Thursday, 28 February 2013

Family Night

Across the organization of our church, there is a program called Family Home Evening.  Traditionally, this is a weekly event that takes place on Monday nights.  It is a time to gather as a family unit and teach/learn about the gospel, service, morals, values, and also to have fun together.

It doesn't have to be Monday nights, but the church has specific guidelines to never plan anything on Monday nights so that it is left free for this program.  There are lots of families that do it on other nights:  another weeknight, or even Sunday evening.  So when skating lessons came up on Monday nights, I told myself we would just pick another night.

Well, that was an epic fail.  Somehow other things came up, or we simply forgot.  There's something about having 20 years of Family Home Evening on Mondays nights in my own home growing up that has seared Monday into my memory.  And so with skating over, I am recommitting myself to this weekly event.

I will also admit that the recommitment comes at a time when I've noticed some real issues cropping up.  One of the boys is starting to have an issue with white lies.  Another is having temper problems.  The physical contact (while I admit is often just boys rough-housing) is getting a little out of control.  Plus we are helping Colin aim for a baptism in December.  And I have realized that it's just too easy to fall into the day-to-day trap instead of intentional parenting.

Today I've pulled out two books, plus one online resource to start planning Family Home Evening lessons ahead of time.  Here's the outline, of 4 evenings a month:

1) Values: using "Teaching Your Children Values" by Linda and Richard Eyre, focus on a different value each month.

2) Service: using "52 Weeks of Fun Family Service" by MerriLee Boyack, do one service project a month

3) Baptism: using several online resources, talk about the different aspects of belief in God, Jesus, and the importance of choosing baptism once a month

4) Fun activity: game night, going out to do something together, etc.

Here's hoping for (another) renewal and recommitment on my part to be more intentional in this area.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Best Foot Forward

"Are you giving the least to those who matter most
Or are you sharing your best with those who really aren't that close? 
Well, it's time to turn around
And find out where your greatest joys are found."
     - Michael McLean

These lyrics from a song from my youth resonate with me to this day.  Growing up hasn't made this decision easier, but infinitely harder.  With so many people and responsibilities tugging at me it's obvious that I can't give of myself to everything; there just isn't enough of me to go around.  Priorities must be made and stuck to.  (It's the sticking to it that's the really challenge!)

I don't have the challenge in my life of getting caught up in work outside the home, since I am blessed to be a stay at home mom.  I also don't face the challenge of getting caught up in housework (although sometimes I think I should put a little more time in here, as my lonely, neglected vacuum would tell you.)  Where I get stuck is my time with the children.  Three boys under the age of 7 really need a lot of attention.  A baby needs nearly all my attention.  It's easy to look at them and think "they really do need me, since there is so much they can't do for themselves."  While that statement is true, it doesn't negate the need for prioritizing.

If I want success in my home, then my first priority has to be with the one who started this family with me in the first place.  (That's my husband, in case it wasn't clear :)

Finding time is nearly impossible right now.  Juliette will not settle for a babysitter, and seems to relish in being awake from 7pm-10pm, the only time James and I have when the boys are all sleeping.  So for a while I've been giving myself a "free pass," echoing James' pronouncement that we "just have to get through the next year" or so.

But it occurred to me today that there might be other ways I can "give the most to the one who matters most."  And it requires going back in time ten years to the pre-wedding days.

You see, when we are dating, we are in the "put your best foot forward" mentality.  Like many animals in the animal kingdom, we are performing an elaborate "mating dance" where we groom ourselves in special ways, puff up our assets, tuck away our weaknesses and do all we can to woo our mate.

Then comes the proverbial "morning after" (or "ever after," since you're married now for more than just the next day.)  The honeymoon period lasts a short while and then out of sheer exhaustion we must let down our guard.  We brave coming downstairs without makeup.  We perform bodily functions in each others' presence.  We growl and get angry and take out unrelated frustrations on each other.  Our safe haven of a home becomes a safe haven to let loose the good, the bad and the downright (ungroomed) ugly.

So what would happen if we choose to put our best foot forward once again?  What little things could I do to give of myself to the one I love?  I'm not saying here that I am wanting to put on a mask of deception to hide those hard parts of me that I'm supposed to share with my soulmate.  It is often the little gestures that can shine a great ray of light on a relationship.

