Tuesday, 29 April 2008

My little nook

Mothers, isn't it wonderful the role we have been entrusted with? Each day we build our homes, a little nook in this ever-growing world. We create a haven for our families, a safe place for our children to run to. We foster a loving environment, a place of learning and loving and living and laughing. These four walls are all mine, for me to make what I want within them. What I let in is of my choosing, a responsibility the largeness of which does not escape me. I foster the mood, create the atmosphere, and set the standard. I have little control of the world spinning outside, but here, in my home, is a space that is all mine. I pray for the courage, knowledge, spirit, and energy to fulfill all my dreams for this house, and that that in turn fulfills the dreams of my children.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Homekeeper Challenge #4

This week I challenged myself in the area of cooking. I have done fairly well up to this point in reproducing recipes from a cookbook. I'm not the type to necessarily measure everything exactly, and sometimes vary it up a little. But I have decided that I'm ready to venture out a little further.

So, en route to creating my own recipes, this week I decided to see if I could replicate something I had in a restaurant. It was a fantastic dish called Balsamic Chicken Penne that I had at Kelsey's. I loved it so much I packaged the leftovers up and brought it home for a chef's dissection.

The result was, I can humbly admit, a delicious success. And so, as a record of my challenge this week, and for all you food epicures out there, here is the recipe:

Creamy Balsamic Chicken Penne
Serves 4

-2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
-2 red peppers, cut into 1 1/2" strips
-2 cups spinach
-1/2 red onion, cut into 1" strips
-Balsamic cream sauce (recipe at end)
-Shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Place chicken and 1 tbsp of basil in a pan of water. Bring to a boil, boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook 4 servings of penne or other large pasta (ie: rigatoni).
3. Make the Balsamic cream sauce (recipe at end)
4. When chicken is ready, cut it into 3" strips. Sautee the chicken, red pepper, onion and basil to taste, for 2-3 minutes or until pepper and onion are softened.
5. Boil the spinach for 2 minutes.
6. Top noodles with mixture, spinach, desired amount of sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Balsamic Cream Sauce:
-1 cup balsamic vinaigrette dressing (or make your own with: 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp dijon mustard, 1 clove garlic and 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil)
-1/2 cup mayonnaise
-3 tbsp parmesan cheese
-4 tsp basil
-1/4 tsp pepper

Whisk dressing and mayonnaise. Stir in cheese, basil and pepper.

Sunday, 27 April 2008


Yesterday I had a chance to browse the main street of Orangeville. I popped in and out of a home decor store, a bakery, an art gallery, the library, chocolate shop, and last but not least, a book store. What a fabulous little retreat our book shop is. It is everything a small town book shop should be - complete with a middle-aged woman owner milling among her treasures. The front half sells new books, but the back is a second-hand collection. the bonus is that if you bring back a book you buy there, she'll give you half the price towards your next book! As our library has only a small collection, this is a fantastic alternative. I also hate the time crunch I feel when I borrow a book from the library. I usually have no fewer than 6 books on the go at any one time, and so a few weeks is never enough for me to get through something!

I spent the better part of an hour browsing through the wonderfully varied bunch of books and chatting with Veronica (the owner). We talked about the merits of historical fiction, the "drama" behind so many modern books (she likened reading any of the "Oprah" books to spending time with a girlfriend who can't seem to get it together - too much drama if you try to read more than a couple in a row!), and whether or not to read "War and Peace" (I have, and if you can stick it out through the first 100 pages and get used to the long character names, it truly is a classic for a reason.) We recommended books and authors to each other, defending our favourites with a literature-lover's passion.

In the end, I walked out with eight books! I found the "Anne of Green Gables" collection (6 books), the war-time novel "Sophie's Choice", and a fabulous one-pot cookbook. I had been contemplating the "Anne" series just that morning over breakfast, thinking about how one day I would love to read it with my daughter at nighttime (okay...no daughter yet, but maybe one day!).

Buying the cookbook is feeding another passion of mine. And the fact that it was all "one-pot" recipes - irresistible for my frenzied life right now. Many of the recipes are simple yet exotic, with exciting new ingredients and spices. Here's a sample of some dishes I'll try out over the next bit:

Fruity Lamb Casserole
Lemon and Chicken Soup
Tuscan Veal Broth
Spiced Cashew Nut Curry
Orange-Scented Risotto

Dinner's on!

