Friday, 28 October 2011


Christmas shopping has begun. It may seem early to some, but with birthdays starting in November, it's just easier to get it all done now.

My gift philosophy evolves each year. This year we decided to set some money aside in June so that we could buy the boys something for the summer. There's no fun in getting a bike in December when you can't even ride it for another 4 months. For birthdays/Christmas this year, I'm going with the "buy something they are asking for." It may not be educational or useful or even something I think they'll play with for years to come. But it is something they want now, and that is enough.

We have so many toys, and so many relatives who love to give gifts, that there will never be a moment where our boys are lacking. I have adopted the "toy in - toy out" rule to try and keep things under control in our toy room here. I'm a little worried already about this year, since the boys love and play with everything that's already in there. But I figure at least half of it is going to have to go in order to make room for the new things.

Yes, this culture of consumerism worries me, and I hope and pray over the years to come that I'm able to teach the boys that toys and things are not everything, and that being lavished with gifts is a great privilege of the blessed life we lead. But I've given up trying to rein it in, since it's a fruitless expense of my efforts. This year I'm embracing the love our friends and family show through gift-giving (it is one of the 5 love languages, after all) and being grateful for it all.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Getting settled

I think I'm finally getting settled after Benjamin's birth. It's been 22 months.

In the haze of sleepless nights that lasted these two years, my body compensated by craving junk food. There was chocolate almost daily, lots of pop, desserts more often than not. My body was craving sugar in order to keep me going during the day, and that isn't like me at all. While I love a chocolate bar or root beer or ice cream now and then, I just don't do well with those things as a daily part of my diet. My body usually rebels, feels ill, can't function. I eat fruit all the time, and veggie sandwiches are a staple for lunch. Not so, this past year.

But I've noticed over the last week or so that this finally seems to be abating. There are three tubs of ice cream in the freezer that have been there since before Thanksgiving. James baked three dozen cookies that I didn't eat any of. My secret stash of chocolate bars dwindled to nothing and I never bothered to replace it. A bag of Dorritos is still sitting on the dishwasher after a week. And on my road trip last weekend, I stocked up on treats and only ate one chocolate bar the whole time.

Better than that, I'm back to my toasted veggie sandwiches and fruit smoothies. Okay, I have been stocking up on those little sausage roll appetizers for lunch also, but after this box I'm not feeling like I want to replace it. Yes, I finally feel like my body is getting settled after my last baby. It's about time!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011


After two yelps and then Caleb dissolving into screams, I sharply turned my attention and voice toward the playroom. Caleb, crunched over in pain, cried out that Colin had thrown a lego creation at him. I ordered Colin upstairs, when he defended his actions by revealing Caleb's guilt in the incident also. I ordered them both upstairs for five minutes alone, to calm them down. Colin went immediately, but I stopped Caleb to comfort him before sending him up. After a few minutes of soothing words, I heard Colin calling from upstairs that he was ready to resolve things. I sent Caleb up with instructions that they were not to come back down until they had worked it out.

I heard some chatting back and forth on the stairs, and less than a minute later both boys emerged. Colin led Caleb to the living room, and then announced to us all that he had something he wanted to say in front of everyone. He faced Caleb and apologized for throwing the lego and hurting him so badly. Then he pulled out two small objects from behind his back and presented them to Caleb. Caleb looked at them closely as Colin explained what the little toys were and how they worked. I recognized the toys as ones from Colin's bed shelves; these were very previous to him, collections of little toys and trinkets, each one being given a specific and special place on the shelf.

I was so proud of him. I loved that, on his own, he realized that an apology was more than just an "I'm sorry" and that he had a genuine desire to try and make things right.


In another incident, my sister Jennifer came for dinner and brought a fantastic apple crisp. Colin tasted the first bite and declared: "Yum! This is delicious! This is way better than a pile of dirt!"

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Time Out for Women 2011

This past weekend I road tripped down to Rochester (4 hours) to attend a women's conference called Time Out for Women. This is an amazing conference series put on every year by women in our church, and they tour all over the US and Canada bringing inspirational speakers and musicians to help inspire women. It is impossible to sum up the whole weekend here, but I do want to record some of the highlights and moments of true inspiration for me.

