Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Bloggerific Time

Well folks, it's Christmas Day. Actually, night. And here I am in fine Christmas spirit, exorcising my humbugs on Blogger. I should be catching up on mountains of paperwork, which, actually, I have been doing to a certain extent already, but it's just so hard to concentrate on work with a belly full of treats, a house full of opened presents, and a brain full of notes to self (tinged with a smidgen of hormones).

It may not be New Year's Eve yet, but I feel like summing up the year, or at least the month, in review. December has been... interesting. Other possible adjectives include strange, perplexing, frustrating, promising, sickly, busy, predictable, difficult, exciting, and full of change. I have a hard time keeping up with my own life. At least I'm not puking every day, which is more than can be said for the first few weeks of December. At best, my girlies are the highlight of my life, particularly when they're not driving me up the wall. And Thank You God for my husband. We don't always see eye to eye, mostly because there are kids in the way, but when occasionally we get to take a deep breath together and be alone, I'm reminded that love covers a multitude of sins and two are better than one because they have a better return for their work. (Please don't ask me to cite those bible references right now.) Another brief point of interest has been our ongoing discussion of adding a fourth minor and how this might impact our family harmony.

2010 should be exciting. Stay tuned for more details. But don't hold your breath. ;)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Christmas?

I have heard several couples declare they don't celebrate Valentine's Day. These are loving, well-adjusted couples who give a lot of attention to their relationship and their partners, every day of the year. Valentines Day, in comparison, seems like such a cheap, commercial version of the real thing, that they don't see the point in celebrating it. Sometimes that's how I feel about Christmas.

One day 2000-ish years ago, Jesus Christ was born. He lived a remarkable life, and then he died. Three days later he rose again, and he has profoundly impacted the world and my life ever since. We celebrate him every day. We live life with him every day. So decorating a tree and buying presents for others and stuffing ourselves with treats seems so meaningless in comparison. And so much pointless effort.

Then I think about how I saw Christmas as a kid. The lights, the tree, the mysterious packages, the delectable smells and tastes, all these gave me a sense of greater magic than the things themselves, a belief in miracles, if you will. I want my kids to believe in miracles. I want them to imagine that there is more to life than the mundane rituals of survival and society. Christmas, with all it's trappings, also gave me a sense of belonging, a sweet familiarity of home. Now, a mother myself, can I give my children any less? Although my understanding of Christmas has changed, I need to allow my own children to go through the process themselves, to enjoy the magic, and pursue their own search for the meaning. We each need to own Christmas for ourselves, just as we each need to own Christ.

This year, that's why I'm "doing" Christmas.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I Can Count To Six, But Will They Listen?

I have six kids. Seven if you count my husband. Are they all mine? Thankfully, no. But this kind of craziness explains in part why blogging has taken a backseat to real life in the past ...weeks? month? Anyhow.

My girlies are turning 1 and 2 in a week and a bit, and I am going to be 28. For some reason I feel like I've been 28 forever and I should be turning 31 by now. We just found out that we have a foster child being placed in our home full time, and she is already staying with us. This is exciting, and so far things have been going well. All (3) of our girls are getting along great and enjoying each other's company.

On Tuesday some friends of ours were able to get last minute flights to Alberta to pick up some belongings that have been missed for some time, so we are also looking after their three school-aged children. Despite my initial panic, life has continued on at a manageable but very busy pace. I love to be creative in the kitchen, but cooking for eight (me and hubby included) has forced me to get serious about meal planning and frugal shopping. Eight breakfasts, eight lunches and eight suppers, five days a week. Twenty four meals of dishes to clean up, every day. It's a good thing hubby and I work well as a team. Division of labour is good for everyone. The only hairy part is trying to supervise all six children at once, and make sure each of them is clean, fed, does their homework or chores or is kept busy, and refrains from injuring any other child or themselves.

"I'm going to count to five, and I want all of you dressed and out of the house!" Sure, but then someone has to pee. Someone else just knocked down another. And one of them forgets their bag in the hall. Meanwhile my toddler is clinging to my leg urgently calling "MommyMommyMommy!" and the baby is crying in the living room. Both of them are still badly teething. Over the din I shout, "Don't forget your sister, don't break anything, don't run down the stairs, and if you don't do what you're told..." Um, what do I say? You'll be in big trouble? I'll yell louder? Oh my.

My hubby and I talk on the phone after the kids are in bed - he in the house down the street with 3 kids, me in our house with 3 kids - and discuss the ups and downs of trying to hold it all together while still getting our own work done. We come to the conclusion that we're making some mistakes along the way, but this week is making us better parents. How many people get a crash course in parenting preteens before they try it on their own kids? We'll come out of this one with years' worth of experience.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Swine Hyped This Flu?

I was sent an email from the agency I work with today containing a presentation of Fast Facts on H1N1 by a qualified medical doctor. I found it extremely interesting, from the charts and tables to the statistics quoted. 

I particularly enjoyed doing the math. According to the presentation, nine to twelve out of every hundred people get the flu, or up to 42 in 100 if they have young children (in school or daycare). 11/1000 of these got REALLY sick, enough that they went to their local emergency clinic and sat waiting however long it took for someone to actually take them in and examine them. So now we have around a tenth of a percent of the normal population (0.132%) really sick. Got that? Now 7/10,000 of THOSE people died (in the U.S.)... putting us at an expected 0.0000924% rate of death in the population. That means that in Northumberland, Hastings, and Prince Edward Counties (a combined population of 236,933) there may be 0.2 people who die... in their worst case scenario.

I'll take those odds, thank you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

In Living Colour

I went for a walk today with our girlies, savouring the breezy autumn air and the riotous falling leaves. The colours, if you take a moment to gaze at them, are overwhelming, supersaturated hues of gold and scarlet and tangerine with hints of lime, deep-dark purples and blackish greens tinged with crimson. Colour is everywhere. Soon the azure skies and ice cream scoop clouds will flee before wild, dark and stormy skies when the setting sun gilds the world under a heavy slate horizon. I love autumn.

All the blustery, chaotic, colourful changefullness of the season tells me I'm alive, so very alive!

Maybe that's why I don't mind a little messiness, chaos, unpredictability and drama in my world. Life is full of both glee and heartache, pleasure and pain, and I'll take them both together for better or worse... I'll take it all.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Forms And Figures Of Speech

This past spring I blogged about my intent to set healthy habits, and to fit into my pre-preg pants. Now that it's autumn, I thought it was time for an update on my progress, goals, etc.

Confession time. I have not been drinking 8 glasses of water a day. Some days I have forgotten to drink at all, and other days I have struggled to get in 4 or 5 glasses of water. This is partly because I have been drinking coffee, milk, and occasionally juice. From time to time I feel incredibly fatigued and headachy, and then I know I am dehydrated and immediately get some water. Sometimes being dehydrated has made me feel hungry, and I snack unnecessarily without thinking. I don't get 30 minutes a day of straight exercise, but I do get that at least 3 times a week. Carting children around helps.

The good news is... I fit into my old pants! So it would seem that part of the problem was simply my abdomenal "muscles" (I can hardly use the word without sarcasm) still contracting after being stretched from pregnancy. Mind you, there's still this unflattering fold of what I would like to call skin (but a critical person might call flab) that hangs over my belt... I suspect my body may never be the same shape again, no matter how disciplined I might be. And don't get me started about stretch marks and sag. *Sigh.*

Writing this brutally honest update has made me want to go do some crunches and count how many calories I've eaten today. Except I don't know how to count calories. And I don't have time to do crunches because I have to go shopping for dinner tonight. And there you have it, folks. Getting back the body of a 20 year old after having children is no walk in the park. But healthier habits, one step at a time, can be reached by anyone - even me.

Friday, October 2, 2009

One Potato, Two Potato

My one girlie loves playing with Mr. Potato Head. She also likes playing "Mr. Potato Head" with her sister.




Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now, The Mess Is Gone...

Today, finally, my house is clean, Clean, CLEAN! I am flabbergasted by the sheer productivity of my time this morning, that and the fact that the girlies slept for 3 whole hours, allowing me to get it all done. The usual stacks of dishes all got washed, pots and pans scrubbed and sparkling, counters made spotless, and even my sinks and faucets were scoured until they shone. Floors were vacuumed, baby clothes were sorted and put away! and laundry was gathered up from all over the house. Bathrooms were cleaned. Garbages were emptied, and beds were made. Windows were opened and rooms aired out. And this was all by lunchtime!

My bedroom is unrecognizeable. This carpet... this dingy, stained, disgusting old carpet, that we meant to replace when we first moved in but never got the time or money together... is such an eyesore now. Now that you can really see it, I mean. But the rest of the bedroom looks pristine. It makes me want to paint the walls, like I intended to do over a year ago. And order new carpet, like we intended to do two years ago. I can't wait to turn on the fireplace, snuggle up with my beautiful duvet, and go to sleep in my luxurious bed tonight.