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Things I have learned about Caleb:

1. The order of things in his life: Toys are very important. But if there is food anywhere to been seen or smelt, the toy will be immediately launched out of sight to free up his hands. I'm fairly sure his lifelong goal will be achieved when he finally sneaks something from my plate. He loves to sit on my lap when I eat and pull my plate closer to him. But food is only number 2. While nursing in the evening, I usually sing to him. Lately, however, he has decided that music trumps food. Whenever I start to sing, he lifts his head up and lets go, smiling his wide open mouthed smile that fills his entire face with joy. It's beautiful.

2. Colin is the most interesting person on the planet.

3. Bathing is a spa experience.

4. He may skip rolling, sitting and crawling and go straight to walking. He loves to be up on his feet and is quickly bored being in one spot. Plus Colin is on the move, and survival necessitates locomotion.

5. Sleeping is not only highly overrated, but completely unnecessary.

6. He is happiest at 6 in the morning. He wakes up cooing and smiling and staring into my eyes. I think it's a ploy so that I don't move him over to the crib in his own room.

7. Oatmeal slop tastes better than rice slop.

8.White and blue are his best colours. And even when I have him in blue overalls and a shirt with a truck on it, people still tell me my little girl is beautiful. It's those big blue eyes and round pink cheeks. What can I say - I make beautiful babies.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Note to self

When everyone and everything around you is driving you crazy, remember what the common denominator is...you.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Another road

After only two weeks of the homeschool program, my best laid plans have fallen by the wayside. Colin enjoyed reading the themed books with me, and the gross motor skill activity was always fun (ie: crawling around, roaring like lions). But the actually 'learning' aspect of it bored him. The first week, when we learned the square, he kind of gave me this look that said "are you kidding me?" The same look surfaced again when we went over the number and letter of the week. The program has a lot of colouring, writing, gluing - the kind of stuff where you sit and work at a table. Colin just wasn't interested.

But I need not fear - the kid just absorbs things on his own. The other day we pulled out an old toy that has a whole bunch of shapes on it. He picked it up, and then pointed at each shape and fired off without taking a breath: "circle, square, star, triangle, hexagon, heart."

Hexagon? That's right. Hexagon. I have no idea where he picked that up.

On another day, I heard him counting. He had a deck of cards and was counting them out. "One, two, three...fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen." Now, he's been able to count to ten for eons. And we've been working on getting up to twelve. The rest...a complete mystery.

And so our homeschool program is on hold. Certainly I'll need to completely rework my idea of it. Something with a lot more outdoors, hands on, and applicable information. The kid is just too smart! He sees absolutely no point in learning "blackboard style"!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

My Spirited Children

This is a bit of a personal glimpse into my house on a daily basis, for those of you who only see us when we're out and about. I share this struggle of mine, because I h ave found a bit of light shining through, and I hope that if there is someone else out there in the same position, you might realize you are not alone in this.

Strong-willed. Determined. Stubborn. These are a few adjectives that describe my oldest son, Colin, aged 2 1/2 years. Characteristics to be cherished, for sure, but they are also very demanding of my time and attention. Actually, they are all-consuming of my time and attention. And as I struggled daily with trying to cope with Colin, I constantly wondered "what am I doing wrong?" Colin's behaviour often seems reflective of a spoiled child.

For instance, he decides he wants a cookie, but he's already had his limit, and dinner is only half an hour away. I calmly explain this to him, and he explodes into an all-out tantrum. He screams, throws things, hits things, rattles the cupboard drawer until I'm sure the whole thing will come down on him. Tears are pouring down his cheeks as he repeats over and over "I want a cookie!" And it continues for the next half hour. Someone looking in might wonder if I generally give in to him, spoiling him too often, and thus his reaction would be predictable. But we don't give in to him. Never before has he gotten that cookie, and so nothing in the past would dictate that if he cries long enough he'll get what he wants.

Here's another example: Coming home from a walk, I open the front door and let us in. Colin, previously on-top-of-the-world happy from our outing, throws himself to the ground in tears. He wanted to open the door. I drag him in and try to get his shoes and coat off, but it's useless. I can try to talk to him, calm him, explain to him, distract him, but nothing will work. In the end, I take him back outside, close the door, and let him open it. The tears shut off immediately and he smiles a huge smile up at me and bounces off to play with his toys.

He might refuse to eat for three hours because I cut his sandwich in half and he wanted it whole. On the other hand, when happy, he and I can sit and sing through our repertoire of songs for the better part of an hour.

