Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Blossoming Toddler

The last month or two has had several moments in which I am taken aback at my eldest daughter. She is growing up so quickly, looking more and more like a little girl. She babbles in tones of voice that sound like she is having an adult conversation, and acts like a little mom to her baby sister. She wants to help clear away the dishes after dinner and pick out her own clothes. I look at her and think, "she's not a baby anymore!" Sometimes this makes me a little nostalgic; I wish she could always be my baby.

I think every parent goes through this dilemma at various stages in their child's development. We are proud of them, excited for them to learn new things, become independent, discover their own talents and abilities and blossom into wonderful young adults. And at the same time we miss their dependence on us, the complete trust and adoration they had for us when they were babies. We fondly remember times before they required discipline or boundaries.

So when my sister-in-law gave me this little outfit (size: 6-9 mos. - I could tell it was still going to be too big for my baby for a while), I couldn't resist trying to fit my toddler into it. And she fit, barely. The hubby and I had some big giggles watching her parade around in this, admiring herself in the mirror and showing off to everyone. It made her look so little and chubby, and perhaps because we were oohing and ahhing over her, she dropped her "big girl" persona for a little while, just enjoying the masquerade. If only for a little while, she was our baby again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Growing... YUM!

There has been a stash of forgotten seed packets atop my fridge for the past year. I came across them late last week, and thought I must make more of an effort to fulfil my best intentions this year. So when I took the girls for a walk on Friday, I stopped at our friendly nearby Bargain Shop and was happy to find seeding flats and potting soil for sale, cheap!

It felt great to get my hands all grubby mixing up potting soil with a bit of water and packing it into the flat cells, poking in the little seeds and covering them over. I have cilantro, salad greens, watermelon, morning glories and sunflowers waiting to germinate now, and still plan to buy seeds for tomatoes, string beans, snap peas, cucumber and peppers that we can enjoy this summer. (There's no sense planting things like potatoes and carrots, they're just as cheap to buy from the grocery store, and simply not worth the effort.)

Tending a garden this year will not only give me a pleasant incentive to be outside and getting some exercise, but I also hope it will save us some money on groceries when the veggies start yielding. That's why I've been looking for seeds of vegetables that are more expensive to buy, ones that I would eat more of if I didn't have to stick to my budget.

Saturday was such a beautiful day that I got some flower beds cleaned out and 1/4 of my intended veggie garden dug up. My arms and back were sore but in a good way from all that exercise, and what a marvellous sense of accomplishment I felt! Now if I can just find a friend with a rototiller...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Valentine's Day Is 365 Days A Year

A favourite blogger of mine, Sheila Wray Gregoire, recently posted about the need to intentionally invest in your marriage, in a feature she calls "Wifey Wednesdays". Knowing of several marriages on the rocks lately, I thought it would be good to share some of the books and other resources that my husband and I have greatly benefitted from in our own marriage.

We started reading a number of marriage counselling books together long before our wedding day, and since being married have taken every opportunity to continue learning about each other and improving our relationship skills. I think too many people take their marriage for granted. Like one joke I read: A woman asks her husband, "Do you love me?" Annoyed, he replies, "I said 'I Do' on our wedding day, didn't I? If anything changes, I'll let you know." Unfortunately, many people think that taking a marriage course or informal counselling is a last resort. The truth is that couples who are willing to invest some time in these things will be better equipped to handle rough times when a crisis arises... as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some of our favourites:

  • Love & Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs (Hardcover) ISBN 1591451876
  • The Most Important Year In A Man's / Woman's Life, by Robert & Bobbie Wolgemuth, Mark & Susan DeVries (Hardcover) ISBN 0310240069
  • Before The Ring, by William L. Coleman (Paperback) ISBN 1572931337
  • Fireproof (2008), Sony Pictures (DVD)
  • Getting Ready for Marriage Workbook : How to Really Get to Know the Person You're Going to Marry, by Jerry D. Hardin & Dianne C. Sloan (Softcover Workbook) ISBN-10: 0840733208
  • The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman (Paperback) ISBN 1881273156
Whether any of these speak to you, or whether you've seen or heard of other resources that interest you more, take the time to read/watch/talk about something with your significant other that will enhance your relationship. Don't just do it once, but plan to do something to improve your relationship skills at least annually. Your relationship will be better for it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stuck Being Just A Mom....?