More than anything I was excited to see Hilary Weeks. She is one of my favourite singer/songwriters. She is releasing her 9th album next week, and every single album is beautiful and brilliant. I've seen her once before at one of these conferences, and not only is she wonderful to hear sing live, but she is side-splitting hilarious in between her performances. She really captures what motherhood is about, infusing the issues and problems with so much humour you can't help but laugh. If you get a chance, have a peek on YouTube at her funny little parodies: "to-do list" "laundry" "my favourite things" "teenage language barrier".

The best quote I heard all weekend was by speaker John Bytheway. He is a Bishop (pastor) in his local church and he had a woman come into his office to speak about some troubles she was having. But instead of off-loading right away, she spoke these words of wisdom: "Instead of telling God how big my problems are, I'm going to start telling my problems how big my God is." Yeah. How amazing is that. If I don't take anything else away from this conference, I will always remember those words.

The theme of the 2011 conference series is "Choose to Become." It's an inspiring theme, because it encourages us all to make some deliberate choices in our lives, to choose to become not only what we really want to be, but also that which we have the potential to be that we didn't even know was there. A quote was given that we often make "to-do" lists, but we never make "to-be" lists. And in the long run, what is more important? Do you want to get to the end of your life and see a long list of completed to-do tasks like laundry and dishes and appointments and tidying? Or do you want to see a to-be list of the amazing emotional and spiritual evolutions within you?

"Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him." (Moroni 10:32, Book of Mormon). We often forget this sequence, and think that we must first be perfect and then we can come unto Christ. I loved this reminder that it really is the other way around, and that the only way we can be perfected (eventually, one day, way down the road int he eternities!) is through Christ. This was a good kick in my self-reliant pants.

I tell my kids all the time, when all three of them are hanging off my legs and demanding things all at once, that I am only one mom, and they are three kids, and I can't possibly see to all of them at the same time. This has really helped them get a little (little) patience, because Colin and Caleb both seem to get that picture. But God deals with each of his children one-on-one each and every day. We never have to wait until he gets to us, or step aside while he deals with something more urgent than our request, or assume that our needs are not important for him at this time. He may be one God, and we may be billions of his children, but his awesome omnipotence means that we can be before him every day one-on-one.

One speaker (and mom) noted that her mother-in-law never asked her kids "what did you do in school today" when they came home. (That never works anyway, at least with boys. Have any of you ever actually gotten an answer to that question? And still I ask it every day, and press and probe and use psychology tricks and even bribe until I can get three or four short words of an answer.) Instead, this mother always asked "who did you help today?" That changed her kids' focus when they left home for school every day, because they began to search out opportunities to serve others. This is a HUGE passion, desire and focus of mine as I raise my boys, and I am definitely adopting this.

Instead of trying to chase away bad or negative thoughts, fill your mind with good and positive ones, so that there simply is no room for the bad ones. How simple yet profound this idea is. It takes so much effort to push out the negative thoughts, but much less effort to simply think good ones in the first place. And what you think is what you become, so if I think positive I will feel positive and therefore be positive. Sound so simple, doesn't it?

Deliberate mothering means that each moment is a brick I am laying in my family and home. I am not just vacuuming and cleaning and training and disciplining and chauffeuring and packing lunches. Each of these acts is slowly helping to shape the lives and character of my children, whether by impacting them as people or creating the atmosphere in which they live. My top priorities shouldn't be speed and efficiency, but my family members, one by one.

Well, it's impossible to sum up a whole weekend in a few short paragraphs, but these are the thoughts I really want to remember. The conference will be coming to Toronto again next June, and I'll buy my ticket as soon as I can for that. I love to be inspired by inspiring people!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Talking with teens

Somewhere, quite a while ago, I read an article about talking with teens. This one wasn't about the dreaded sex topic, or even about how to get your teens to talk to you about their life. It was simply from a teen's point of view about how they feel when they (have to) communicate with adults. The one point that stuck with me all these years was to make sure that you talk to them about real things. Don't assume all they can converse about is boys/girls, clothes, sports, and teen drama. Sure, a lot of that is relevant to their lives and they will want to talk sometimes on these topics. But the teens interviewed said that many times adults never really gave them any credit that they were interested about things bigger than these.

Saturday night I had an opportunity to drive my friend's 12 year old son home from his friend's house (I was in the neighbourhood and offered to help out.) It was going to be about a 20 minute drive, and running through my head was "what on earth are we going to talk about?" Now, I'm not a small chat person to begin with. When I have to drive someone home that I don't know well, I generally just sit in silence, completely unable to gather up any conversation ideas. That's why I insist on bringing James to any event I have to go to, because he jumps in and so easily starts conversations with anyone.