It all seems so extreme, and is utterly exhausting. And I wonder and wonder what I'm doing wrong. Surely there is some parenting technique I've neglected to pick up over the years, some secret to everyone else's well-behaved children. I've no illusion that every child is perfect, but Colin's extreme behaviour seems, well, extreme!

I always called him my "little 100% baby". Every emotion he experiences and displays is at 100%. When he's happy, he's over the moon. When he's sad, tears flow in an unending stream. When he's angry, watch out. I had long concluded that he was just going to be my little challenge in life and I'd better fast find a coping mechanism so I don't lose my own sanity.

And then I found it. That elusive book, that missing piece of the puzzle, the answer I have long been searching for. It is called "The Spirited Child". And it could be my autobiography. As I read the opening pages, the descriptions from parents of their "spirited children" brought tears of relief to my eyes. Everything from explosive tantrums, to a photographic memory to his inability to "not sweat the small stuff" to his remarkable ability to notice every detail, to the resistance to change, to his ability to push every one of my buttons at exactly the same time. I am not alone. I am not missing the good parenting gene. Colin's temperament is not as unique as I once thought. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.

After lengthy studies, the author found that a group of people (she figures about 10% of the population) are what she terms "spirited". My own 100% analysis is not far off. Spirited children have heightened sensory, making them much more easily susceptible to everything around them. So when a minute amount of watermelon juice trickled down his sleeve yesterday, it actually drove him crazy. The feeling was heightened to the point that he could feel or think of nothing else. So as he struggled to tear off his top, he wouldn't even hear my suggestion to "please wait and I'll take you upstairs after to get a new top." It had to come off and it had to be now. The author says telling him to "just ignore it" is comparable to asking you to just "hold it" indefinitely when your bladder is about to burst. You just can't think of anything else. Every emotion and sense of a spirited child is "ready to burst" practically all the time.

I was elated to finally get this book and start mining its parenting techniques for working with spirited children. (Like "let them cry it out" is useless. They will cry indefinitely.) What is wonderful to know (and very evident in Colin) is that spirited children are often very bright. They just need to be taught how to manage their extreme personalities and harness all that energy and determination for good. And I need to get used to the phrase "Colin do it!" The book also reaffirms that most parenting techniques will not work for these kids. What a relief to know that it truly wasn't anything I was doing. I was using all the advice I read and was given by friends and family correctly...it just isn't effective on kids like Colin.

One last addendum. For those of you familiar with Dr. Sears and his family, their last child (they have about seven or eight, I think!) was of this temperament. They also wrote a book about it, recording that "they had no idea a child could be this "difficult" to handle." One of eight, which is nearly that 1 in 10 that the author of "The spirited child" guessed is the percentage out there. I had a visit from a public health nurse the other day to try and get help dealing with Caleb's unending crying. After the hour long interview, she turned to me and asked "Have you ever heard of the book 'The Spirited Child'?" I nearly cried, from relief, realization, and utter exhaustion. What she said made so much sense. Caleb, too, goes from pure happiness to utter misery in the blink of an eye. When he dirties his diaper, he screams until it is changed. I can set a watch by his naptime, because exactly at 9am, 1pm and 5pm he explodes into tears and screaming that renders him hoarse, all which immediately ceases when I put him down for a nap. The Sears' family had 1/8 children that were spirited. My luck is 2/2!

It will certainly be a challenge for me, because often a spirited child demands 100% of your attention. Usually, your other more mild-mannered children would be content to amuse themselves while you help your child through whatever the issue is. For me, I often have to leave one child in a fit of screams and tears while attempting to appease the other. I just hope and pray that this book will provide me with some better techniques so that I can find balance and, maybe, just maybe, a little peace in my life!

Monday, 21 April 2008

Homekeeper Challenge #3

This week was inspired by this beautiful flower. It was hiding around the side of our house, a wonderful splash of sunny yellow to welcome spring. And so I have decided (not lightly) to begin gardening.

It is important to note here that I know less than nothing about gardening. Until today, I thought those beautiful bunches of blue were flowers...but nope, they're weeds. And upon finding that out, I had no idea what I was supposed to do about them.

So today the boys and I hiked over to Home Depot and picked up one of those weed-pullers (I don't even know what the proper name is!) and I spent the better part of the afternoon attacking the backyard. We are somewhat cheating for our lawn care - we discovered that the price of buying all the fertilizer etc. is nearly the cost of having someone come in and do it for us! With James being so busy and the boys keeping my attention, we just figured it would be easier all around. (However, I did go over to Home Depot, got a quick rundown on lawn care, and bought all the soil and fertilizer. Now I have to take it all back!)