Here are some of the things I was thinking of:

1) Taking care in my dress.  When dating, you can bet that every outfit was thought out.  Now it means waking up, showering, doing my hair and putting on something nice.  I don't mean that I'm vacuuming in a dress (because I already admitted how little I vacuum!)  There are lots of casual outfits that show some style.  Even a nice fitting pair of jeans and a graphic t-shirt and a pony-tail can be attractive.

2) Making his favourite meals.  If I was making a meal for James when we were dating, you can bet it was an entire menu of his favourite things.  A little fore-thought, or a quick inquiry will let me put something he loves on the table again.

3) Leave a note.  How much time lapsed between communications when we were dating?  Emails, text messages, phone messages, phone conversations - there are so many ways to touch base with more than "when are you going to be home to rescue me from this chaos?" which, to be honest, is usually the only reason I manage to carve out 6 seconds to call James these days.  I think it would be nice to not know my email message verbatim before he even opened it.

4) Offer a night out for him.  Back to the dating scene: if your boyfriend had said "I want to get together with the guys this weekend" most of us would have readily agreed, not wanting to seem needy or smothering.  Ten years later it's easy to resent a night out because we've been "trapped" at home all week.  This suggestion isn't just about "letting" him go out, but offering it.  He's taken a little by surprise of the generous offer, and you're prepared and not taken off guard by the request.  Win-win.

Okay, if I sit here long enough I could probably make this list reach 5, or even 10.  But this is about something attainable, so four is good for me.  Time to put my own best foot forward again.

Monday, 25 February 2013


One of the most effective ways of teaching a child is to simply let them see you doing.  I can still remember sitting by my dad, watching him work around the house with his tool box at our side, screwing and unscrewing and hammering and fixing and working out problems.  From that I developed the ability I have to tackle home projects, even if I'm not sure how to begin.

I also remember sitting with my parents and their friends at monthly visits, playing Trivial Pursuit.  I must have watched them play hundreds of games, and to this day it is my favourite board game.  Plus I've actually got all that "trivial knowledge" stored up there in my brain.

(A great example of extracting some of that knowledge happened last week.  We were all examining the world map on the kitchen wall, and James pointed out an island smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic ocean - St. Helena.  He laughed and said that would be the most isolated vacation ever.  My brain started rifling through itself and I piped up "That was where Napoleon was exiled, the second time."  "The second time?" everyone questioned me.  No, he was exiled to the island of Elba.  Yes, they were right - that was the location of his first exile.  But he escaped, came back with a vengeance, lost at the battle of Waterloo, and was then sent to St. Helena.  Looking at the map, we saw just how funny this actually was.  You see, Elba is just off the coast of Italy.  It was like the authorities said "we learned our lesson the first time.  This time you're going to the middle of the Atlantic ocean!")

Sorry, sidetracked.  What I wanted to write here was a list of things I want my kids to see me doing, in the hopes that some of these habits and hobbies will rub off on them:

1) Playing music (piano, guitar, flute, etc)
2) Reading books
3) Doing puzzles
4) Playing board games
5) Home repairs
6) Baking
7) Biking in town where I can
8) Small service projects
9) Making goals and taking steps to achieve them
10) Writing (journal entries, articles, books)
11) Devotions (scriptures and prayer)
12) Being still (quiet time, reflection, time out from the world)

I hope that as I model these, they will both learn to do them on their own, and also want to engage in them with me and with the family.

Sunday, 24 February 2013


When the song came on the radio, I was mesmerized by the simple, pretty piano notes.  A 2/4 time rhythm echoed in the mid range, while the melody danced higher and lower.  The song seemed to tell a story that touched the heart.  When the final notes died away, the radio announcer came on and pronounced it "the prettiest little piano piece you'll probably ever hear."  I agreed whole-heartedly.  I waited for him to announce the composer and song title, wanting to log it away and find the sheet music to be able to bring the music to life on my own piano.

Tristesse, by Chopin.

I was immediately struck by the name of the song.  Sadness.  What sadness gives birth to such beautiful passages?  When I think of sadness, I think of heartache, melancholy, pain, anger.  I think of minor keys and deep low chords and chromatic notes and banging, frenetic licks.  When I am sad, I don't feel beauty.