But, most of all, this spotlessness makes me want to KEEP IT UP. Now that the really hard work is done, I want it to stay this way! As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It was so amazing to be able to watch a movie this afternoon, and lay on the sofa with my feet up, and not feel a drop of guilt. Knowing that everything was done, I enjoyed making dinner, playing with the girls, and doing next to nothing all afternoon. And my husband was so happy with the state of the house that he cleared the table after supper and did the dishes cheerfully on his own initiative.

My mind feels so at ease, that I can think about things I would like to do, projects I would like to tackle, without the slightest stress or chagrin. It's a wonderful life. :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hear The Engines Roar

Last night we went out on a date to the Brighton Speedway. Now, I'm not normally into the whole stock car subculture, but this weekend we had a good friend racing and a few of us went out to cheer him on. The noise was, as I remembered from the one previous time I'd gone, painful and deafening. The air was a miasma of exhaust fumes, flying dust, and cigarette smoke. But the races were awesome.

The skill of these drivers really hit me while watching these pure stock cars skidding and sliding through curves, then screaming and bumping their way down the straightaway. Serious skills are required. The sheer adrenaline that drives these races is contagious, and although at another time I would probably say it's just a bunch of dirty, smelly, polluting machines going in circles a gazillion times, up close I could not help being in awe and cheering at the top of my lungs for a favourite car. While I can't understand people wanting to poison their lungs, damage their eardrums, and risk their lives, I can certainly understand the thrill that draws people back to the speedway week after week.

So today I'm not going to talk about green issues - the environmental concerns raised by automotive racing are obvious. And I'm not going to moralize about health - we all know of unhealthy activities that each of us have taken part in from time to time. Today all I'm going to say is "Good for you!" to the people who have skills and passions, and who use them to the best of their abilities. I'm looking forward to cheering on a friend in the next racing season!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recipes: Thai Red Curry

Get out of your meat and potatoes rut with this delicious Thai stew. Despite the name, this does not contain curry - Thai curries are actually based around a chili spice paste. It is not too hot, about equivalent to mild chicken wings at Kelsey's. It is also bursting with sweet, sour, and salty flavours! What's not to love?

Thai Red Curry

1/2 pkg Asian Home Gourmet "Thai Red Curry" spice paste
5 tbsp sunflower oil
1/2 can coconut milk
4 medium raw potatoes, diced
1 medium yellow or red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 cups zucchini, diced
1 pkg button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup pineapple tidbits, with juice
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 cups baby spinach, washed
a handful of chopped cilantro

Heat oil to medium-high in a large and deep skillet. Add spice paste and stir well. Add half of the coconut milk, followed by potatoes, bell pepper, zucchini and mushrooms, and stir well. Let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, pineapple and juice, and fish sauce, and stir to combine. Let cook 2 more minutes. Add spinach, stir well, and cook for 5 more minutes. Finally add cilantro and stir briefly before serving. Garnish with slices of lime if desired.

Serves 4 - 6.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Funny Antics


My girls.

Don't ask me why Boo wanted to wear a diaper on her head - she has a thing with hats right now.  And Cutes saw the photo op as another kind of opportunity altogether... as her expression clearly shows.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Provisions and Decisions

It has been a good week. Sunday we took the kids to the Stirling quarry with some friends, and enjoyed some swimming and sunning on a gorgeous day. Monday we visited a veteran parent therapy home (for foster kids) and were impressed with what a rewarding opportunity we have, and how well suited to us. Yesterday I bowled badly (Tuesday night bowling league started the beginning of this month), but that was offset by a kind and anonymous giver who left a generous portion of veggies on our front porch - zucchini, squash, cabbage, potatoes... yum!

The veggies came at a great time, because I had already gone grocery shopping but had not bought much produce this week. Now I'm baking zucchini bread - several loaves - to freeze for later. Then I'll make some Asian Cabbage Salad (a new family favourite!) and maybe some sauerkraut, and probably a delicious batch of curry for later in the week. Wow, what a blessing!

We finally have a few relief days booked, meaning we will be getting our feet wet in parent therapy providing short term care for other people's long term placements. After much reflection, this has brought me to another big decision. After two years as vice-president of our local Kin club - which I recommend as a great service club for anyone with time and inclination for volunteerism - I have decided to withdraw from the organization.

I have enjoyed being a part of the club, doing the twice-annual pancake breakfasts and having good friends and co-workers in community projects, and learning about how to be a more successful leader and visionary person. Right now, however, my priorities have shifted to the home sphere where I have an incredible window of opportunity to be of great influence. I can't divide my focus between two (or three) equally deserving ventures and be effective. So, I am going to choose to set aside Kin for a while, and be fully invested in our family and foster family.

Perhaps when my girlies are older I will have another season to turn my attentions back to Kin, but for now... "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu!"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Equal But Different

Lately some conversations have brought me back to thinking about roles in marriage, and gender roles in general. A child development and crisis book I'm reading (from the early 90's) talks a lot about sexism issues and gender bias, but the more I read, the more I'm convinced they're missing the big picture. It seems that in our push to swing the pendulum away from the fiercely patriarchal and misogynistic culture of times past, feminists and other liberators have teetered over the brink of delusion toward uniformity.

Let me illustrate this logical fallacy. We believe women are equally as valuable as men. Therefore we feel that women should have the same opportunities as men. Since we want to ensure women have the same opportunities as men, we insist that women are the same as men - and we skew job standards to gender, to support this assertion. So female candidates for a police officer position have one set of criteria they must fulfil, and male candidates have another. And, since there are more women then men, the composition of the police force must reflect the same demographics. Does anyone see a problem with this?

I think we all will agree that some women are physically larger and stronger than some (even most) men. However, on average, women are physically smaller and have less brute strength then men. Now let's look at the flip side. Some men are very intuitive and emotionally sensitive (like my husband), and have excellent communication skills. On average, however, women are far more intuitive and have a greater capacity for communication. Do either of these facts have any bearing on the capability or value to society of men or women? No.

So why do gender-equality buffs insist that there be no difference between men and women? In the study of education we have learned that people have different learning styles - some are auditory/visual, and do great in a traditional classroom setting, while some are physical/kinesthetic, and do well in co-op or internship placements. We know that these are not indicators of differing levels of intelligence, but rather different kinds of intelligence. Don't you think this applies equally to gender differences?

It is no shame to recognize women as the more emotional, relational, and nurturing gender, and to recognize men as the physically stronger and more technically proficient gender, while allowing for individual differences, strengths and weaknesses. It is not a form of denigration to see women setting aside academic or career concerns to focus on mothering their children, while their husbands go to work and provide for the family. We should each do what we are, by nature, best suited to do - and most women do have an undeniable "mothering" instinct. Does that make us somehow of less value? I hardly think so! As a mother, I am an expert on raising children - much more than any man I know; and besides, I am involved in shaping young minds into mature adults - something that is beyond the capacity of most psychologists. I dare anyone to tell me I am a lesser party to this wonderful husband and wife team we call a family.

So, my point is this. Let's celebrate our differences, not deny them. Start valuing the different and complementary contributions of men and women to society. We weren't made to compete, but to cooperate!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Harvest Time Hurries

In the absence of a productive garden of my own, I have been thriving off the clearance produce at No Frills - a fact I may have mentioned a few times already. Whether you have a garden abundantly producing, or produce abundantly available, all these ripe pickin's require fast use before they spoil.

I previously blogged about an episode of peach chutney brought on by this very dilemma, and on a later day this week I was faced with a similar situation in home-grown veggies (or fruit, if you want to get technical). A few much loved friends and family members bestowed on us some very welcome garden goodies - tomatoes and cucumbers. We have been enjoying them freshly sliced with a sprinkle of salt, but as fast as we could eat them, they were heading toward spoilage. So, what could I do?

The plump and juicy tomatoes, just starting to discolour in small spots, were the inspiration for a spur-of-the-moment experiment in a "salsa fresca" for pasta, which turned out fantastically. The cucumbers, partly from necessity and partly from a craving, were destined for homemade pickles - this time a batch of spicy garlic dills. Nothing was wasted, and we have been enjoying them thoroughly!

Today I had a chance to visit with a fellow (and more experienced) domestic mom, and her own quite prolific garden has kept her busy canning salsa and cucumber relish, freezing zucchini, and picking swiss chard. I asked her how much time in an average week she has put into her garden throughout the growing season, and she said no more than a couple of hours a week - her garden is at least twice the size of the one I had planned to plant - and for a couple of weeks she had barely even looked at it at all! But now the veggies are ripening in such numbers that she has to find ways (and people) to use up all this produce before it goes bad. No wonder harvest has traditionally been such a busy time of work-work-work - the bounty is plentiful, but doesn't last for long unless it's harvested and preserved or put in cold storage.

So, how about you? How does your garden grow? Are you feeling the hurry of putting up fruits and veggies to last through the winter? If you are doing any canning, preserving, pickling or freezing, I'd love to hear your recipes and tips. Happy Harvesting!