I came across a "celeb spotting" today of one of my favourite artists, Lauryn Hill, at a book signing with her children. It's good to see a famous mom going down-to-earth, putting her kids first and spending time with them. Then I read the article, and was appalled and disgusted. You can read it yourself here: http://tinyurl.com/dhxnje

I don't know if this sick way of thinking is a product of twisted feminist ideologies or of a "fame & fortune" obsessed culture. All I do know is that this devaluation of mothers, motherhood and family values is epidemic in our society. It seems far too many people have this idea that when a woman chooses to devote the greater part of her time to her family, she ceases to use her talents and abilities or to be productive in society.

What can I say to change this? I don't know. One thing is certain, our society needs to change NOW, before the family unit that is the basis of human survival goes the way of the dinosaur.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Whose Economy? Yours Or Mine?

Every day now I hear about the dire state of "the economy". I think few of us are immune to the pressures and anxieties brought on by the current economic climate, but should these worries dominate our lives? I often wonder how friends and family are coping with financial pressures, because it's not something people like to talk about. Money, like politics, is a taboo subject.

Well, at the risk of offending, I think it needs to be talked about. I am no financial guru, believe me, but I think that when people can be open about their challenges and share their wisdom - and resources! - with others, everyone is better off. It's clear that the "American way" of dog-eat-dog capitalism is madness, inhuman madness, where a few prosper and many suffer. Throughout history, during famines, drought, natural disasters, war times and other hard times, people saw that bonding together to help each other was their best chance for survival.

And now, when the media predicts a dire economic situation, we need to stop and think about what that really means. Each household, even each person, has its own microcosmic economy, but they are all dependent on each other in various ways. If you are an oil baron, your personal economy may be booming, but if you are unemployed, your personal economy is probably collapsing. Canada's economy is the sum total of each Canadian's personal finances, and corporate as well. That's in the big picture, but let's zoom in to where it concerns you and me.

Our family has a nice home, a couple of nice cars, and plenty of everything we need to get along. We're certainly not rich, but we are able to pay our bills and live comfortably. In another family, maybe the husband has just lost his job, his wife is working part-time to help out as much as she can, but they have two small children too. It seems to me that the sensible, compassionate and humane thing to do is to combine our efforts for the greater good. Maybe we could offer to watch their children while the wife works and the husband is job hunting, and in return they could watch our kids once a week for our date night. Perhaps they would appreciate having our 2nd car for a few days for some running around, and we might like to borrow a few power tools they own for our home-reno project.

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his need." Sure, Karl Marx said it and there are people who consider it communist propaganda, but try answering the cliché question "What would Jesus do?" (Check out Acts 4:32-35.) Community is more than a geographical area where people live, it is living life together in cooperation. If anything, it is the golden rule in action: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When we get this right maybe we will stop worrying about "the economy", and will begin to truly prosper.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recipes: "Dutch Pancakes" (or Crêpes)

My mother-in-law made these for both breakfast and dinner when my husband was growing up and she called them, inexplicably, "Dutch Pancakes". As far as I can tell, they are actually crêpes, and of French origin, but nonetheless are still one of the most requested meals in her household. Very simple to make, and yielding enough for a crowd, these delicious crêpes do take a bit of time to cook if you only have one or two pans, so I recommend giving yourself plenty of time. The good news is, they taste even better when they have been refrigerated.

"Dutch Pancakes"
4 c. unbleached or never-bleached light flour
8 eggs
4 c. milk
2 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
butter as needed

In a large mixing bowl, beat flour and eggs with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, adding milk slowly to thin. Add salt and mix in water at low speed just until completely combined. Preheat a non-stick skillet between medium and medium-high heat (size doesn't matter, but if you can use multiple pans at once you save a lot of time). Add a pat of butter to the pan, spreading around as much as possible. Using a ladle, pour one ladlefull of batter into the pan and swirl around immediately to thinly cover the entire bottom. Let cook until topside of crêpe appears dry, then flip carefully. Continue to cook for 30 seconds, then transfer to plate to cool. Repeat with one ladlefull per crêpe for remainder of batter. Serve hot or cold, rolled up with syrup, fruit toppings, chocolate, whipped cream, or whatever suits your fancy.