At any rate, I kept at it while Colin ran around with his shovel, trying to help scoop up the weeds, and after two hours it looked as though I had aerated the lawn! And yet there are still huge patches of those little blue flowers.

You know, they really are kind of pretty. Between my aching back and sunburn, I'm contemplating leaving them and calling them my "random garden".

This will be an ongoing project, as I really would love to at least have the gardens left to me by the previous house owners in presentable shape. I'm also hoping to grow a little vegetable garden in the back. Before today if you'd asked me if I'd ever garden, the answer would have been a big fat no. But I truly enjoyed my time in the yard today. I guess everything changes once you've got your very own piece of land to cultivate and care for.

By the way...anyone reading this who has a better grasp on gardening than I, if you're interested and willing to come over and give me a few pointers and tutorials to get me started, I would be beyond grateful. So grateful I will trade a good lunch, free babysitting or other offering in return!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

My beautiful boy

Today was a wonderful day. A beautiful, memorable, amazing, wonderful day. Today, Caleb didn't cry. This is a milestone for us, because he has spent almost every waking moment since birth crying, or on the verge of crying. It has been a stressful five months. As a mother, I've felt quite distant from him. I've tried so hard to find that bond that I know exists, and yet seemed to elude me every day.

Today Caleb, Colin and I had friends over, walked to the library for a reading program and then to the Early Years Centre to play, had lunch and naps, played with toys, had a barbecue and then cleaned up the backyard. Caleb came happily along in his carrier, stroller, and high chair. This afternoon, when I came back downstairs after running up to grab a diaper, I found Colin sitting on the floor next to Caleb, reading him a book.

At bedtime, I took Caleb upstairs and enjoyed some alone time while he fed. I sang a few lullabies, and he cooed at me. I placed him in his bed and he sleepily gazed up into my eyes as I kissed him goodnight and closed the door.

I don't know if this is a natural turning point, or just a special day to be cherished while we continue to look into what is bothering him. But I thank God for giving me this wonderful day. I really needed it, and He knew it.

Today was a wonderful day.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Doctor frustration

Have any of you encountered doctors that leave you feeling worse when you leave than when you came in?

Here in Orangeville, there is a serious doctor shortage. When we moved here, we submitted our names to a waiting list - and were told it might be two years before we hear anything. There is only one "walk-in" clinic in the whole town. It operates only from 5pm-8pm, Monday to Friday, and serves all of us here with no doctor. James went once and sat there for the full three hours before being seen. People start lining up at 3pm. Clearly this is not an option for little ones.

Luckily, because Caleb was born just after we moved here, my OB got him into a local doctor. It's a husband and wife team, but they said they could only take Caleb to begin with, and would see later on if they could take the rest of us. We found out last month that we could all sign up with them.

Sadly, I have been very disheartened with them. I'm not sure if there has been an outside pressure as of late, but they seem to be very concerned about the "paperwork" aspect of it all. We had to sign a form saying we would not see any other doctor. Apparently, family doctors are now charged every time one of their patients goes to a walk-in clinic or sees a doctor other than their own. Should we try to see someone else, our family doctor has the right to terminate the relationship.

Talk about pressure! But I don't think I could see someone else if I tried - I called around the other to find a doctor who would see Caleb for a "second opinion" - apparently most doctors won't do that anymore. Instead of an information-sharing community, it seems as though it's a "doctor-eat-doctor" world out there! Our instinct is that Caleb's incessant crying and projectile vomiting isn't "normal", but there doesn't seem to be anyone we can go to for help. I'm currently trying to explore some other avenues, but I feel as though I'm stumbling around in the dark, hands outstretched, praying I don't crash into anything serious.

We are also somewhat apprehensive about vaccinations and immunizations. Colin had trouble with his vaccines, and so we wanted to take things slower with Caleb, be more informed about what they are giving him, and decide for each vaccine whether or not we wanted him to get it. When we tried to discuss the matter with our doctor, out came the threats again. If we choose not to immunize completely by the age of three, she will "terminate the relationship".

Threatened, confused, worried, bullied...these are some of the adjectives which describe my feelings right now. Clearly having any doctor is better than none, because there will be ear infections, the flu, fevers and more with my kids over the years, and I'll need to be able to see someone. But I'm certainly becoming less and less impressed with the modern practice of medicine.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Homekeeper Challenge #2

I have long been frightened by the chemical list on the back of my cleaning supplies. Over the past four and a half years that I have been making my home, I have been trying to find cleaner, greener, safer ways to clean my house. Long ago we switched to using vinegar and water to clean the floors, and baking soda as a mild abrasive for the stove and countertops and pots. A few months ago I hunted for all purpose cleaners and bathroom cleaners that claimed (on the bottle, anyway) to be better for us and the environment. But I wanted to do more.