Recipes: Pasta Con Salsa Fresca

This is a very quick and easy dinner, about 15 minutes from shelf to table. It's also very kid-friendly. Even if you don't know how to boil an egg, you can manage this one!

Pasta Con Salsa Fresca

1/2 pkg (or 450 g) rotini pasta
3 medium-large tomatoes, washed & cored
1 large green pepper
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbsp red wine (or balsamic) vinegar
1/2 cup shredded cheese (marble cheddar or fresh parmesan)
salt to taste

Boil pasta according to directions. In a food processor or large blender, combine remaining ingredients. Chop until sauce is desired texture. Drain pasta and toss with fresh sauce, serve immediately. Serves 4.

Recipes: Spicy Garlic Dills

These may be a bit too hot for some people's liking, so feel free to adjust down the amount of chili flakes, or omit completely. Also let me warn you, from experience, not to use cucumbers that are too old or already getting soft, as they tend to develop a slightly bitter aftertaste. Freshest is bestest!

Spicy Garlic Dills

6 - 8 baby cucumbers (average 5" long)
4 cups (1 litre) cold water
1/2 cup white vinegar
3 tbsp salt
2 large cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp dried dill weed
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes

Wash cucumbers thoroughly and slice lengthwise into wedges (4 to 6 wedges each). Fill a large jar or Tupperware container with water, vinegar, salt and spices, and stir well. (Adjust to taste, should be rather briny.) Fill with cucumbers, making sure all wedges are able to soak in pickling liquid. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before eating, or follow normal canning directions to preserve for later use.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Fruit Of My Labour

I love, absolutely love, getting ripe fruit and veggies off the clearance rack (49c to 99c) at our local No Frills for next to nothing. I also love their doorcrasher sales - like a fantastic basket of peaches I picked up this week for a couple of dollars. Of course, peaches don't keep very well once they're ripe, so I had to find something to do with them. We've been eating them like crazy, and I have had a good chuckle at my husband peeling the fuzzy skin off his peaches before eating them. It reminds me of my little brother, who used to say "it gives me shiver-ies!"

Last night I saw that some of them were starting to rot, so today I set to making peach chutney. I read online that if you dip a peach in boiling water for 30 seconds, the skin slips off easily. So, I blanched, skinned, sliced and chopped peaches this morning, sprinkling them with lemon juice and salt. Then I boiled vinegar and brown sugar with finely chopped onion, cumin, coriander, and a pinch more salt. Finally I added the peaches and a generous amount of cilantro and boiled it down until it thickened into a beautiful, rich chutney. It tastes divine, and now my house is permeated with the glorious, spicy smell of peach chutney. Mmm, a taste of heaven. Now all I need are some samosas!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Recipes: Bread From Scratch

This is not my recipe. I found it on Allrecipes.com, and it worked so well for me - and turned out no matter how many substitutions I made - that I adopted it as my permanent bread recipe.  I've substituted various oils for butter when I was out of it (just don't use anything a strong flavour, like olive oil). I've even used corn syrup instead of honey. (I imagine molasses would work too, maybe with dark rye flour and a little caraway to make a nice pumpernickel loaf!) I sometimes forget the salt, which doesn't affect the rising or texture of the loaf, just makes it a bit sweeter than my liking.You do need at least half of the flour to be all purpose or bread flour though, for the gluten to make it rise nicely. Notice that I don't use bread flour myself - all purpose requires a little more kneading, but is cheaper and more convenient for me. So, here goes:

Bread From Scratch

3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tbsp active dry yeast (quick rising)
1/3 cup honey or white sugar
5 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3 tablespoons melted butter or oil
1/3 cup honey or brown sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups flour (whole wheat, rye, oat or all purpose)
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Generously flour a flat surface and knead with more flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still a bit tacky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in an oiled bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down, and divide into 4 loaves. Place in greased medium loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch. Bake at 350° F for 30 minutes. Turn out of pans onto wire racks and let cool before slicing.

Tips:
Rising: I let my dough do all its rising in my oven. First I briefly preheat the oven just to warm (not hot), and put a large cake pan full of hot water on the bottom rack. Then I put the dough on the next rack up, with the oven light on to maintain the heat, and close the door.
Baking: Later, when it's time to bake the bread, I leave the pan of water in during baking, which gives the loaves a nice brown and crusty top without a professional steam-injected oven. I also leave the risen loaves in the oven during preheating - it doesn't hurt them, and it prevents them from falling before they start baking. Freezing: Since my oven doesn't accommodate 4 loaves at once, I usually divide the dough after the first rising and freeze half for later in the week. To use frozen dough, thaw overnight in fridge or for a few hours on the counter, then knead and shape into loaves for second rising. Do not over-knead.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How To Make Lobster In One Easy Step

Here's one recipe anyone can try - but shouldn't. You won't like it. Trust me.

Baked Lobster

1 adult, lightly dressed
2 youngsters, lightly dressed
1 large bottle of 55 SPF sunscreen

Liberally slather sunscreen on the 2 youngsters.

That's it. Sounds like a no-brainer, eh? Or maybe I missed something...
Anyway, we still had lots of fun at Riverview Park & Zoo today. :)

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Neverending To-Do List

Here we are in the final days (I hope!) of getting ready to open our home for foster care, and the list of things to be done seems interminable. Medicals are done, criminal checks are done, bedrooms are ready, but still there are the last couple of reference letters to collect, CO detectors to buy, small handyman jobs to finish, locked cabinet to pick up, and... first aid training to take! Just when I thought I had everything ready to go, I realized we don't have our CPR certification.

I really didn't have any idea, going into this, how much it was going to cost all at once to get up and running. It certainly can be a deterrent for anyone looking at fostering as just "a job". For us, however, it has if anything given us an opportunity to reaffirm that this is something we feel is a real calling. Whatever it takes, we will make it through, because of our convictions. Being parents is an enormous privilege, whether of biological children or otherwise. It's worth investing our time, money, and best effort in, and the rewards will be great.

What parent doesn't think the neverending bottles and dirty diapers were worth it the day their little toddler or preschooler says I love you, mommy? Is this so very different? It may take a lot of work, but in the end I'll know we mattered to some little lives. Meanwhile, I must get back to work on that to-do list!

Friday, August 21, 2009

A World Of Tastes

I've been thoroughly enjoying making curries lately, blending my own spice pastes and hot oil to release fragrant aromas throughout the house. In fact, I've been doing a lot of from-scratch cooking in the last while: baking bread, scones, brownies, creatively using pantry staples, and finding new ways to use clearance produce. In the midst of my foodie euphoria, however, I am having some trepidation.

Right now our family has adventurous palates. My husband will eat anything I make, and usually love it. My toddler will eat almost anything (except for some reason she doesn't like meat much), and my teething baby will try to eat ANYTHING she can get her hands on. And me, I love food. If it's edible, I'll eat it. But soon we will have new mouths to feed, who will probably be unused to many of the foods and flavours that we enjoy.

Take lamb for instance. I don't know a whole lot of people who like lamb. We love it! It has such a great, full-bodied flavour, and is nutritionally one of the best meats you can eat. Or Indian food. Spices like cumin, turmeric and cardamom, herbs like cilantro, pungent and foreign to many North Americans, are full of health-boosting benefits and are like comfort food to us. I know my own family (parents and siblings) won't eat these kinds of foods that we enjoy, so what will I do when I have to plan dinners with other children? Will I be stuck with beef, chicken, and potatoes? Plain?

One of our nephews had a limited range of tastes, and often the family resorted to feeding him plain noodles or hotdogs when a meal was not to his liking. I think nutrition is important, no matter what your age, but especially for children. I realize that you may not be able to get kids to consume all their required nutrients in a meal, or even in a day, but over the course of a week they OUGHT to be required to eat what their body needs. Options are good, but healthy options. If kids have the choice to substitute junk for healthy food, they will. I am a firm believer in offering healthy choices, like salad or carrot sticks, banana or apple, whole grain pasta or brown bread. My toddler can have milk or watered down juice a couple of times a day, but otherwise she has water. Pop is not an option.

I think it's great that people have different tastes, after all, variety is the spice of life. But if someone is a picky eater and only likes a couple of things, that is not okay. Man cannot live on bread alone. Sometimes we need to be pushed to broaden our tastes, and this often takes time and perseverence. I read that it may take 10 - 15 tries to get a toddler to try a new food. Dr. Seuss had the right idea in his book Green Eggs and Ham. It may take persistence, and it may take some extraordinary creativity in the presentation, but we can develop and acquire new tastes. After all, there's a whole world out there waiting to be discovered!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Poop Hits The Fan

Yesterday was what Anne Shirley would call a "Jonah Day" for me. It wasn't the large cup of coffee that my toddler dumped behind the couch at 8:00 AM, it wasn't the 29°C heat in my house, it wasn't the food that got thrown on the floor at every meal... but these things didn't help.