So as we climbed into the car, I tried to fill my head with conversation starters and topics, praying that we wouldn't just have to endure 20 minutes of silence, because that is a long time and would probably be unbearably uncomfortable.

I started with sports, knowing that he played on a team. Then I moved to the hike he had been on that day. But honestly, these were both those kinds of teen topics that kids generally get stereotyped into.

But then somehow there was a shift in the conversation, and it just took off. We talked about the Italian Renaissance art movement, the characteristics of those paintings, the difference between Da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa and those who could paint identical reproductions, the size of art canvases and how to conceive mural size paintings. Then we talked about writing, and how authors create and write a series, and what about a book means it merits a sequel, and then what about a sequel means it merits a third in the series. We talked about living abroad and learning new languages, and the difficulties of fitting into a new culture.

The 20 minutes flew by, and I found myself pulling into his driveway. He grabbed his knapsack and hopped out, and that was the end. As I drove away, I was amazed. I never would have thought that I would not only have found interesting topics of conversation with a 12 year old, but that I would engage with such enthusiasm and interest with someone who hadn't even reached teenagehood yet. It was neat to finally see the theory of "talking with teens" in action, and to see just how important it is to let these youth express thoughts that go deeper than last night's hockey game or what outfit to wear to school.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The "safe" zone of school

I have read numerous (too many) articles in the papers lately about bullying related suicides. Children between ages 9 and 15 taking their lives because they can't cope with the endless taunting and tormenting at school.

Granted, bullying can take place anywhere, but the majority of it happens at school, and when a child is spending 30+ hours there a week, it is no wonder it grates on their poor hearts. Over and over we hear that schools are safe places for kids to be, but I think this is less and less true. Too many stories (in papers and from friends of my own) of children being bullied, abused, and mistreated in the supposedly safe zone of school.

I had a conversation with a friend on this exact topic on Sunday. She expressed some concerns over her young son, worrying that one day he might find himself a bullying victim. Worse, she was worried that she might never know what was happening during the time he was away from the safety of her home.

I told her that the best thing was to have it on your radar constantly. Bullying is an open dialogue in our home already, and Colin isn't even 6. He talks at times about bullying behaviour from kids at school. Thankfully it is all more controlling behaviour than bullying, but I've got my eye on it, and I'm glad to know Colin can recognize that kind of behaviour and that he is willing to let me in on it.

But let me tell you, I would pull my children so fast from an environment like the ones described by these children who took their own lives to escape the pain. Many of the kids talked about switching schools to try and escape, but these days it seems like schools are nothing more than a social ladder, where everyone wants to climb and the only way up is to drag the person above you down by the scruff of their neck and trample over them as you climb. It's terrible.

I feel like the only way my kids will be safe is if they blend in, if there is nothing that makes them different or stand out from the other kids. But that's not really the type of kid I want to raise. In fact, I want to raise kids who dare to be different, love to stand out, feel free to embrace who they are. How contradictory to the institution where they will spend the next 12 years of their life.

I know these aren't the stories of everyone, but especially during those tough middle school years (grades 6-9) almost everyone feels vulnerable. I almost feel like it would be a good idea to homeschool during those years anyway. I know some people will say that it will "toughen" kids up, or that they need to face that kind of adversity to make them strong, but I say that's crap. There is no reason that during some of the most vulnerable years of their lives they should be thrown into a lion's den. There are many ways they can be prepared for the world without being taught to crush other people's souls before they crush yours. Again, not the kind of kids I want to raise. But maybe for a couple years I can let them grow in themselves in the comfort and security of their own home, developing intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally during those fragile times and emerging on the other side ready to face high school, post secondary education and eventually the work force. When you put the two options side by side, it doesn't seem to be much of a decision, does it?


Caleb: I don't think Santa needs to come this year. We already have so many toys - the playroom is full of them. And any toys that we don't have, we can make out of paper.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Be yourself

My friend posted this, and I thought it was so poignant:

There is nothing to practice;
To know yourself, be yourself.
To be yourself, stop imagining yourself to be this or that.
Just be.
Let your true nature emerge.
Don't disturb your mind with seeking.

— Nisaragadatta Maharaj

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Colinism and Calebite

Colin and Caleb are taking swim lessons. There are no words that can describe their excitement. But since photography and videography are not allowed at the pool, I will have to do my best to try and capture our most hilarious half hour of each week.