And yet, somehow, someone did.  (Interestingly, not Chopin.  He declared this piece the loveliest he had ever written, but this title was applied later on by others.)  And it made me rethink what sadness is.  It is true that something really only exists in relation to its opposite; there can be no sadness without happiness.  And so perhaps the someone who gave the name "Tristesse" to this piece was feeling a sadness because of a past happiness.  It is also sometimes called "Farewell."  Farewell to a loved one passing through the thin veil separating this life and the next?  Farewell to a lover, a relationship that drifted apart leaving not anger and explosion but a wistful remembrance of days gone by?  Farewell to a daughter leaving the nest, off to begin her own family, set her own table, sweep her own hearth?  Each of these has a touch of sadness in them, a sadness that settles in on the heart while yet a soft, sad smile rests on the lips.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Good timing

"But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."  (Isaiah 40:31)

Don't you love a well placed devotional?  A thought or idea you needed at exactly that moment?  This one came to me yesterday after a few linked moments in the day led me there.  I woke up feeling sluggish and run down with some recent events.  I was feeling like throwing up my hands in the air and just walking away from it all. I felt like I had been putting all my strength into this area and getting absolutely nothing in return for all my efforts.  I am one busy mom and I don't have time to waste an iota of energy.

As I was lying in bed stewing in these thoughts, I jumped on my ipod to do my morning check of emails/Facebook/blogs.  (I only ever get to do this while lying in bed nursing in the morning and nighttime.)  Nothing new had really beed written, which always bums me out.  Then it jumped into my mind that I wished I had a daily devotional blog of some sort that could feed me a morning spiritual breakfast.  I know I could easily read a scripture passage on my own, but my mind is never clear enough to make anything of it first thing in the morning.  (I like to do my daily devotions during afternoon nap, sort of like a mid-day pick-me-up.)

Downstairs was calling and I jumped up and hit the ground running.  Three hours later, in the car, I flipped on a radio program and they were interviewing a woman who had written a new book.  I only had 3 minutes in the car, and didn't get to hear much at all, but in the intro of the woman they mentioned her website as a "devotional place for young wives and mothers."

BOOM.  Answer to a prayer, just like that.  And not even a formal prayer, just a wish on my lips that reached heavenward without the real formal aspects we come to associate with prayer.

I came home and later that night found the website.  Sure enough, the very first thing that popped up on the home page was: read a daily devotional.

I clicked in.  The scripture I wrote above, Isaiah 40:31, was the passage the writer was focusing on.  And it was exactly what I needed to hear.

I'm so grateful for all those out there who write what they are inspired to write, and when they are inspired to write.  It may seem strange that one person writing one thing can touch so many people.  It just goes to show how closely connected we are as a human race, and how even though our problems seem so diverse,  they are all connected by the same human emotions.  And how they can all be healed by the one divine healing balm.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


This morning:

Emptied and loaded the dishwasher
Did the dishes
Swept the floor
Culled the toy room
Flipped through a cook book for wheat free dinner ideas.

Built a train track
Painted a picture
Played 30 games of Perfection and one of Bedbugs

Made lunch
Cleaned up after lunch

There is a load of laundry waiting to be folded, and one wet in the washer (cringe.)  I culled out everything that didn't belong in the toy room this morning, but it's still sitting in a pile on the living room floor.  Bathroom needs cleaning today.  At least 6 more hours of accounting to catch up for January.

But right now I'm sitting down to write, and then do some scripture study and have a little quiet prayer time.

Because life is about balance.  There is always more work that could be done.  A stay at home mother's work never ends.  The list is never checked off.  But I think that just as those who work out of the home can fall into the "workaholic" trap, so too can mothers at home.  And while I can't speak for everyone, I know that that would be unhealthy for me.  I need balance.  Taking time to do things that aren't pressing isn't slacking off, it's keeping my mind healthy and happy and sharp and ready to jump back into work.  If I do nothing but work, I'm actually less productive, because my attitude slides, my body becomes sluggish, and it takes forever to do things.

I think the days that go best for me are ones when I've taken time to keep things in balance.  Today is a good day.

And so, when I choose to read a chapter from my book,

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Colin's theme

Colin received his report card last week.  As expected, he is flourishing in math and visual art.  Where he is lagging a little behind is vocabulary in oral and written use.  Since he is attending a francophone school where most kids have one parent whose first language is French, this was something we expected might come up.  It is not our goal to have the kids graduate from a Francophone school; rather what we want is that they are fluently bilingual.  Keeping this end in mind is important as we navigate this school system, since we must accordingly adjust our expectations for the kids in relation to their school mates,

That being said, I wanted to come up with some way to help Colin use the French he is learning at school in a more organic way.  Enter: the theme.  If you are a fan of the film "A Christmas Story" you have probably already identified what I mean, and probably had a little chuckle about it also.  A theme is a short, one page written piece on a specific theme.