Things really started going downhill when I went to get Boo up from her morning nap and found her diaperless, smearing poop all over the crib, her body, her face and hair. Now don't get me wrong, I love my kids, and I can even see the humour of the situation - when it's happening to someone else - but at this particular moment, I felt like I was losing it. This little girl got an earful and besides that was forced under the shower despite her aversion to getting her head wet. If it's the only way to get her clean, I'm sorry, but she will just have to cry!

After she was clean, dressed, and hair done up pretty, I put her downstairs in the playpen and went back up to strip down the crib, scrub the frame, and clean the floor. Then we all had a nice lunch together, albeit messy. That's life for a mommy with two babes, I guess. But later that afternoon I put the girls down for a nap again, and headed off to clean up the lunch mess and my new pile of laundry. After a while I heard my baby fussing, so I got her up and changed her, gave her a bottle, and decided to check on my napping (so I thought) toddler. I found her once again diaperless, sitting oh-so-innocently with pieces of poop scattered around the crib, the floor, the walls... and Mommy was having a meltdown. Toddler was bathed. Crib was stripped and scrubbed AGAIN. Both kids were confined (to playpen and exersaucer) downstairs and put in front of the virtual babysitter. (In these emergencies, the TV is my lifeline to sanity!) I called their Daddy to vent.

It felt good to talk to an adult and get some sympathy. I felt better, well enough to let the girls out of their confinement to play together. I thought, I'll just put up the baby gate and run upstairs for a minute to finish mopping the bedroom floor. Bad idea. When I came down again nothing seemed amiss immediately. Boo and Cutes had pulled out all the kids movies and taken some out of their cases, but that's a common occurrence. They were still playing nicely together, so I ran downstairs to switch over my laundry, and found a large puddle next to my dryer. Puzzled, I mopped it up with a towel, and went to put my next load in the dryer. That's when I realized... my laundry tub, into which my washer drains, had gotten plugged with a couple of rags, and a small flood was creeping across my basement, under the wall, and into the next rooms. This has happened before, but in the midst of minor disasters I had forgotten to check the tub before starting the load. So I ran back upstairs, called my hubby and (on the verge of tears) asked him to bring the shop-vac from work when he came home.

Then I went to check the girls' diapers, and found that Boo had poopy hands again, although I couldn't see where it had come from, as she was still wearing her diaper. Upon closer investigation I found that she had managed to scoop out a handful and use it to "paint" the movie cases, the cupboard where they are kept, and a bit of the floor nearby. Thankfully I had a big pack of moist wipes nearby, which I quickly used to clean her off and wipe up the rest of the area. The soiled cases were bagged and removed for later cleaning. Both kids went back into confinement. I pulled out the vinegar and sanitized everything. And cried.

I don't know what I would have done if I were a single mom. My wonderful husband came home and took over with the kids, he cleaned up the dinner mess, put the kids to bed, cleaned up the basement flood, gave me some money and sent me off for some time out. This is one of the reasons I love my husband so much - he's the "tag" to my team. I'm am doing okay now, and I think I just might put my kids on a low-fibre diet for a while.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wanted: A Heart Big Enough

One of the reasons my posts have been sparse and oft interrupted in the last month or so is that we are in the processing of taking a big step towards opening our home to more children. That is, we are soon to be foster parents.

Having passed through the rigours of psychological testing / personality profiling and an initial home inspection, we are now in the process of getting our home fully safety compliant, going through medical screening, criminal background checks, and character references. On one hand almost anyone can be a foster parent, but on the other hand, it sure takes a lot to get to be one! All the rigamarole, far from being burdensome, is just getting me more excited about being a foster parent to the kids we will have in our care.

My Prince Charming and I have felt for some time now that we would like to adopt an older child who might have difficulty finding a good home. Ever since we started thinking about raising children, I knew I would love to have a big family...but with young children of our own and some debt we would probably not be considered for adoptive parents at this stage in our lives. This opportunity was just a divine gift for us to be able to pursue something we had already had on our hearts, and it fits with where we are as a young family right now.

Here with my house, husband, and children, I have really felt how blessed we are to live in this country, free, prosperous, and with loving friends & family. I have also been very aware of the fact that many people, even in our own area, are poor, lonely, hopeless, and slaves to addiction. Because I follow Jesus Christ, I want to be able to give hope to those who are in despair, material comfort to those who are needy, and opportunity to the disenfranchised. In short, I want to love people like He loved (loves) them - in action.

Sometimes when we look at the the world, the needs are overwhelming. We wonder, what difference can we really make? You know, I can't solve the world's problems, but I can have an impact in the lives of people I know for the better. I may not change the world, but I may change the life of a child. All it takes is a little compassion and a heart big enough to let someone else in. Do you have what it takes?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Happily Ever After

One of my favourite bloggers runs a "Wifey Wednesday" posting, and this week's was about the idea that a man who makes his wife cry is not worth having. The point of Sheila's post was that we need to get over the idea of a fairy-tale life with Prince Charming and value our real-life marriages.

I saw the Disney movie Enchanted just last night (and loved it). I found it more humourous than anything, and took it to be poking fun at our tendency to expect fairy-tale endings. (All the spoofs involved were hilarious!) The premise is that Gisele, a fairy-tale girl, is waiting for her Prince Edward to sweep her off her feet, complete love's duet with her, give her True Love's Kiss, and marry her for a happily-ever after ending. Unfortunately, the jealous evil queen interrupts her plans and sends her to the real world of New York City, where "there is no happily every after." There she learns about love in real life, where she can actually get upset, get hurt, and get angry, and still find true love.

It is important to realize that when we marry, two imperfect human beings are joining together in the closest relationship we can possibly have. Each one of us is far from perfect, and that means there are bound to be conflicts and bumps along the way. Love means dwelling on the best parts, and getting over the worst parts. It means forgiving, putting the other person first, sacrificing cheerfully, and sharing generously, and all this unconditionally. Love is not for wussies.

Unfortunately sometimes people (ourselves or our spouses) can be selfish or hurtful, either spitefully or unintentionally. Also, for most women, there will come times in our lives when our hormones are causing a chemical imbalance in our brains (like prenatal/ postpartum and menopause), and we simply may not be aware that we are thinking irrationally or being driven by false emotions. Sometimes "conflicts" don't actually exist, they are just in our heads. So, even if your husband is the most sensitive man in the world (mine is!), you cry. And maybe sometimes it's not really him that's making you cry, even if you think it is.

No matter what our partner's actions or level of sensitivity, we need to be able to deal with our emotions safely and productively. We must learn to overcome hardships. We need to know that we can take our issues to a loving Father and get help. This is why Ecclesiastes 4:12 says "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." A marriage that fully relies on God will last.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Grass Is Always Greener...

I made a new friend this month, who is as interested as I am in eating healthy, living on a dime, and family matters. You can visit her blog here, which is a fairly recent initiative. Deep in conversation with my new friend, however, I felt convicted of not having spent enough energy blogging about the OTHER "green".

While a lot of my blog posts have focused on low-cost living, not so many have talked about our environmental impact. The fact is, my husband and I are both very concerned with living sustainably and practicing good stewardship, and finances are only part of the picture. Maybe I don't blog about eco-friendly living mainly because most of our household choices naturally tend in that direction without much thought. For a large part, frugality is synonymous with sustainability: For instance, buying in bulk reduces waste AND saves money. Cutting down on energy consumption reduces your carbon footprint AND saves money. Saving food scraps for soup and composting reduces waste AND saves money. Cooking vegetarian foods contributes to good health, puts less stress on the environment, AND saves money. Planting your own veggies cuts down on carbon emissions, lowers your pesticide intake, encourages you to EAT more veggies, AND saves money. Get the idea?

If you are truly living "on a dime", it's a pretty good bet that you are already doing a good bit towards preserving the earth. Which is not to say you can't do better. It is always good to be pushed out of our comfort zones and challenged to greater levels of responsibility. Here's what our own family has been doing, and what we have yet to do.

1. We work, play and shop locally. (But, we do love to go for long drives.)
2. I buy organic as the budget permits. (Not everything is worth paying for organic.)
3. I started growing some of our food. (Unfortunately, didn't turn out well this year.)
4. We exchanged all incandescent lights for CFLs.
5. We got energy efficient appliances & hot water tank.
6. We bought reliable cars with excellent fuel efficiency. (However, we do require two vehicles.)
7. I use vinegar and minimal soap when cleaning and doing dishes. (I still use storebought laundry soap and occasional fabric softener.)
8. I cook nearly everything from scratch and make at least one vegetarian dinner a week. (We still eat more meat and dairy than we need to, I think.)
9. I breastfed my babies as long as I was able (though not as long as I would have liked).
10. We reuse towels before washing, and wear clothes again if they're not dirty. (I'm sorry, I don't want to be dirty and smelly just for the environment.)
11. We keep our house cool in winter, open lots of windows in summer, and turn off lights when not in use.
12. I unplug small appliances when not in use. (Still a few electronics need a power bar.)
13. We buy secondhand when possible, and both use and pass on hand-me-downs.
14. We compost and recycle A LOT. Very little goes to the garbage. (I tried cloth diapers and EC initially, but the hassle was too much - so most of our garbage is diapers.)
15. We share with others and borrow things we would use once or seldom.
16. We buy in bulk when appropriate. (We don't have tons of storage space, so this is done judiciously.)