Tips For Travelling With Tots

If you happened to notice the silence from my portion of the blogosphere the latter part of this week, let me excuse myself by sharing the adventures and misadventures of our 3 day family trip to St-Sauveur-des-Monts, QC.

When my husband suggested we take a ski getaway with some friends and free accommodations, my first thought was not "Wow, this is going to be so much FUN," but rather "Oh brother, this is going to be a lot of work." And, to any sane mind, I was right. Not that we didn't have fun too, mind you. The weather was perfect, skiing conditions were great (I was told), and the accommodations were amazing. Also the girls got lots of great attention from our friends and their little boys, and had some good bonding time with "Daddy".

The packing, however, was mind-boggling, with diapers, formula, baby clothes, food, our clothes, toiletries, cellphones & paraphernalia, ski & snowboard gear, varying degrees of warm outerwear and then the paranoia of "what am I forgetting?" as soon as we set out. Trying to stay on schedule and dealing with pit stop issues made the trip interesting, and being cooped up with 2 babies in a non-babyproofed space while hubby was skiing for a few hours was enough to go crazy. The latter, however, was by choice since I did not feel up to skiing. From our trials and triumphs, here's the wisdom I have gained.

Do plan long drives to coincide with bedtime. We left home just after the girls would normally go to bed, and they slept peacefully in their carseats for most of the 4 hour drive. No diaper changes or feedings needed. I wish we had used the same approach for the trip home!
Do bring more toys & stuffed animals than you think you'll need. It's amazing how many comforts and diversions of home we take for granted. When you're away from home with tots, you miss them a million times over.
Do your grocery shopping when you get there. Since you'll need to buy food anyway, save yourself the space for packing. And while we're on the subject of food...
Do stay in a place with a kitchen. No one likes eating out with fussy or crying children. An added bonus is that you can eat when you're hungry, not an hour later when your food arrives.
Do take turns "babysitting" so each parent can have time off just for fun. Also take some time to do something kid-friendly together.
Do your best to find ways to accommodate normal nap routines. Believe me, this will be the biggest sanity-preserver.

Don't try to take the scenic route with small children in the car. Especially when it means you may be miles from the next Tim Hortons. (You never know when you might need to stop for an emergency diaper change, or to make up a bottle.) Tip: In waking hours, children hate being restrained for long periods.
Don't forget that family vacations should be fun for the kids too! While child safety in unfamiliar places is always our first concern, we moms sometimes need to back off and just let the children PLAY.

Where we managed to follow this advice, our vacation was quite a treat. If I can manage to follow all my own advice the next time we go away together as a family, it will be even better!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Great Big Wonders

Yesterday I took the girls outside for a walk, and since the weather was beautiful, for the first time I put on my 15 month old's hiking shoes and let her walk beside me while I pushed the baby in the umbrella stroller. She was delighted at the opportunity to explore the sidewalks and roadside, pointing excitedly at birds, trees and parked cars. As she walked, her chubby little legs meandering at their own (snail's) pace, I started to see all the things around us from a new and much smaller perspective.

Cars passing were huge dragons that flew by with a whoosh, trodden pine cones were wondrous treasures, cedar hedges with their exotic aromas were curiosities to be explored, and that medium sized rock underfoot just might be found useful. A puddle in one area of sidewalk was a lake that we needed some help crossing, and muddy spots might be deadly sinkholes. My little toddler's ears seemed attuned to every chirp and faraway bark, sounds to which my own ears must have grown deaf. Some of the houses we passed had smoothly paved driveways leading up to inviting porches, and it was all I could do to keep her from going up to the houses to explore their front steps. If neighbours on our block find little footprints in their flowerbeds, that's because a little girl out for a walk couldn't resist taking a closer look at flower shoots starting to poke up through the dirt.

Although it took about 5 times longer than usual to walk around the block, slowing down to my toddler's pace and letting her "stop and smell the roses" suddenly made me realize what an amazing world surrounds us. The incredible beauty and complexity of nature is such an awesome thing. Things we use every day, like cars, town water and sewer, telephone wires, hydro, really are amazing and practically magical inventions. How is it I have managed to take all these things for granted?