Colin is now expected to produce one theme a week, on Friday afternoons.  He may choose whatever subject he likes, or may ask for a suggestion from me.  He must write 10-15 sentences, in French, on that subject.  He has a pictorial French-English dictionary as well as a Larousse dictionary.  He is encouraged to write on that subject in detail, and to try and use whatever vocabulary and grammar lessons he has been learning at school.  After he writes it, I sit down and read it with him, correcting only the common or repetitive mistakes, or simple grammar he is already learning.

Last Friday he wrote his first theme.  I gave a couple suggestions as I explained the assignment, including Lego, playing in the snow, or a friend from school.  He shook his head and said he already knew what the subject of his first theme would be.

For the record, here it is (English translation):

Hello.  My name is Colin.  When I am big like my dad I want to be in his work.  His work is Senior Moving.  It moves people from one house to another.  My dad works with his brothers and his dad.  Their names are Doug, James, Sean, Andrew and Scot.  My mother helps with his work.  My dad is the president and his dad is the president with my dad.  They have offices in Toronto and London.

(How does that not melt your heart!)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Mothers meetings

I have attended several meetings over the past two weeks, all attended by other mothers.  As I look back (and forward to many, many more) it makes me laugh.  One meeting was of the three of us who lead the children's program (Primary) at our church.  I have 4 kids, another has 3 boys (the same age as mine) and the third has 2 daycare kids.

Trying to organize just getting to the meeting went something like this, in an email chain:

- I can do Thursday or Friday morning.
- I can't do Thursday, I have to take the kids to something.  Let's do Friday.
- Can we do my house so that the baby can get in her morning nap?
- If it's Friday I don't have the car, but I can put all the kids in the stroller and walk to the church
- My 3 year old will be able to escape from the church because we can't lock him into one area.
- I can pick you up and drive to someone's house
- If you don't have a car, let's do it at your place
- I don't have baby gates anymore, but I'll ask around and try to get the place baby proof
- I'll make sure to bring snacks to keep the 7 children quiet while we try to meet.

Seriously, this is the conversation I seem to have every time I have a meeting.

This week my sister-in-law and I have been working on a presentation for the family company.  By the end of the week it will have meant 4 mornings trying to make our 2 and 3 year olds get along and not get tired of each other, plus trying to bounce the baby, or get her to sleep.  It means getting the kids snacks or letting them finish off all the cereal from nearly empty boxes.  It means over an hour trying to clean up from the free-for-all mess that kept them busy.  It meant 4 clean ups because I'm also trying to toilet train and I kept getting distracted with the work I was trying to do.

Seriously, when this presentation goes off, people will see a slick, well-thought out presentation.  What they won't see is how amazing it is given the work environment circumstances!

When I was at that Primary meeting last week, I joked to the other moms "Can you imagine our husbands arranging and having a meeting like this?"  Nope - they just say they want to have a meeting and off they go.  Totally a "mars and venus" separate worlds scenario!

Friday, 8 February 2013


Benjamin has dinner with his grandparents every Monday night while I take the boys to skating.  He loves this time with all the attention of the adults, but (as with all my kids) is yet to be in love with the idea of dinner.  (Seriously, my kids eat all their food at breakfast time and almost nothing after that!)

The other day he came back after dinner and I asked him "What did you have to eat tonight?"

"It was gross."
"What was it?"
"It was germs.  Nothin' but germs, germs, germs."

That's our Ben :)

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The map

My world map is finally hanging on the kitchen wall.  It looks amazing, and is exactly what I was looking for.  More than that, it's doing exactly what I hoped it would.  At least once a day, usually during a meal, we are answering questions about geography, population, land use, world events, or travel.  Because we're all sitting in one spot (for at least 5 minutes, anyway) we have time to answer questions, ponder the answers, and let that lead to more questions.  By far the best part of the new decor in the house.

Monday, 4 February 2013


(It's been a while since I posted about the kids specifically.  I gather lots of moments and stories that I want to post to have in the record, but there are fewer and fewer minutes I have to spare to write.  So these are some catch up memories)

Colin is growing up so fast before our very eyes.  It's true that the oldest is often older than their years.  He looks up to James and I as examples, and so matures in leaps and bounds.