Every week we walk down the street to the pool. The boys are so excited they talk a mile a minute, right over top of each other. I actually have to tell them to stop, and give each boy three sentences to speak, before cutting him off to give time to his brother. Back and forth for the ten minute walk/run. Because walking is too slow. When we turn the last corner and can see the pool, they take off at speeds previously unattained by children under the age of 8.

Because I already have them in their swimsuits before we leave, all they have to do is take off their crocs and shower before entering the pool. Now, these are two boys who cry if we try and get them to shower instead of bathe at home. They cry that the water will get in their eyes, or it's too hot, or the water will hurt their backs. Not so, at the pool. The first week they turned on all three showerheads and ran back and forth under the streams. When I ended that for safety's sake, they chose instead to both stand under one showerhead. They stand as still as statues, head's bowed, Caleb holding his arms slightly out to the side. And they just stand there and let the water pour over them. They have to stand very close to each other to get under the stream, and it is just too cute to see two little brothers in that close proximity without wrestling and tears resulting.

Once the shower turns off, they dart into the pool, where we always have five minutes to wait (because I don't like to be late, I'm usually a little bit early.) They hop from foot to foot, darting toward the pool's edge to look over and then darting back at my firm voice of warning. They can't resist picking up flutter boards or diving rings or exclaiming loudly at the other kids already swimming.

When their class begins (there is one other girl in the class with them) I ascend to the balcony, where I can watch them from behind a glass window. And I laugh and laugh and laugh. And other people laugh and comment about them. Their excitement is infectious.

Because there are three kids and only two teachers, one is always left waiting for 15 or 20 seconds, standing on the submerged platform, while the other two students practice a technique. Whenever Colin or Caleb are on that platform, they are jumping and bouncing and spinning and twirling and laughing and making goofy faces at me and dancing and playing on the rails. They literally can't contain themselves. Yesterday, though I couldn't hear what was happening, I could swear that Caleb was singing the little "Huh-banana-squash-banana" that Rafiki sing in the "The Lion King", while Caleb paced back and forth on the platform "walking like an Egyptian."

While doing the actual swimming, Colin and Caleb are as different as night and day. All of Colin's perseverance comes to the forefront. If the teacher tells him to lie on his back and kick, he will do it for as long and as far as he possibly can, even when he is 6 inches under the water and can no longer breathe! His little face is grinning ear to ear and his legs are kicking ferociously, while he slowly sinks beneath the surface. And he wants no help at all. If the teacher stands 10 feet off and tells Colin to swim to her (usually kids need this to be encouraged to swim on their own), Colin swims toward her and then veers off on an angle to try and swim as far as he can. Every instruction she gives he immediately takes and applies, with absolutely no fear. He will do that front stroke as far as his lungs will take him (he can't turn his head to breathe yet). There were a couple times when he was almost choking on swallowed water, but no way was that going to stop him!

Caleb, on the other hand, swims vertically. Seriously. It's hilarious. He does everything Colin does (he wouldn't do it because the teacher asks, but he will do it because he sees Colin doing it!), but he does it with his body straight up and down in the water, rather than horizontal. So imagine these big arm front strokes, his legs kicking hard, but he's moving as though he was walking rather than swimming! He can't reach the bottom, so I know he's not really walking. The teacher holds onto him so he doesn't sink. Then he tries to do a back float, and his head is back, and his legs are dangling straight down. Then he tries a front kick, while holding onto the teacher's arms, and his legs are going back and forth 2 1/2 feet under. I also laugh each time he has to jump into the pool. I know he can do it, because he was jumping non stop this summer on our camping trips. I think he's a little nervous because the teachers are new, and he doesn't trust them completely yet. So the teacher will stand a couple feet out and reach out to him, and Caleb wants to jump - he really does - I see him bend his legs as if to jump, but then he just bounces up and squats down in position again, and reaches a little further, and then touches the teacher's hand and pulls her closer, all the while he's bouncing as if he was going to jump. Finally the other teacher comes from the side and lightly touches one finger to his back just to give him an added push. It's not even a push at all, more like a little pressure to get him going.

Once the boys finish, you'd think they would have expended all their energy, but nope. They are still wired. They take another shower, standing perfectly still, Caleb in front, Colin just behind. Then comes the business of getting dressed. Colin absolutely can't stand getting dressed when his skin is 100% dry, so it's a chore to try and get him ready. He also will not tolerate a single drop of water on his clothes; try putting on a pair of pants in a pool dressing room without letting the legs touch the floor!