I thank God for all the little and not-so-little things that make up my everyday life, and that are truly incredible.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Growing Pains & Pleasures

Everyone says to me "they grow up so fast," and it's true. Four months have flown by since my younger daughter was born, and each stage has come with its own challenges and delights.

Some days I am wearied by the constant fussing and finger gnawing that tell me she's teething. And at the same time she's getting cuter every day, responding to me with huge goofy smiles that crack me up. It seems that the older each of my girls get, the more difficult they become and yet the more precious and enjoyable they become also.

My elder daughter is starting to present me with real parenting challenges, showing a streak of her mother's headstrong personality, and yet becoming such a sweet natured, affectionate and eager little helper. She's increasingly more fun to spend time with, reading, playing blocks, talking on the phone, "shopping" with her little purse and cart, dressing up. Sure, I chase her out of the garbage about 20 times a day, but that's part of the package.

Even with all it's frustrations and labour, I wouldn't trade being a mommy to these girls for fame, fortune, or anything in the world.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sock Heaven

Readers of my last post may be anxiously waiting to hear the outcome of the sock matchmaking enterprise, so here's the update.

After finishing loads of laundry which shall remain unnumbered, my husband and I spent the last part of the evening folding and putting away clothes. Each lonely sock displayed itself in hopes of attracting a match. Each resulting match was a cause for celebration, and slowly the sock drawer filled...and filled, until my husband exclaimed, "I never knew I had so many socks!" Several times he insisted that a pair of socks was not his, only to realize they were newly bought over the holidays and had been missing their partners practically since he first wore them.

So when all the lint settled, there are no more than a half dozen single socks left, and many happy couples now have resumed residence in their proper places.

Have You Seen My Husband's Socks?

The last day and a half I have been going to town on the laundry. I have 3 good sized hampers, 4 people to wash for, 2 of them babies, and none of us lack for clothes. So when laundry day (whenever I get a chance) comes around, you can imagine that it takes a significant amount of time to get it all washed, dried, folded and put away. Particularly sleepers, and the ever elusive socks.

Sometimes if I've been slacking off a bit my husband will casually remark, "By the way, I have no more dark socks," or, "Oh yeah, I'm on my last pair of underwear." This is my cue to get my butt in gear and start the cycle again (no pun intended). It has become apparent in the 3 1/2 years we've been married, however, that I am not the mistress of all things domestic that his mother was (and is). For instance, it has become a running... joke? or point of contention... that every time I do laundry my husband has more odd socks. Those lonely souls with no match, they sit in a corner of his sock drawer, vainly waiting for the day that a like sock will show up and sweep them off their feet. Or onto their feet, depending on how you look at it.

And so those forlorn socks have been waiting for weeks, sometimes months, and the pile of odd socks continues to grow. So I have decided it's time to take more drastic measures. I've searched high and low, double checked the washer and dryer for stowaways, moved the furniture, but now I'm sending out an all points bulletin:

Socks desperately seeking mates. If you're a lonely sock and you think we might have your match, please, leave me a message.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Recipes: Herbed Lemon Chicken

Sometimes it's worth experimenting a bit in the kitchen. Not when you're throwing a fancy party or inviting the boss for dinner, mind you. But when it's just family, be adventuresome and try something new - just make sure you have a Plan B in case it doesn't work out. This way any failure is just a learning experience, and you can have some fun with it. And who knows, you may hit on a real success! For me, that's the story of this recipe - I wanted to try a new technique, improvised a bit with flavours I like, and voila! My husband rated this a 9/10, and only because it didn't seem right to give simple chicken a perfect 10 (which he reserves for more expensive meals). Even better, this meal costs next to nothing to make.