So tell me, what do y'all do to care for the earth and be good stewards?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Art of Sushi


My latest craze is Japanese food, particularly sushi. Before I go any further, let's get one thing straight. SUSHI IS NOT RAW FISH. Neither is it hazardous to your health. In fact, among world cuisines, it is one of the most healthful, low-fat, nutrition-packed foods you can find.

Sushi, a popular snack food in Japan and a popular restaurant food in the West, is actually a wide array of bite-sized delights based around a vinegared and seasoned sticky rice (commonly called "sushi rice"). These delectable morsels may range from elaborately stuffed and garnished cones of sushi rice, veggies and other fillings wrapped in nori (edible sheets of seaweed), to simple cubes of sushi rice topped with exquisitely delicate and supremely fresh squares of, yes, raw fish (called "sashimi").

The greatest enjoyment I found in sushi was the meticulous and artistic presentation of every piece of food. To the Japanese, eating and drinking are sacred rituals, and this is evident in the care that goes into choosing the freshest and best ingredients, the attractive colours and fragrances, and the degree of formality in dining etiquette. For a foodie like me, my first experience in a good sushi restaurant was a little slice of heaven. Or rather, a BIG slice of heaven, since I had the all-you-can-eat dinner!

The extraordinary thing about sushi is that you can over-indulge to your heart's delight, and still you do not feel that heavy, sluggish, slightly sick feeling that results from gorging on most western foods. (For this reason I have found most buffets to be not completely enjoyable - the greater the selection, the more uncomfortably stuffed you can get just by trying a small portion of everything.)

In short, I am made for sushi, and sushi is made for me. So now, I'm learning the art of sushi to add to my own culinary repertoire. If you love good food and great presentation, you should consider doing so too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bibliophilia

Since I last wrote about my need for some books worth reading, I have discovered two classic authors that I had forgotten about, and whose works I had neglected to try.

One is George Eliot, a nineteenth century, liberal, female author, whose novel Middlemarch is now as much beloved to me as Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. I came across the BBC miniseries adaptation at the library, and enjoyed it thoroughly - now I can't wait to read the book.

The other is Henry Fielding. His infamous character, Tom Jones, surprised my expectations. Having been loosely acquainted with various film and television adaptations of this particular novel, I had not held any desire to acquaint myself in any more depth with the original, until I recently picked up the book on a whim. Fielding's characters evoke much more sympathy and much less contempt than the trite film adaptations I had seen, and his keen sense of morality and justice come through brilliantly.

When I'm done both of these (which will be very shortly), I look forward to reading more from these excellent authors!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recipes: Chicken Divan-in-a-Pan (incl. Gluten-Free)

This dish is a popular one both with my own family and with extended family. It originally came from my mother-in-law, but of course has been adapted to my own uses. Some occasions have necessitated creating gluten-free substitutions, so I am including this information at the end of the recipe.

Chicken Divan-in-a-Pan

6 chicken breasts
1-2 heads of broccoli, chopped into small florets
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup (10 oz each)*
1 cup mayonnaise (or Miracle Whip if preferred)
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp curry powder (or more to taste)
1 cup grated cheddar
6 cups cooked rice (regular parboiled or Uncle Ben's brown rice)

Preheat oven to 350°. Brown and pan fry chicken and set aside to cool. In same pan, add oil and saute broccoli just until tender. Cube chicken and combine with broccoli. In a large mixing bowl, combine condensed soup, mayo, lemon juice and curry powder, and whisk together until smooth. Adjust curry to taste. Add chicken and broccoli and mix until well combined. Turn mixture into ungreased 9"x13" pan and sprinkle with cheese. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until cheese is very bubbly. Serve over rice.

Serves 6 as a main course.

*Gluten-Free Substitution

Since commercial cream of chicken soup contains wheat flour, you can make your own gluten-free version by combining 2 cans condensed chicken broth with 1/4 cup light cream and a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook until well thickened. Use just as you would regular condensed cream of chicken soup.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Recipes: Easy Jambalaya

A Campbell's soup can recipe provided the inspiration for this recipe, which I frequently prepared in university with whatever leftovers I had on hand. I often used leftover chicken nuggets and breakfast sausages or hotdog weiners for the meat, and whatever leftover or frozen veggies I had on hand, with equally delicious results.

Easy Jambalaya

2 cans Campbell's condensed Vegetable Broth with Onions
1 cup minute rice
1 cup frozen peas
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 boneless chicken breast halves, cubed
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup cooked sausage, diced
1 whole tomato, chopped (or 1/2 can diced tomatoes)
hot pepper sauce & black pepper (to taste)

Cook rice in condensed broth instead of water. Stir in peas, and set aside. Heat oil at medium-high in a large skillet. Add chicken and cook through. Add celery and cook for 2 mins. Drain fat. Reduce heat to low and stir in sausage, tomato, rice mixture, hot pepper sauce, and black pepper. Heat through.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Grapes of Wrath... for Parents

I read a blog yesterday that praised a parent for what I consider a terrible response to their teen's bad choices. In short, a 16 year old who was caught driving ridiculously fast was made (by his mother) to stand at a busy intersection for a month wearing a sandwich-board that said "I am stupid, I was speeding and could have gotten myself and my friends killed." Meanwhile, he awaits his court date for official punishment.

Do you think I am advocating leniency for this teen's irresponsible behaviour? Certainly not. But what has this mother accomplished? She has embarrassed her son, that's for sure. And probably alienated him with her childish put-down. She will have a reputation as the woman who publicly humiliated her son for a whole month. Are any of these results desirable?

If I may now be allowed to philosophize on the fine art of child-rearing, let me give a short lecture on the difference between discipline and punishment. Believe me, there is a difference. (If someone objects that I am only the parent of two children under the age of two, let me state my qualifications. I parent a toddler. I was a child myself less than two decades ago. I was a teen even more recently. I have a sister 13 years younger, to whom I sometimes have acted like a parent. I have worked with children and teens in various authoritative capacities in education and in the community.)

Discipline, by definition, is training by means of rules, guidelines and consequences. Punishment, on the other hand, is retaliation (often in anger) against someone or something that doesn't conform to your expectations. By nature the first is productive, the latter destructive.

As parents, our job is to raise mature, responsible children with good character and moral values. Unfortunately, children don't learn as much from what we tell them as they do from what we model for them. If we want them to be respectful people, we must demonstrate respect. If we want them to be responsible, we must take responsibility for our own actions. We do need to set reasonable boundaries for them, and allow them to experience the consequences of transgressing those boundaries. In the case of the speeding teen, appropriate consequences might include taking away the privilege of using the family car, making him pay the fine himself (or work to pay you back), and not advocating on his behalf in court. If the family's insurance is affected, he should have to pay the difference.

The reality is that young children need their parents to make many decisions for them, and have to a degree less responsibility for their own actions. As they mature, however, they should be allowed more freedom to make their own choices, and be given responsibility for their choices. This is how they incrementally become adults. Sadly, many people today have grown up either having choices without responsibility, or having all their choices made for them, resulting in a lot of grown-ups who do not act like adults.

IMHO, the moral of the story is this. Discipline yourself first. Then, discipline your children, and they will love you. Punish them, and they will hate you. These are the grapes of wrath.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Recipes: Everyone Loves Chili

Chili is one of my favourite comfort-foods to make, mainly because it's so forgiving and leftover friendly. My own chili is hardly ever made the same way twice - I usually use beef, beans, veggies, a tomato ingredient, and whatever spices and seasonings I feel like at the time. My most recent chili, however, got a 10/10 from my hubby and was highly praised by our friends and their toddler as well, so by request I actually wrote down the ingredients. Hope you like it.

Daddy's Favourite Chili

1.5 - 2 lbs lean ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 red pepper
1/2 bunch celery, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (with juice)
1 can beans in tomato sauce
1 can kidney beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 cup Diana Sauce (Original)
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp. flour

Scramble-fry ground beef until no longer pink. (Do NOT drain.) Add onions, garlic, pepper & celery, and cook on medium heat (covered) for 5 mins or until veggies are tender. Add tomatoes and beans, mix well. Add sauces and seasonings, stir, and cook another 2 mins. Add flour, stir well, and simmer until thickened. Remove from heat and allow to sit until cool enough to eat. Serve with fresh garlic bread. Serves 8-10.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Busy Mom Seeking Great Reads

If I could run a free advert in the local personals, it might read something like the title of this post. I am probably one of the most frequent visitors to our local library - but that doesn't mean I get to spend much time there.