So this week I started doing some research. My goal was to rid my home of all those chemical based cleaners and to try and use homemade products instead.

I started with a little internet research. It was astonishing. My eyes were opened to the vast uses of: vinegar, baking soda, and lemon. Here's a smattering of what I learned:

Vinegar: use as a disinfectant and deodorizer. Mix one part vinegar with one part water, add to a spray bottle and use as an all-purpose cleaner! Can also be used as a fabric softener.

Baking Soda: use as a deodorizer, cleaner and mild abrasive. Because it maintains the pH balance, it neutralizes both acids and bases to eliminate all odours. Will also cause grease, dirt and grime to dissolve in water. Sprinkle in garbage/diaper pails, or on the carpet before vacuuming. Microwave a few tbsp in some water for a few minutes and it will loosen caked on food bits. Can also be used as a cleaner/deodorizer, or to unclog drains (I have the formulas if you want them).

Lemon: use as a deodorizer (fresh lemon smell) or as an antibacterial and antiseptic cleaner (thanks to its acidity level). Also dissolves soap scum and hard water deposits, will clean and shine brass and copper, mix with olive oil to use as a furniture polish, mix equal parts lemon juice and water in a spray bottle and use as an air freshener.

These are just a few of the uses I found, and I am so excited to start implementing them! I'll have to provide an update as to what I find effective and what ideas don't work as well. I was especially glad to find the air freshener idea, because I've heard those spray bottle we get from the store are absolutely awful for you.

Lastly, I also found a few books that provide more ideas. I'm still waiting for them to come in at the library - I'd like to peruse a few before I invest in one or two for myself. From what I can tell, these books literally have hundreds of ideas, and will definitely be useful to have around the house.

Well, I hope this is a little help to you also. Please feel free to leave a comment on any other ideas you use around the house, or natural/homemade cleaners you've been using!

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Song of Praise

I have realized that I have included far too little music in this blog. Music is such a huge part of who I am. I believe that because music is felt in the soul, and therefore is a true reflection of what one feels inside. I want to start including the lyrics of some of the songs that inspire me.

The first one I included a while back was called "In the Meantime". This song speaks to me as a mother, daughter, sister, friend, woman and daughter of God. (Check under the label "Music" to find it.) But today I'm including the poetry of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief", one of my favourite hymns from church. The imagery is so powerful I feel as though I am the one writing this story. If you have ever heard the melody, it is simply beautiful. James has sung this hymn numerous times in church, a capella, and it touches hearts everywhere.

A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief

A poor, wayfaring Man of grief
Hath often crossed me on my way,
Who sued so humbly for relief
That I could never answer nay.
I had not pow’r to ask his name,
Whereto he went, or whence he came;
Yet there was something in his eye
That won my love; I knew not why.

Once, when my scanty meal was spread,
He entered; not a word he spake,
Just perishing for want of bread.
I gave him all; he blessed it, brake,
And ate, but gave me part again.
Mine was an angel’s portion then,
For while I fed with eager haste,
The crust was manna to my taste.

I spied him where a fountain burst
Clear from the rock; his strength was gone.
The heedless water mocked his thirst;
He heard it, saw it hurrying on.
I ran and raised the suff’rer up;
Thrice from the stream he drained my cup,
Dipped and returned it running o’er;
I drank and never thirsted more.

’Twas night; the floods were out; it blew
A winter hurricane aloof.
I heard his voice abroad and flew
To bid him welcome to my roof.
I warmed and clothed and cheered my guest
And laid him on my couch to rest,
Then made the earth my bed and seemed
In Eden’s garden while I dreamed.

Stript, wounded, beaten nigh to death,
I found him by the highway side.
I roused his pulse, brought back his breath,
Revived his spirit, and supplied
Wine, oil, refreshment—he was healed.
I had myself a wound concealed,
But from that hour forgot the smart,
And peace bound up my broken heart.

In pris’n I saw him next, condemned
To meet a traitor’s doom at morn.
The tide of lying tongues I stemmed,
And honored him ’mid shame and scorn.
My friendship’s utmost zeal to try,
He asked if I for him would die.
The flesh was weak; my blood ran chill,
But my free spirit cried, “I will!”