Herbed Lemon Chicken

3 chicken legs (back attached)
1/2 tsp. each dried thyme, basil and rosemary leaves
a pinch of salt & pepper
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 c. chicken broth (from bouillon cube)
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350°. Thoroughly wash chicken, pulling off excess fat and stretching skin away from meat to create a pocket. In a very small bowl combine herbs, salt & pepper. Divide mixture among chicken pieces and rub all over meat under the skin. Heat a shallow pan to medium-high and brown chicken (skin side down) in dry pan until crispy (3-4 minutes). Loosen chicken with spatula and transfer to broiling pan, skin side up. Bake for 55 mins at 350°. Meanwhile, remove browning pan from heat and add lemon juice, scraping up brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add chicken broth, making sure all brown bits are loosened, and bring to a gentle boil. Add sugar and stir. Make a slurry with cornstarch and a bit of water, add to pan, and stir well until starting to thicken. Remove from heat and set aside. When chicken is finished cooking, reheat lemony brown sauce and serve over chicken.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Babes In Arms

When I first sat down to write a blog post today, Boo (my 15 month old) had just gone down for her morning nap. I put Baby in her bassinet next to my desk, fussing a bit, and put on my headphones so she wouldn't distract me from my writing. Then I proceeded to stare blankly at the screen for the next several minutes, while Baby's cries grew louder.

My goal in the last couple of months has been to carve out some "me" time, an hour or two a day (Boo's nap time is ideal), and although it's not always easy, it does help me cope with the all-day-every-day demands of child rearing. Today though, as I tried to block out the crying baby, I suddenly was hit with the conviction that my approach was absolutely wrong. It's good to take time for myself, but when my baby needs me, I need to put her first. All it took was 5 minutes lying down with her and letting her nurse (just to soothe, she wasn't hungry), and she was sleeping peacefully. Now I have some time to myself, guilt free, and my girls are both content.

My precious girls are one of my greatest inspirations to write, and they will only be babes in arms for a short time. I need to savour those sweet moments when they need me, even if it cuts a little bit into my "me" time. It was good to have that attitude check and re-evaluate my priorities.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

So You're Not A University Graduate

This week I came across a note circulating on Facebook that lists the BBC's Top 100 Books and invites people to indicate which ones they have read (most people will have read 6 of the 100). Not all books on this list are necessarily classics, they simply were popular among readers. This note got me thinking about what makes a book a classic, and what value there is in reading them.

Sometimes "educated" people have a bit of a superiority complex, but the plain and simple truth is that anyone can be well-read, and even those who don't read much may have great wisdom to offer. Snobbish intellectuals simply become stupid because they won't learn from people they feel are inferior. But when someone reacts against intellectual snobbery by denying the value reading, they also can miss out.

True classics not only cross generational and cultural barriers to entertain people on a basic human level, but they also help us better understand the world we live in. Through a good book we can "walk a mile" in someone else's shoes. Even if you struggle with reading, have a disability that makes it difficult, or simply don't think you have the time, the classics can be accessible for you. Some classic books are quite short, some are at a child's reading level, and audio books make it easy to tackle more challenging reads. This list is a good starting point to find something worth reading. I encourage you to read one classic novel this spring, and get as much out of it as you can.

If you have read something lately that changed the way you think, helped you understand life better, or gave you great enjoyment, please share your find in the comments section!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Recipes: Moist & Chewy Low-Fat Brownies

I snitched the basic recipe for these from Janet & Greta Podleski's Crazy Plates cookbook, and modified it to suit my own tastes. You don't have to tell everyone that the secret ingredient is baby-food prunes! If you like moist and delicious desserts but need to cut down on your fat, I recommend you buy Crazy Plates.

Moist & Chewy Low-Fat Brownies

1/2 c. all purpose flour
1 pkg. (3.5 oz) instant chocolate pudding mix
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. butter, softened
1 egg + 1 egg white
1/2 jar (about 1/4 c.) baby food prunes
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 c. chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease an 8" square baking pan and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, pudding mix, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat together sugar, butter, egg and egg white on medium speed. Add prunes and vanilla, beat again. Add flour mixture, and beat until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan, using a small spoon to get it all the way into the sides and corners. Bake for 30-35 mins until dry to touch and somewhat puffy. Set pan on wire rack and let brownies cool before cutting.

The recipe makes 12-16 pieces, but you'll want to make 2 batches, one for yourself and one for everyone else!

Recipes: 10 Second Coconut Custard Pie

I don't know where it came from originally, but my mom has had this recipe since I was a little girl. I rediscovered it recently and now I always try to keep these ingredients on hand in case of emergencies.