As a busy mom with a baby and a toddler in tow, my library visits usually consist of dashing in the door with arms full, clumsily dropping books and movies on the counter, and desperately scanning the video and new book racks in a furious 2 minute search for something that looks remotely interesting. Then I juggle my kids and library selections to check them out, stuff the new material into a diaper bag or pocket, and balance my load back out to the car or stroller to get them all home before we have a meltdown.

What I would really love is to have a list of books that are guaranteed good reads, from which I can reserve a couple ahead of time and simply dash in to pick them up! So, here are my criteria for a good book. Must contain at least 2 of the following:

Gut-busting humour. Edge-of-your-seat suspense. Mysteries that stymie the intellect. Old fashioned and eccentric characters. A historical setting. Deep philosophical discussion. Inspirational moral of the story.

If you know of some must-read books that meet these criteria, PLEASE let me know the titles and authors. My slap-dash adventures in book-browsing have been yielding some pretty disappointing results (I can't believe how much crap gets printed these days!). My best find this year has been a big book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, but I am long overdue for another book I can really sink my teeth into!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Love Is A Verb

Hi folks, I'm back from a blogging hiatus during which I had a chance to work through some tough issues and get over a little case of the blues. Glad to say all's well in the house!

We had a great weekend recently visiting some dear friends in the Muskokas, and while we were there my friend and I were discussing a Sunday school lesson she was given, called We Should Love Our Families. It was such a cliché theme, overstating the obvious, but when we began to talk about love not as a noun (a warm, fuzzy feeling), but as in DC Talk song Love Is A Verb, it suddenly became more relevant and challenging.

I believe love is not about feelings. Sure, when you love someone you may have warm, fuzzy feelings for them, but then again you might not. Parents, when your teenager defies you and says they hate you, do you feel warm and fuzzy toward them? I'm betting you don't. Do you still love them? If you're a good parent, you do. I have heard parents say "I love you no matter what, but I don't like you very much right now." Like is a feeling. Love is action, and choice.

If you are married, this becomes very significant when your relationship with your spouse is tested. Perhaps you have been going through some difficult circumstances, you are tired, they are irritable, whatever the case, and it's not easy to love them. It's not easy, but we can choose to believe the best, consider their needs before our own, and show selfless love. When we choose to speak respectfully and act with care, regardless of how we feel in the moment, we build strong relationships.

Today's culture tells us that we should put ourselves first, but something's deeply wrong with this pop psychology message. Just look around you at all the self-absorbed people, all the failed relationships, all the egotistical, messed-up kids. LOVE - that's a different kind of bird altogether. Selfless love, true active love, is the only viable alternative.

Ask yourself, what actions can I take today that are loving towards my children? Towards my spouse? Towards my other family members? Towards my neighbours? Am I ready to accept the challenge of the imperative, love your neighbour as yourself? What will this cost me?

The cost will be great, let me tell you. Emotionally, and materially, it will cost you. But if you will stand up to the challenge, the rewards are greater still.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"I Believe I Can Fly"

Do you ever feel like you're trapped in a hopelessly ordinary life? The tedium of your day to day responsibilities weighs you down like a millstone around your neck when you think of the dreams and passions you had in your youth. Maybe you dreamed of being a social activist, a political leader, a missionary, or a well-known writer, and now you're just an average Joe with an average job and a family to take care of. With all the routine busyness of everyday life, you've stopped pursuing or even thinking much about your grand dreams.

Maybe you do still cherish some secret passions, but have stopped believing that you will ever achieve anything. You doodle endlessly in the margins of your notebook at staff meetings, but don't take the idea of drawing for a living seriously. You send money to World Vision, but never go yourself to see, hear, touch the people in desperate need. You write songs that you might share with a few friends, but don't take the leap of pursuing a record deal. Do we listen to the voices who tell us that it's easy to succeed at the ordinary, and impossible to succeed at the extraordinary? It's easy to fall into this ordinary, everyday hopelessness.

DON'T.

Contrary to the messages of mainstream society, extraordinary individuals are not merely an elite few. Every person is, in some way, extraordinary. I don't mean that in a trite "everyone is special" (translation: no one is special) kind of way. I'm sorry, but not everyone is smart. Not everyone is good looking. Not everyone is even a good person. But each and every person has a gift. And you may not believe this, but I believe each person was created for a purpose. A unique gift to fulfil a unique purpose, in your own place and time.

If you don't already know what your gift is, you need to take some time to get to know yourself better. If you have some good friends, ask them what gift they see in you. A lot of us, though, know what our gift is - what we need to do is believe that it was given to us for a reason, and then intentionally find a way to really use it. Get your gift out there in such a way that it touches as many people as you possibly can. Do yourself a favour and stop setting mental limits on what you can achieve.

Think like a 3 year old. A 3 year old doesn't know about the law of gravity - he thinks that with the right cape he can jump off a chair and fly. Okay, you will say, but a 3 year old can't really fly. That's true, but according to the laws of physics, neither can a bumblebee...and yet it does. So don't assume it can't be done, just go for it. I can't guarantee that you won't get some bumps and bruises, you probably will. But wouldn't you rather take a few scrapes and find yourself achieving things you thought were impossible, than to take the safe and ordinary life and never accomplish much?

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Child Of Virtue

Lately I've been letting my girls watch TV a little more, to wind down for nap time as well as to distract them before dinner. I know it's not the best thing for them, but it has been good for me for a couple of reasons. First (and most obviously), it helps me maintain my sanity during times when the kids are prone to crankiness. Second, since we don't actually have television per se, they are watching videos and DVDs that I have picked out for them. Shows like Franklin, Winnie The Pooh, Davey & Goliath, and the ubiquitous (in our house) VeggieTales. Shows that make me think about what I am teaching my kids.

It has got me thinking about values education - how we can raise our children to be children of virtue. Children who are truthful, kind, compassionate, helpful, patient, generous, and courageous. Maybe this is shooting for the moon, when we adults can't even live up to these on a daily basis. Do you think it's unrealistic? At least no parent would say these goals are undesirable! Even the public school system has acknowledged the need for "character instruction" in young people, and has incorporated into the curriculum things like mandatory volunteering and anti-bullying workshops.

For me, I am fully aware that a school curriculum or children's show cannot ease my responsibility to train up my children in the way they should go. Nonetheless, it is great for Boo to be able to watch a show that demonstrates honesty and respect, rather than so many of the garbage cartoons on television that show self-absorbed characters with no respect for authority. One show that I really like is Adventures From The Book Of Virtues by PBS. Each episode focuses on one virtue (such as Generosity, Friendship, or Honesty) and uses folk tales, legends, poems and more to teach children how they should behave. The stories are interesting, often humourous, and the animation is engaging. I wish I could find more videos in this series!

The other side of this, however, is where I am challenged. As a parent, my children will learn most thoroughly from my own example. It's not enough to tell my children how they ought to behave, I need to model it in my daily life. If I want honest children, I can't lie about little things to try to get them to do what I want. If I want them to be respectful, I must treat my husband and others with respect. I can't badmouth the cop who gave me a speeding ticket (hypothetically speaking) or argue about their Daddy's parenting methods in front of them. If I want them to be friendly to people who are different than them, I need to associate with people who are different than myself. And harder still, if I want them to be hardworking, I need to demonstrate hard work with cheerfulness.

Sadly, character does not come easily for any of us. I thank God, however, that I don't have to be perfect. I do have to be able to acknowledge my faults and work on improving myself. And I pray that as God works in their lives, as He works in mine, He will make up for my weaknesses and teach them the things that are as yet beyond me.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Honey, I Don't Have A Headache Tonight

Father's Day is coming up, and this year, why not get something that YOU read (or listen to), and HE reaps the rewards from?

If you want to stop your marriage from fizzling and start it sizzling, I've got the answer for you!

He says, "you’re never in the mood." She says, "That's all you ever think about!" It’s a conflict as old as time. We’re told "opposites attract", but given time and circumstance, what once lured you in, can quickly lure you out.

But you don't have to be stuck in this trap!

Sheila's book, Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood, can help you solve this impasse! It's fun, real, and extremely practical.

I love this book, and I know it can help your marriage.

I know, because Sheila, the author, didn't always have a great marriage. She's not "talking down" to you. She wrote it as a research project to help herself. And her husband says he definitely liked the research!

So often we find intimacy difficult because men and women ARE different. Women wonder why men were created with the switch always turned on, and men wonder why women were created with so many different switches and no instruction manual.

Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight helps us bridge this gap by helping us to understand our husbands better, get more energy, heal past hurts, and increase romance & respect in our marriages! You'll also learn why understanding God's view of sexuality can actually make you more in the mood--even if that sounds strange!