Then in a moment to my view
The stranger started from disguise.
The tokens in his hands I knew;
The Savior stood before mine eyes.
He spake, and my poor name he named,
“Of me thou hast not been ashamed.
These deeds shall thy memorial be;
Fear not, thou didst them unto me.”

Friday, 11 April 2008


..Do any of you remember those old merry-go-rounds that used to dot the playgrounds of our youth? They were basically a circle platform of flat metal, with four or six large metals handles that were used for pushing the merry-go-round around in a circle, and then hanging onto while on the ride.

Lately, this is the best analogy for how I feel in my life. I'm running, clinging onto the pole for dear life, trying to jump onto the platform. But the other kids are older and bigger and stronger, and pushing just a little bit faster than my little legs can run, so I'm just sort of being dragged around and around and around. My legs are still moving, and I'm not down yet, but I feel like I'm right on the edge between being able to keep up, or being thrown from the ride.

Everything seems just out of reach. This is the hardest part for me. When I'm in a tunnel and it's so dark I can't see my hand in front of my face, I'm driven to push through to find a light. I put my head down and just plow through the darkness until I emerge, finally lift my head upwards and bask in the warmth of the light. But when I'm staring down my tunnel and I can see the end not too far off, I feel like every step I take gets me no closer. Then end is always just out of reach. There's always one more household chore to do, one more mess to clean up, one more lesson to study or project to undertake or relationship to deal with.

And yet adversity makes us grow. Complacency doesn't produce character. I imagine that if I ever had everything under control, my life would be very dull. (Although a little more control would be nice!) How liberating it is to live by my own sense of time. Or rather, my children's sense of time, which is fairly non-existent. Colin doesn't care if it's Tuesday or Wednesday, or three-o-clock, or April or what. His body understands time in a natural way - when it's dark, he needs to sleep. When it's light, he wakes. When he's hungry, he eats. When he's curious, he investigates.

As a mother, I understand I do need a little more structure than that - if I didn't create a schedule I couldn't promise you how often I might actually vacuum. And yet my flexibility is exploding. I never used to go anywhere without my watch and my datebook. Now I'm rediscovering the delight in living moment to moment.

Colin: Mommy, can we go to the centre (Early Years Centre - a play area)?

And why not? Before I would have had the day planned, and if I had included a visit to the centre, then I would have said yes. Now I realize that there is little stopping me from living life from whim to whim. As Colin grows he will understand scheduling and appointments and time. But for now I won't rush it. In fact, I'll revel in it!

(But for the record...I still feel as though I'm on that merry-go-round!)

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Reviving Ophelia

I am at a loss at where to begin about this fantastic book I just finished. Selfishly I think I'd rather just keep these thoughts to myself, allowing the ideas to ruminate and grow and evolve within me. However the subject of this book is just too important not to share with you.

The book is subtitled "Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls". It is written by clinical psychologist Mary Pipher about her work with teenage girls over her lengthy career in therapy. She wanted to study the phenomenon of girls falling prey to such dangers as depression, eating disorders, abuse, and suicide attempts. Personally I had what I would consider a fairly healthy and uneventful time during my teen years, however this book spoke to the very core of me. Pipher delves into the need for teen girls to find their true selves and the struggle to stay true to that through the turbulence of culture, peer pressure, parents, media, boys, and the hundreds of other areas which impact these few but important years. Her insights are eerily accurate and each page provides insight into why we girls do what we do.

This book is a must read - for parents of girls, people who work with girls, and all girls in general. I wonder if I had read it as a teen what my reaction would have been? They say hindsight is 20/20 - and perhaps as a teen I might have been too self-absorbed and self-assured to understand the truths found within these pages. But I am grateful to have had those seemingly chaotic and crazy years dissected for me, so that I may understand more about myself, and be readied for the inevitable work I will one day do with teenage girls.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Our Learning Poster

Week one of homeschool is completed - and I'd say it was a big success. I keep his learning poster out around the house, so Colin sees it often. Every time he catches a glimpse of it, a big smile breaks across his face and he yells excitedly: "School time!" If he's adamant, we play some of the games we learned, or reread one of the theme books.

This is our first learning poster. I've used sheet protector pockets, so that each week I can take out last week's picture and slip in the new one. Then we add the old pictures to Colin's notebook. This book is a place to record the things we do each week. I glue in the pictures he colours, and add the text of the poems we read and the songs we sing. We also write in the letter and number, and Colin adds the corresponding number of stickers (ie: this week he put one stick under the number 1). Can you guess the bible story we read this week? (Hint: the weekly theme was cows...so this picture is of a man sleeping in bed, dreaming of cows...)