10 Second Coconut Custard Pie

2 c. milk
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
1/2 c. all purpose flour
6 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. grated coconut

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 10" pie plate and set aside. Put first 7 ingredients in a blender, and cover. Blend on medium-high speed for 10 seconds. Add coconut, blend for 2 more seconds. Pour contents of blender into pie plate and bake at 350° for 50-55 mins until a knife comes out clean when inserted in centre. Let cool before serving.

Secrets Of Hospitality

How welcoming is your home? Being a great host or hostess is not about having a pristine home or a gourmet menu, whatever Martha Stewart may say.

At our house we often have company on short notice, and if your house is anything like mine (suffice it to say, less than pristine) it is crucial to master the art of the 10 Minute Tidy. My husband may joke about my "Sarah piles," but neatly stacking books, papers, clothes and dishes into manageable piles creates an instant sense of order. This makes it easier to deal with the serious cleanup one stack at a time, and if company is due any minute it will do for a short-term fix.

Whether friends are dropping by for coffee or perhaps you spontaneously invited family back for dinner, it's helpful to have a quick dessert on hand. (You can always order pizza or Chinese takeout for the main meal.) 10 Second Coconut Custard Pie is a sure bet if you have an hour to spare (baking time), or Moist & Chewy Low-Fat Brownies can be made in half an hour (including prep time) while you visit.

The best thing you can do is keep a well-stocked pantry, and know that the secret of hospitality is not in perfection but affection. If you can stop worrying about your less than perfect home or lack of meal planning and instead focus on being good company, you will be a great host / hostess. At the end of the day, hospitality is about making people feel cared for and welcome, however great or small your resources.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cheerful Choices

I have discovered that to a large degree my attitude controls my environment. For instance, have you ever noticed that if you look someone in the eye and smile, they almost inevitably smile back?

Yesterday, with one daughter at Nana's for the day, I took the opportunity to go "fun" shopping with my baby. Since she was born I have avoided going out much for fear of people's scowls if the baby starts screaming. This time my need to do something I enjoy outweighed my fears, and with baby in tow I hit a favourite bookstore and then Michaels craft store. More caught up in the sales than the possibility of a crying jag, we happily toured aisles and enjoyed the attention of many baby lovers. All the new sights and sounds were a great distraction for my baby, and when she was tired out she let me know... then a pit stop for a bottle before we hit the highway for home settled her down for a car nap. If I hadn't overcome my fears and stopped worrying about hypothetical situations, I couldn't have had such an enjoyable afternoon.

On the way home, however, my husband called to say he felt we should go to Toronto that evening and visit some of our church friends. This is another trip I've been avoiding, since it means the girls don't get to sleep when they should and then they're both ridiculously cranky and unmanageable. Considering how well my afternoon had gone, I decided I was going to put on a good attitude about heading into the city, and just enjoy seeing some friends. The girls did well on the hour and a half drive, our friends were delighted to see them (a rarity these days), and although neither did sleep while we were there, they did have some quiet time in their pyjamas that led to them both falling asleep as soon as we loaded them back in the car. On the whole, it went very well, largely because mommy wasn't stressing out. (Not that I plan to make a habit of disrupting their schedules.)

Anyway, it was just awesome to see that by simply letting go of my fears and meeting opportunities cheerfully, my day turned out to be a joy rather than an ordeal.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bedtime Stories for Couples

I've always felt that the most important time with my husband is bedtime. There's something special in those last few minutes before sleep that is not shared with the rest of the world. Sleepy reminiscences of the day, telling each other our challenges and plans for the week, and snuggling up as our eyes are closing... these moments are so totally ordinary, and yet they forge a bond of intimacy that strengthens our relationship to meet the demands of life as a team.

It can be a real challenge when schedules conflict, or when babies are demanding. Maybe there are a million little things than can be caught up on "if I just stay up a few more hours," but if those precious times with my husband aren't given priority it's not long before I start to feel like a one-person-show. The reality is that more often than not the urgent little things that steal away my time and attention are inanities like eBay, email, and chores that could wait until tomorrow. What do these things matter in the big picture, while my marriage is taking a back seat?