And then the walk/run home. They talk a mile a minute. They run ahead and then run back to talk more, and then jump and dance and run again. It's past bedtime when we get home, but it takes forever to wind them down from it all! Next time I will have to try and book an earlier class, that's for sure.

I'm so disappointed that I can't get it on video. Even this long description can't capture it all, but I'm hoping it will be enough to trigger my memory of it. I'm so tempted to secretly film it all on a camera phone or something like that. It's just too funny!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


My in-laws have a huge stash of mini Smarties boxes, and every time they see the boys they bring one for each of the boys. For a long time, only Colin and Caleb got one, but recently Benjamin has become old enough to chew the favourite candy-coated chocolate also. Benjamin calls them "mommies."


Benjamin calls pictures of cats in books "cats." But real cats he calls "Cleo." That's the name of our cat, which he then applies to all cats.


Benjamin loves having his teeth brushed. I've heard from so many friends how their toddlers resist this daily habit, and yet Benjamin couldn't wait to start. He stands on his tiptoes on the little stool, opens his mouth wide and lets you brush away. Every 10 seconds or so he "spits" into the sink. It's one of the most adorable things I've seen.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

You absolutely must try this!

I love to bake. Yesterday I made three desserts for James' family Thanksgiving dinner, which meant it took the better part of the morning/afternoon to get it all done. But I never felt as though it was something I had to get through, or that there was anything else I would rather have been doing. It was just so much fun!

My first dessert is my classic, the Mile-High Apple Caramel pie. This is a huge hit, and I could never show up to a holiday meal without it. Roasting the apples before baking the pie intensifies the flavour and allow you to get twice as many apples into the pie than when I put them in uncooked. There are also praises all around for my crust, which, to be honest, I just make according to the directions. Apparently crust is difficult to master, but I guess my natural touch is what it takes, because I certainly haven't had to experiment on it!

The second dessert was a pumpkin pie. I think the filling had the right balance of sweetness and spices, but it didn't gel as firmly as I hoped. Still scrumptious, but I will need to look into the secrets of pumpkin pie a little further.

The third dessert was to die for. No, really. I dropped it off about 3pm, then had to run home because I forgot the diaper bag. By the time I returned the first tray was half empty - and it wasn't originally intended as an appetizer! The recipe, however, is not mine. The only credit I can take is that I do seem to be developing a talent of reading a recipe and discerning from the ingredients and directions what it might taste like and if it might suit our family's taste buds. And oh my, was this one ever a winner! And so, for your baking pleasure, I give you "Marbled Chocolate-Pumpkin Brownies."

Marbled Chocolate-Pumpkin Brownies

Makes: 36 brownies
Prep: 30 minutesBake: 1 hour
Marbled Chocolate-Pumpkin Brownies
  • 3
    ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1
    tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1/2
    cup sugar
  • 1
  • 1
    cup canned pumpkin
  • 1
    teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2
    teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4
    teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1
    tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4
    cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4
    teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2
    teaspoon salt
  • 6
    ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4
    cup butter, cut up
  • 2 1/4
    cups sugar
  • 4
  • 1/4
    cup milk
  • 2
    teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4
    cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil, extending foil over the edges of the pan. Grease the foil; set pan aside.

In a medium mixing bowl beat cream cheese and the 1 tablespoon butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the 1/2 cup sugar. Beat until well combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in 1 egg, the pumpkin, 1 teaspoon vanilla, the cinnamon, and ginger until combined. Stir in the 1 tablespoon flour. Set aside.

In a small bowl stir together the 1 1/4 cups flour, the baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a large saucepan combine the chocolate and 3/4 cup butter. Cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Gradually add the 2 1/4 cups sugar, beating with an electric mixer on low speed just until combined. Add the 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in milk and the 2 teaspoons vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture just until combined.

Spread chocolate mixture evenly in the prepared pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture in several mounds on top of the chocolate batter. Using a narrow metal spatula, gently swirl the cream cheese mixture into the chocolate batter. If desired, sprinkle with walnuts.

Bake about 60 minutes or until center is just set when pan is gently shaken. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Use foil to lift uncut brownies out of pan. Cut into brownies.

To Store: Layer brownies between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.