Homekeeper Challenge #1

Okay - week one. I did it. Actually, this whole challenge has been quite motivating. That and the spring weather that has finally arrived. I have discovered why "spring cleaning" exists - who would want to tackle such a chore in the dreary months of winter?

Project one - the bathroom cabinet. Perhaps I started with this because of its size (24" x 30" and only two shelves) but really it's because I was fed up with opening the doors and having everything fall out onto me, the toilet and the floor. In it you would find hair products, shaving razors, combs and brushes, cleaning supplies. And a hundred other little odds and ends that seem to find their way into the cabinet.

But no more! I pulled out everything we don't use regularly and tucked them away in my linen closet (which I also tackled this week!) Things may have been "organized" before, but the sheer volume of things in their meant they were so precariously balanced they couldn't help but fall out.

I'm really trying to make do with less. There are so many things I hold onto for the once or twice in a blue moon I might use it. I also hate to throw things away - it feels like such a waste. Not only that, the environmentalist in me doesn't like filling up landfills with all my junk. However, I have accumulated much over the years. The only remedy I see is to do a purge, and then work hard not to accumulate more. It can be done! I know it can!

I thought I'd also share one of my best housekeeping tips with you - my "upstairs/downstairs basket". This is a good-sized basket I keep on the landing of my staircase. As I tidy during the day, this is the place I toss things that need to go upstairs. I acknowledged to myself that I can't keep running things up and down stairs, and the demands of my children mean I don't always have time to put things away as I go. This basket is the perfect place to collect things that need to make their way upstairs. Then when I get a chance, I take the whole basket upstairs and put everything away. This is by far the best housekeeping idea that has worked for me.

What about you? What has been your "lifesaving" housekeeping trick? (I'm thinking if I compile a whole bunch of tricks, I can have the cleanest house on the block!)

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Mommy Brain

How many of you out there are suffering from "Mommy Brain"? You know, that natural phenomenon that occurred once you had children, causing you to have little to no memory left? (Colin has a fantastic memory - maybe he got it from me - literally!) In my life, if it's not written on my calendar, it doesn't exist. I have stories of making plans for tomorrow and completely forgetting them then next day! I read somewhere lately that there is actually a medical explanation behind "mommy brain", which gives me a little comfort.

Here's one of my favourite stories about my fading memory (forgive me if I've told this one already!):

I love to read - all kinds of everything. Two years ago I was in the middle of a classics kick, devouring everything from "War and Peace" to "Catcher in the Rye". Upon finishing another book, I wandered into our office to peruse our literary collection for something new. My fingers rested on "Brave New World".

Terri-Ann: Oh! I've been wanting to read this. I heard it was excellent.
James: You read that.
Terri-Ann: I did?
James: Yes, three months ago.
Terri-Ann: Oh....(pause)... Did I like it?
James: You thought it was okay, but it felt like a first draft, and could have used more fine tuning.
Terri-Ann: Hmm. Well then.

I put the book back on the shelf and found "new" that I hadn't "just read".

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The gate

Whenever the weather is even remotely manageable, I try to get out for a walk. I bundle Caleb up and sling him into a carrier, then grab the stroller for Colin and off we go. The stroller is more for pushing than riding - Colin very rarely actually gets into the stroller. But it does keep him from running off, and it also works to carry my bag and any treasures we find along the way (today it was pine cones).

Since it matters little to me which way we go, I usually leave it up to Colin. We walk east down our street, turn south for one block, then turn west, and finally turn back north at the retirement residence parking lot entrance. If you've managed to follow along with my directions you may realize we are almost back to our house. In fact, our house looks out onto this parking lot.

This is a trip with a purpose for Colin - to see the gate. Yup - the three of us just stand there, his hand in mine, and watch as the cars go in and out of the parking lot, and the gates go up and down, up and down, up and down. He loves it. The people in their cars love it. They think it's hilarious that a two-year-old finds such joy in such a simple thing. Colin has such patience - he'll just stand and wait until the next car comes in or out. In 20 minutes of watching we might only see a handful of cars, but for him, it's totally worth it. (Note to self - I should try to take him at 5:00 one evening...he'd go crazy with all the cars at quitting time!)