We've all heard that the most important things in life aren't things, they're relationships. Relationships with our children, our spouse, and God. Family and friends. Neighbours. Every person needs connection, and many people are depressed because they don't have it. In the same way that spare change, when saved diligently over a long period, adds up to something significant, so the ordinary bedtime stories shared with my spouse, night after night, add up to a solid relationship and a strong connection.

I hope you take time to share the ordinary things with people you love. Make it a habit. And no matter what else is demanding your attention or energy, keep investing in your relationships.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Get Serious & Lighten Up

I have a confession: I am a food-a-holic. I eat for nutrition, and because I appreciate good food. That's good. I also eat because I'm stressed. I eat because I'm bored. I eat because I'm thirsty. That's not good.

When I was pregnant (most of the last 2 years!) I could indulge a bit more, because baby bellies look cute anyway. The aftermath, however, is not pretty, and sometimes now I just feel old, weak and achy, not to mention the F-word... chubby. This is fairly common for women to experience after their second child, I know, and we don't have to feel like this for the rest of our lives. That's why I've set a goal, and made a plan.

The Challenge: Regain muscle tone, set healthier habits and fit into my pre-preg pants.

I don't believe in diets, so I'm going to share a few strategies that everyone can benefit from, and that will help me achieve these goals. First, I will be drinking at least 8 cups of water a day. That's four 500 mL bottles. Lots of water is the best cure for a whole variety of symptoms, from headaches, depression, and fatigue to joint pain, dry skin and constipation. I know, yuck. When my mom answered any complaint with the annoying "DRINK MORE WATER" ...she was right.

I also need to limit the amount of bread and pasta I eat, focussing more on high-fibre grains like barley and oatmeal. I need to eat way more fresh fruit and veggies - and plan to eat one salad a day. And of course, I need to get moving. 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise either by myself (walking) or with my hubby (...) will help me have more energy, and to sleep better at the end of the day. And last but not least, I need to make sure I'm getting adequate rest. With two babies at home it's not always possible to get a full night's sleep, but I can still make sure I get to bed on time and if necessary take a power nap at some point during the day.

I can absolutely guarantee both you and me that sticking to this plan over the long term will result in a much healthier, happier and energetic person. Wish me luck! And next time you see me, please feel free to ask me how many cups of water I've had today.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Recipes: Sour Cream Whipped Potatoes

This is my favourite side dish to enhance any beef, pork, lamb or chicken entree, and is super-easy to make.

10 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 tbsp. butter
1 c. light sour cream (or fat-free)
2 tbsp. dried chives
salt & white pepper

Boil potatoes in salted water until very soft. Drain, add remaining ingredients and beat with electric hand mixer on high until smooth and fluffy. That's all, folks!

Recipes: Pork Parmigiana - A Cheap Crowd Pleaser

Last Sunday we had a house full of people for dinner, 4 couples and 5 small children around the table. Looking for a meal that would be popular with everyone and inexpensive, I pulled out my trusty pork parmigiana recipe. This is a great meal for big families or lots of guests in a laid-back setting. The best part is that when pork tenderloin is on sale (which happens frequently at our No Frills) I can make enough to feed at least 8 adults generously for less than $15.

Pork Parmigiana

1 pkg pork tenderloin (2 tenderloins)
4 slices soft bread (I use cracked wheat or whatever is cheapest)
1/2 c. grated parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
cooking oil
1 can Hunts Onion & Herbs tomato sauce
3 c. shredded mozzarella

Prepare two 9"x13" pans with a thin layer of tomato sauce, and set aside. Pulse bread slices in food processor or blender with parmesan, salt & pepper until you have fine crumbs, and transfer to small casserole dish. Trim any fat or gristle from tenderloins and cut both into 1/4" slices across the grain. Pound slices very thin and press into crumbs to well coat both sides, then fry in lightly oiled skillet on medium high until golden brown on both sides. Transfer fried pieces to 9"x13" pans, overlapping slightly to cover whole pan. Spread remaining tomato sauce over the meat and top with mozzarella. (You can sprinkle with more parmesan if you want a little more intense cheese flavour.) Bake uncovered at 350° for at least 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden.

I serve this hot with caesar salad and Sour Cream Whipped Potatoes (see recipe). Also a great meal for leftover lunches!