He's quick as anything at math.  He is fascinated by how numbers work, and adds and subtracts as though he has been doing it for years, and already has a good grasp on multiplication and division.  Like me, it seems to make sense in his mind, so he is never looking at an equation simply as a calculation, but rather as making sense of the world around him.

James has begun having weekly interviews on Sunday afternoons with Colin.  This is a chance for Colin to talk about what's happened during the week, and to pose any questions (about anything) he might have.  They also open up Colin's journal, write a few sentences about the week in it, and check up on Colin's progress toward his yearly goals.  We set some goals we want Colin to achieve, and he chose some of his own (more about that back in my post on the special dinner we took Colin to.)  He chose learning to tie shoelaces and learning to take out the garbage.  Colin loves these interviews, the one-on-one time with Dad, and yet another chance to feel grown-up.

Seven years has also brought a little bit of attitude with it.  Colin sometimes seems under the illusion that if he snaps his fingers we'll all jump to his command.  A gentle rebuke is usually all that is necessary to remedy the notion, however, as Colin still loves to seem helpful in all things.

Colin's allowance is tied to "money chores" - hand scrubbing the kitchen floor, scrubbing the bathroom floor, and vacuuming the stairs.  He's been fairly consistent at asking to do these each week in order to earn money.  He has no interest in spending the money - he wants to save up for one of several things, all of which are over $100.  I've also begun "bonus money" they can earn, by memorizing the children's Primary songs they learn at church.  These are songs that teach beautiful spiritual concepts, and others help in memorizing the order of the books of scripture ("Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers...")

Colin still loves lego more than anything.  His creations get bigger and more involved with each one.  We've also noticed he has a really good eye for drawing (didn't get that from his mom or dad!)  I'll be interested to see how that develops.  He is excited for the ball hockey league that starts in the spring.  He spent his birthday and Christmas money on goalie equipment, and we've had a blast heading over to the church gym for an evening to play ball hockey as a family.

I feel like I should be jumping on the music bandwagon soon.  He's already seven, and can read and has a good understanding of math, which are the basic criteria I used to use when taking on piano students.  I just feel like our days are so busy with just the basics that I can't imagine having 20 uninterrupted minutes to teach him an instrument.  Maybe come September...

Colin and Caleb enjoy playing lots of games together now, but I wonder if in the future as Benjamin gets older if Colin will move off to be more by himself.  Caleb and Benjamin seem to have more fire beneath them, needing to run and tumble around.  Colin is much more prone to daydreaming while working at one task for long periods of time.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


My thoughts have been all consuming toward the workshop that happened yesterday (other than attending to a baby, preschooler, and two older boys, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, etc!)  And now it is passed.  I write this entry not as a brag post, but as a reminder to my future self when I face this again, that everything will be okay.

It was amazing.  I know now why the script felt awkward as I rehearsed it up in my bedroom.  A workshop like that is about playing off your audience.  Each of the six times I gave the workshop, it was slightly different.  I followed a basic outline, but the emphasis fell in different places, the jokes came or went, the atmosphere affected the tone.  I hardly referenced the script at all, and didn't even pull out my note cards.  There is a rhythm I fell into that simply worked.

But my favourite part of it all wasn't anything I said.  It was seeing the reaction from the teens sitting in front of me.  It was their laughter and participation, and then being able to hear a pin drop.  It was the strong presence of the Holy Spirit testifying to their hearts.  It was the rowdy 16 year old at the back with sarcastic comments and an unwillingness to participate who, when I announced the title of the song I was going to sing, sat up in his chair and exclaimed "that's one of my favourite songs," then sat completely rapt as my wobbly and overused voice warbled its way through the song.  It was 100 eyes at a time waiting for the next part of the story of Esther, marvelling at a girl who was about their own age being infused with a confidence from God.  It was watching their minds realize their incredible individual worth as sons and daughters of God.

(And that friend that I was so worried about - the fun, entertaining one was going to knock everyone socks off and make my own presentation lame and boring?  Well, he was fantastic.  As it turns out, he owns a company that does motivational speaking in schools.  No wonder he's amazing.  And my own little pat on the back was that at the end of the day, he offered me a job!  It is not the right time in my life right now, but perhaps in the next few years as the kids get a little older and more independent, I might be able to take him up on his offer.)