It's a real chore trying to convince him to leave. He just wants to wait for "one more car". the other day I nearly let these words escape my lips: "Colin, we'll come back again another time. The gate will always be here tomorrow."

Sadly, and unbeknown to Colin, one day soon the gate won't be there. We received a notice that they will be building an extension to the residence where the parking lot now is. And as early as this spring, they will likely close the parking lot down for good.

This will be our first "memory" - you know, the type you have when you revisit childhood sites to find them changed, or in some cases, gone. I was shooting a film in a university film class about playgrounds, and lugged all my equipment to a fantastic wooden playground set at my old middle school. I hadn't even bothered to scout the location first to make sure everything was okay. I just assumed in my childhood naivety that something so important to my past would always be there. You can imagine my surprise when I rounded the corner to see nothing but a circle of gravel. My beautiful wooden castle, my mountain to climb, my gym to hang off - it was as though it had never been.

Staying within the lines.

Colin and I were colouring this morning. I had printed out pictures of cows so we each had one. I was fairly proud that I broke the bands of adult confinement in colouring - my cow was yellow with purple spots and orange feet with a pink head and blue horns and a green udder. Colin was attacking his page randomly, and as most 2 year olds, not even seeing the "lines" on the page.

He looked over at my picture with a little disdain. Then he reached over and coloured great big strokes of purple all over my cow. "There. That's better," he proclaimed and went back to his own masterpiece.

It may not have been that it looked better, but I bet it felt better. I then took my own red crayon and scribbled over my paper. You know what? It does feel better!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Earth Hour

Saturday was Earth Hour. Hopefully most of you were at least aware of this event, whether or not you were able to participate. The idea was that between 8pm and 9pm this past Saturday, people around the world turned off their lights. Different events were organized in celebration, like candlelight dinners in restaurants, or evenings outside in the parks. It was all about raising awareness about our carbon footprint on the earth, and doing a little bit more to conserve energy.

James was out of town, but we did our part here. As I put Colin to bed at 8, we talked a little bit about how we can help the earth to feel better. Then, promptly at 8pm, we turned off the light and sang our lullabies in the dark.

After that, I came downstairs, light a beautiful green candle I have that smells of deep forest, and hand cranked my generator radio. For the next hour I nibbled on homemade cookies and listened to the Leaf game in the dim candlelight.

It was amazing to look outside at our street and see nearly all of the houses dark. Even in the apartment building, only three windows were aglow with their overhead lights.

We are by no mean conservation fanatics, but I do try to do the best I can. We have energy saving appliances, we turn the lights off behind us, we walk when we can instead of driving. One goal for me is to get a bike and use it and a backpack for "quick trips" to the store. I am no expert on global warming, climate change, and the like - if the experts can't agree, how am I supposed to figure it all out with my limited knowledge and experience! But I do support the idea of "carbon footprint" - that being the mark I leave on the earth. Whether or not our human lifestyle is destroying the planet (I tend to think yes!), I figure it's always better to keep it as green as we can. We owe a lot to this earth of ours. It's a pretty great and beautiful place to live, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Homekeeper Challenge 2008

In this wild, wonderful world wide web, a whole new community has been created. I have found that has a new mom, I have turned inwards, focusing my time, talents and efforts inside my home rather than out. But an interesting thing has happened...I have been able to meet new people, share insights and ideas and get to know old friends a lot better through the blogging community. Spending even just a few minutes a day allows my mind to escape from these four walls and get a glimpse into the lives of other moms.

Through a long, convoluted path (which I won't go into in detail), I came across a blog entry called "The Homekeeper Challenge 2008". A fellow wife and mom is challenging her peers "to fully dive into your God given role" as a homekeeper. She gives some of her ideas of what a homekeeper is, but more importantly, challenges readers to find out what it means to you personally. The rest of the challenge simply entails working at being the best homekeeper you can be, and to write about your progress each week.

What, then, is my own definition of a homekeeper? I'm not sure yet. I know it would include teaching of my children, supporting my husband, creating an atmosphere of peace, growing personally (in physical, mental and spiritual areas), and keeping my own house a house of order.

In fact, our church scripture has an interesting verse that comes to mind as a perfect definition of what I want my house to be. It is in reference to a temple, which is the House of God. I can't think of a better goal to which I can aspire as a homekeeper:

"Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God."

And so I will take up this challenge, and see what it does for me. You're welcome to come along on this journey with me, or perhaps even be inspired to take up the challenge yourself! Either way, sisters unite! Let us rejoice in fulfilling the call we have received as mothers, wives, and homekeepers.