Filled with practical advice, Honey I Don't Have a Headache Tonight tackles these issues:


  • How change in the sexual relationship requires change elsewhere.
  • Why sex for women is often a "head thing."
  • How television is the biggest enemy to intimacy.
  • Why forgiveness and letting go of the need to be right is so important.
  • How self-image issues and past hurts can throw intimacy into a tailspin.
  • The repercussions of everyday energy zappers.
  • The threats to Godly sexuality.
  • The roadblocks of respect.
  • The cultural attacks on gender.

And more! And best of all, it's fun to read!

It's Sheila's Father's Day special this month, along with a 45-minute hilarious and practical talk Sheila's given on the subject.

But here's how you can win it! You have three choices:

1. Blog post. Just copy this post (or write your own), and enter it in your blog. Then go here, and fill out the form! Enter your email address and the URL of your post! Remember to include this bottom part in the post about how they can enter!

2. Share on Facebook. Just click the "Share This" button below to share on Facebook! It couldn't be easier! Then head on over here and fill out the contest entry, including your name on Facebook in the right spot.

3. Twitter Tweet. Or you can post on Twitter. Just tweet something like this:
Turn the heat in your marriage up! Win a free copy of Honey, I Don't Have a Headache Tonight just by tweeting! http://bit.ly/MIDO3


Then head on over here and enter your email address and your Twitter ID!

It's that easy!

NOTE: Remember, to enter, you must fill out this form! It's really short (just your email and which way you entered), but I'll be drawing the winners from there!

Sheila will be drawing a winner one week from today, on next week's Wifey Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. EST June 10. So enter now to win!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I'm Taking Up Smoking!

In case you haven't heard, there's a new fad out there that is taking the world by storm... at least the teen and pre-teen world. Normally I'm not big on youth trends, but for this one I may make an exception. The latest craze is...? Smoking Smarties. Or if you're Canadian (as I am), smoking Rockets.

I'm not kidding, this is what the 8-15 year olds of America are really into. And as usual the media and school administrations are wayyy overreacting. Dire health warnings range from the ridiculous (smoking Smarties can give you respiratory infections) to the bizarre (maggots may nest in your nose)! And me, I'm just amazed at how the kids look to be the more mature ones in this discussion.

In fact, this pop culture phenomenon is one of the least unhealthy activities that kids could indulge in these days. "Smoking" candy is basically just crushing it up in the wrapper, sucking a bit of the sugary powder into your mouth (think Pixie Sticks), and letting the resulting cloud of dust exhale in little puffs of "smoke". No one is inhaling anything, and they're probably ingesting less sugar than if they were just eating the darn thing. Plus, as one kid points out, "it still tastes just like your eating candy."

Come on girls, all the taste with half the calories. I don't know about you, but I think I just might jump on the bandwagon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Recipes: Apple-Berry Grunt

As mentioned in my previous post, this recipe is loosely based on a Blueberry Grunt featured in Inspired (by Compliments), which I picked up in Sobeys. My version, however, has way more flavour, and is packed with nutritiousness (is that a word??). For the sake of the uninitiated, "Grunt" is a more biscuity variety of fruit cobbler, traditionally steamed, but in this case baked.

Apple-Berry Grunt

1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 pint blueberries
2 large apples, peeled, cored and diced
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp cold butter
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400° F. Grease a square 8" baking dish. In this dish, combine berries, first amount of sugar, and lemon juice. Pack down well. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, second amount of sugar, and salt. Cut in cold butter until mixture forms crumbs. Gently mix in milk to make a sticky dough. Drop dough in 6 portions onto prepared fruit base. Bake for 25 mins at 400°, then reduce heat to 350° and bake for 10 more mins. Let cool slightly before serving with a scoop of vanilla or butterscotch ripple ice cream.

Makes 6 generous servings.

Stayin' Alive!

Just thought I'd better let everyone know - I'm not dead yet! I know it's been well over a week since I last posted, and not much has happened in the mean time. It's difficult to get in the mood to share your positive and encouraging thoughts, when your thoughts have been rather less than positive and encouraging, largely due to depressing weather, teething cranky children, and insurmountable housework! There have, however, been a few bright spots.

1. We have our whole house to ourselves, for the first time since being married! When I married Prince Charming in 2005 we first lived with my in-laws (because our first house fell through), and then rented an apartment in the upstairs of a nice older couple's century home. We bought this house in November of 2007 (when Boo - my oldest daughter - was born), and have had tenants in our basement since we moved in. Our latest tenants are now completely moved out, and it feels like we just got a new house! It's pretty exciting.

2. "Cutes" (my youngest daughter) now has five teeth, has more than doubled her birth weight, and is getting to be so cute I can hardly stand to look at her. She makes me laugh. And FINALLY she is sleeping through the night, regularly! She sleeps in the playpen, down in the play room, which is kind of like her own room now. Sounds funny, I know, but don't knock it because it works.

3. After a bit of a culinary drought there, I created an amazing and original dessert last night. I call it Apple-Berry Grunt. Loosely based on an idea from Sobeys' Inspired magazine, but mine-all-mine and a big hit with Prince Charming and Boo. I think Cutes wanted some too.

So, here's to getting back into the swing of things!
P.S. If you have some free time and want to help me with some housework, CALL ME. ;)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Bit Of Musical Nostalgia

Joel Wright is a talented, if somewhat retiring, songwriter from the suburbs of southern Ontario, but his music sounds like it was born in open fields near a quiet stream, in some other more peaceful time. It carries the weight of great hopes and dreams longing for expression, the whimsy of Once upon a time, and echoes of lighthearted laughter with good friends. I had the privilege of hearing a compilation of his songs lately, and it made me nostalgic. It also made me want to hear more.

Joel is now on Reverbnation.com and if you haven't heard of him or heard his music yet, go have a listen. It will soothe your soul.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A House, a Hole and a Hassle

We live in my dream house. Our small town life suits me just fine, and even the trains that creep by blowing their whistles incessantly can't change my feeling that this is the best place to live. Small town though it may be, the traffic on our street has been getting busier this year thanks to an awesome country furniture / decor / gifts / grocery / candy store that opened up next door.

Someone on town council must have had the bright idea to redo our road with new pavement and sidewalks, perhaps to make it safer. While they're at it, all our water mains and sewers are being upgraded as well. I can't complain about that, especially since they've hooked us into city water and shut off our water meters while they do construction - yay, smaller bills! But the gaping hole at the end of our driveway, now that I could do without.

For the last few days we have been unable to use our driveway, or indeed most of the street on this block. Now if we were retired and had nothing to do but garden all day, this might not be a problem. But my husband works 5 days a week, and I am a stay-at-home mom! I usually take care of the grocery shopping during the week, take the girls out for walks daily, and have company over a couple times a week. These things get kind of hard to do when you have to park half a block away and walk across lawns to get to our house, especially when carrying 2 kids, diaper bags, and groceries.

There is dirt everywhere, noise of machinery from 7 AM to 6 PM, and a constant (and dangerous) lure to my curious toddler. I can't wait until they have finished with our little stretch of road! And I am sure looking forward to them repaving the missing quarter of our driveway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Learning To Let Go

The last several months have found me losing patience and developing a growing need for control - over my children, my husband, our finances, my weight... it seems like the harder I try to control things, the more out of control I feel. Which makes me wonder, if everything was much more manageable before this crazy cycle, why did I start going down this path?

Don't get me wrong, taking charge of our nutrition is a good thing. Organizing our lives really does improve how smoothly our home life runs. And getting a grip on our finances is a step towards responsibility and good stewardship. But obsessing about things I can't control is detrimental to my health and our happiness. The global economy, the weather and the clock are all out of my control, but not out of God's control. My husband and toddler are autonomous people who make their own decisions - I can only influence them, not control them.

So, this week, I'm learning to let go. Starting yesterday morning, I resolved to let my kids be kids, let the weather and the economy be what they are without my concern, and let my husband go through the day without my micromanagement. I did not get worked up about the slow traffic on the way to my morning appointment with the chiropractor. I did not obsess about food a million times a day. I did not get worked up about a bunch of housework needing to be done before my sister-in-law came over. I took lots of time to play with my kids and be outside. I drank water. I made fresh juice. I spent some time in prayer and meditation. And to my surprise, my house got cleaned, my laundry got done, my kids actually slept for 2 1/2 hours, and I felt well rested.

By letting go of my irritations and burdens for one day to focus on being content and close to my family and God, I found peace and productivity resulted. Now, I am sure that intellectually I knew this already, so why haven't I been living this way lately? Maybe one bad mood, indulged for too long, turned into a bad habit. If that's the case, here's to setting new habits! I think I'd better go watch Pollyanna (starring Hayley Mills). It's time to start being glad.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

An Ounce Of Prevention...Spring Cleaning

I had a revelation a few days ago, as I was scrambling to reorganize the disaster zone that was my living room. Toys littered the floor, kids' clothing piled up on chairs, blankets hung from playthings or sat in little heaps in corners. Books, papers, and other random objects were strewn across the room by my enterprising toddler. The chaos was overwhelming, and I thought, how can one small child create such bedlam in one afternoon?

