned over the years to welcome last minute visits, embrace them even, especially during the summer. After all, it was a couple of hours the kids had doting grandparents to entertain and all I had to do was get out a casual picnic lunch eaten on our patio enjoying the garden. Bliss.

Looking ahead to August, it may be busy but I will look forward to the things that fill our days. After all, summer will be over before we know it.

Chucking the checklists, at least once in a while!

From sheknows.com

From sheknows.com

Checklists. A parent (or parents) of three or more kids rely on checklists. Checklists on my iPhone. Checklists on my calendar. It seems there is a constant checklist in my brain. Sometimes I can turn it off and remember life is not about checking items off a list. Other times the list seems so huge I give up and take the kids for ice cream.

How many checklists can one person have? For myself; one for me, one for the household stuff I am responsible for (which is most of it), one for each child (so that is three), the dog, the occasional request to help with Mr. L’s business and then if we make any plans, an additional checklist of packing items for road or overnight trip. Each day I have anywhere from eight to ten checklists to be considered. I love them and I loathe them.

However, the feeling I get from checking off a major item is very satisfying. For example, I have a fitness checklist for myself. It is more of a goals list, but at its essence, it is still a checklist. Finish a 5K run. Check! (Yeah!) Immediate pat on the back. Borrow road bike. (Check!) Plan out another mini checklist for training for said Try a Tri. (Sort of check.)

My training, as with other parents, is very dependent on other people’s schedules. My kids, our family commitments and life in general including weather. There are some days when it seems easy to fit it in. Kids asleep, weather fair, head out for scheduled bike ride. Check! Other days, all good intentions fall to the wayside. Pick kids up from camp. Head to health club to fit in swimming laps while kids splash around in pool with Mr. L and eat their Friday night pub-ready grilled cheese. Swim five of ten laps and realize Mr. L cannot chase two-year old and fight off wasps attacking our food at the same time. Reinforce my belief that men (or my guy in particular) although great in some things, cannot multi-task children with other activities. Swim-time aborted. Black clouds roll in. Winds and pouring rain ensue. Bike ride planned for the evening cancelled. Take kids home and feed them microwaved s’mores. Indulging in the gooey deliciousness myself because lets face it, who can resist s’mores? Summer fun. Check!

Wait, all of that was not on my check list! However, seeing my kids messy faces and happy smiles as we put on a rare evening cartoon after indoor s’mores and then tucking them into bed after followed by continuing to watch the amazing lightening display last night over our house. Mr. L finishing some work so we could enjoy Saturday without any distractions. Perhaps not on my planned checklist, but it is okay. Sometimes life cannot be planned by a checklist.

One thing I try to remember each summer is that for us, summer is short. Before too long we will be in the midst of school and activities wishing we could return to a July night eating treats before bed. As much as I depend on our checklists to keep us semi-organized, letting them fall by the wayside is sometimes more fun.

In Anticipation

The countdown is on! What countdown you may ask? The end of school where parents anticipate lazy and less-scheduled days? The time of the year when there are no more mad rushes to get lunches ready for the next day? Or perhaps simply the beginning of summer where the weather warms up and the sun shines into the evening? Could it be the big family trip of the year that makes a parent’s stomach tingle as they look beyond the packing to frolicking somewhere on a beach with their most cherished ones?

A parent’s anticipation this time of year could stem from all of these or the anticipation can be mixed like a less than satisfactory weekend cocktail, with dread. For a SAHM, summer can be the hardest part of the year. Running at full throttle to ensure our brood has a balance of rest and relaxation coupled with activities or camps to keep them busy so the house is not entirely destroyed. Checking the cupboards and filling them with healthy snacks as they attack like scavengers desperate to fill their never-ending empty tummies. We ask with a hint of panic in our voices to other parents at the park, “What do you have planned for the summer?” in the hopes a future playdate will be offered as we look ahead to eight weeks alone with our kids.

Now please do not misunderstand me, there are some wonderful things about spending eight weeks with a group of young, young people. The morning cuddle in bed knowing you do not need to rush to get out the door. (If it is not a camp day.) The leisure to have a planned reading time lounging on the newly put together patio set with coffee in one hand and Ramona the Pest in the other enriching your children’s mind with wonderful children’s literature. Successful outings to the ice cream shop to reward excellent behaviour. The family trip planned overseas to introduce the kids to a new culture.  All of these and more will build memories.

However, for a SAHM of three or more (at the younger age spectrum) who is for better or worse, on their own with the kids for eight weeks, with the wonderful comes a big dash of reality. The reality if it is a rainy, cool summer. The reality the house will not really be clean for eight weeks. The reality my time really becomes their time. The reality that I am up to bat. Some days I may strike out and others hit a home run, but all I can do is keep going.

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When I have brought this up to other people they look with confusion at me and state, “why  not enrol them in camps?” Sighing, I often wonder how to explain the budgetary constraints of enrolling three kids in never-ending camps throughout the summer when you are on one income? Or the logistics that it would be harder to enrol three kids in three different camps at three different locations because their ages are far enough apart my options are limited. For all of our sanity I need to be able to have a one-stop drop off and pick up. Not to mention my two-year old is too young to even appreciate camp and going through the inevitable separation disaster of a new environment makes my skin crawl to upset his schedule again a week later. My older two are in a couple of camps for the summer. Carefully chosen for not only their individual interests but convenience there are a couple of weeks where two out of three kids will be exploring theatre, art and the wonderful outdoors. But after that, our days will be casually planned with well, whatever strikes my fancy.

So think of me and others like me this summer and if you happen to see a red-haired woman walking a yellow lab with three small kids trailing after her and she looks a bit tired, give her a thumbs-up. She will appreciate knowing that she is doing an okay job and that somebody noticed.