It seems that this has been a daily (and worsening) occurrence for the last few weeks, and slowly more items have been finding their way into the mess. I started seriously considering calling a maid service and using my grocery money to pay for domestic help to help overcome the madness. It took me two hours to finish sorting, folding, organizing and putting away everything in its proper place. We have too much stuff!

That observation got me thinking, maybe I can outsmart the mess by getting rid of some stuff. Turns out, more than half the clutter was things that didn't belong in the living room at all. In fact some it was totally unnecessary for any reason. So now I am in full-on spring cleaning mode. There are probably hundreds of things in our house that we don't use, can't use, rarely use... some of which are garbage, and some of which are yardsale material. Even a few things that are casually giftable.

The amazing thing is, having removed everything from the living room that didn't belong there, the biggest mess my toddler has managed to muster up has been a no more than 3-5 minute tidy-up. The old saying, "A place for everything and everything in its place," sure does work. Can you guess what my next project is? I need to do the same for all the other rooms in this great big house - sort, trash, and de-clutter. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Drink Your Veggies

Lately I have been more conscious of the fact that my eldest daughter eats more bread and starchy foods than anything else. Sure, she likes fruit, mainly banana, loves dairy products (like her mom), and is starting to tolerate a bit of meat, but she really needs more vitamins and minerals. I am not a big fan of supplements, because I don't believe the body makes very good use of them, and besides they are expensive. I do give her peas, green beans and carrots regularly, but leafy greens are not something she will swallow... knowingly.

I read about green smoothies on a few different food blogs that I follow, and was intrigued. The concept is simple: purée greens with flavourful fruit and other yummy ingredients, and you get a very drinkable version of all your nutrients. And unlike juice, it has lots of fibre too! Sounds healthy, but trust me, it doesn't taste like health food.

Now my husband and I and my daughter have a smoothie every morning (actually, she often has two because she CHUGS them!) and we're all feeling healthier. Getting all your vitamins not only gives you more energy, it helps your mental balance too. Yay for veggies! You can experiment with whatever favourite ingredients you want to try, but be forewarned, mixing red, purple or blue / black fruit with greens makes for an ugly looking (though still yummy) drink. Here's my recipe that we have found to be the smoothest and tastiest (while still looking appetizing).

Recipes: Green Smoothies

You may think that drinking spinach sounds pretty gross, but you absolutely will not taste spinach - I promise! These smoothies are a cool shade of green that looks appealing to kids, and they taste like Yogen Fruz (fruit flavoured frozen yogourt) in milkshake form.

Green Smoothies

1 banana, peeled and broken into chunks
1 1/2 cups baby spinach, packed
1 seedless orange, peeled and divided into quarters
1/2 cup plain yogourt
1 scoop vanilla flavoured whey protein powder (optional)
3/4 cup water

Put all ingredients in blender (in this order to facilitate smooth blending). Blend on highest speed for 30 seconds. Drink and enjoy!

Serves 2.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Help Me If You Can..."

This was me just a few sweet days ago. Like, before my adventures in hairdressing. At the time I took this picture I was saying to myself, Ooh, this is shaggy... do I ever need a haircut! In retrospect, it really was nothing to complain about. A little shaggy around the ears, maybe. In my last post I shared with you my reasons for going punk, but after a couple of days the look was getting old and I thought I had better get my hubby to help me cut the top to even things out.

I'm posting the "after" shot so that, when you see me on the street or in the store, you will be able to suppress the shock and "Whoa!" factor and I won't feel so self conscious. No, actually I'm posting this so that my mother can get all her freaking out over with before I come over to visit. Don't worry, I keep telling myself, it will grow back in a few weeks.

When you're going to extreme lengths (no pun intended) to be a frugal housewife, you're bound to have your share of uncomfortable moments along the way. It's part of the learning process. And I guess this is mine. So, Mom, here's to learning from mistakes! :)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why I'm A Punk

In my neverending quest to stretch pennies, I recently decided to take my mother-in-law's advice and learn to cut hair. It started with a little trim around my ears and bangs last week. My hairdo went from "Shaggy" to chic, and got lots of compliments, which was very encouraging. This is great, I thought, at $35 a cut, I'm never going to the salon again!

My husband also has been starting to sport the shaggy look, and since my first haircutting venture had been successful he encouraged me to take the plunge and cut his too. He went out to Canadian Tire and picked me up a set of clippers, scissors, barber comb & cape for $20 (and ended up paying $5 less thanks to an in-store promotion). Dutifully I barbered his hair with bated breath... and managed to pull it off! Okay, his regular hairdresser would probably notice the difference, but nonetheless it looked pretty decent.

Maybe these successes made me a little too cocky. "Pride comes before a fall," and my downfall came when I decided I was going to go for the full cut on my own head. Starting out, things were going well, the back and sides were even and as short as I like, but then I needed to outline around my ears. Had I not diligently observed the rule, better to cut too little than too much? That lesson must have momentarily escaped me when I took the clippers to the bit just above my left ear...Whoops! That was rather too short. The best thing I could think to do was to make the other side match. Well, it's a little on the short side, but it'll pass. Next I had to cut, thin and blend the top, which could not be done with clippers (no attachment long enough). Wow. Suffice it to say my skills with the scissors are still in the very early stages of development.

I am finding that if I use lots of gel and go for the messy-spiky look, I can almost convince someone that I made it look like this on purpose. Heavy eye makeup helps. And big earrings. So now it's official - I'm a punk. At least until my hair grows back.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Chew-Chew Train

While my toddler has been battling the crankiness of an incoming molar, it appears that my little baby girl has been hatching a tooth of her own. The funny thing is, just this morning I was talking at her (which she finds amusing) and commenting that it seems like a long time for her to go between teeth - the first two came at 2 months, and now she is 5 months. This afternoon I was getting her dressed to go outside and tickling her just to see her huge smile and hear her squeaky little giggle, when I decided to have a good look at her gums to see if there was any sign of swelling yet. I kind of thought she should be getting the two teeth next to the bottom middle ones soon, but her pink little bottom gums showed no sign of teeth under the surface. To my surprise, however, it looks like an eye tooth on the top right is about to emerge! So, I have two actively teething babies at once. Thankfully my baby isn't very cranky, she apparently prefers to work out her discomfort by gnawing on bones...mine. If you are one of the unlucky people whose fingers she has mangled, my apologies.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tooth Fairy, Tooth Fairy, Where Have Your Been?

My sweet little toddler has been not-so-sweet for the past half a week or so. In fact, although I love her dearly, she's been downright terrible. (Can you see where this is going?) Yesterday Daddy looked in her mouth as she was opening wide for a bite of dinner, and said "Well, that molar's finally showing!"

Oh, that explains a lot. Like the fact that she bit me today, which she never does. And her waking up in the night crying frequently - she who normally sleeps like a rock for 12 or more hours every night. So now Mommy has a new best friend: Hyland's Teething Tablets. Previously I tried dissolving them in water as directed, only to have her spit it out. I even tried putting them in ice cream - that's the only time I've known her to refuse ice cream, wouldn't you know. It's like mind games for mommies.

I finally came up with the most unusual solution. Put the tablets in her pudgy little hand. Oooh, a toy? Yummy! With no effort, she pops them in her mouth, where they instantly dissolve. Now why didn't I think of that before? I sure hope this works as well for my baby the next time she's badly teething.

Bread From Heaven!

Haha! I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be sacrilegious, it's just that after some bread-making disappointments I finally managed to produce a loaf of the most amazing, tall, browned and crusty delicious bread! Yes, I know I am a genius, thank you, thank you, you're too kind.

Seriously though, this is a real breakthrough for me. My first non-machine loaf of bread (supposed to be rye) turned out to be a small, hard (inedible) rock. That was last year. When I finally got the courage to try again last week I was able to at least produce something edible (and indeed tasty), even if it was rather too dense, heavy, and slightly doughy in the middle. I even went all out and made half the batch into pizza buns with a bunch of yummy toppings. It wasn't anything like bakery bread though. Any bakery with the audacity to sell such products would be out of business in a week. So, I tried again. Unfortunately I didn't have any bread flour, and the only thing our local grocery stores carry is bleached bread flour, which I didn't want to use.















Going out on a limb (I know they call it bread flour for a reason - you need the gluten!) I determined to try a single loaf with unbleached all purpose flour and oat flour. Since it wouldn't have very much gluten I kneaded it vigorously until I was tired, and let it rise until it had way surpassed the height of the loaf pan. I also put a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven during the second rise and during baking to help the crust form. And what do you know, it turned out great! Not sweet, like the last loaf, but delicately flavoured like the best bakery bread, light and fluffy inside, and crusty to perfection. Once again I feel like the mistress of my domestic domain.