Friday, 30 November 2012

Mommy's law (Murphy's law for moms)

1) Children will only sleep in on the morning you forget to set the alarm.

2) Baby will only fill his diaper once he is bundled into his snowsuit, hat, scarf, mittens and boots - particularly if you are already running late. (Note: this also applies to recently potty-trained preschoolers for whom having to pee is an urgent emergency every time.)

3) Children will not require your assistance with anything until the telephone rings. The urgency of their sudden emergency is directly proportionate to the importance of the phone call.

4) Baby will need to be held/rocked/fed as soon as you need to use the washroom.

5) If there is anything wet in the house, it will get spilled. Usually on the hardwood.

6) Your mother-in-law will only pop by for an unannounced visit on the day you have not had time to shower, the laundry is piled in the corner, the sink is full of dishes, the kids have built a fort out of the couch cushions, Baby is for some reason naked and you made Kraft Dinner with hot dogs and ketchup for dinner.

7) The children will throw up or wet the bed the moment you've finished laundering and reassembling all the sheets, blankets, pillowcases and stuffed toys. All of the children.

8) Children do not need to drink water, have a snack, use the bathroom or have their nails trimmed unless it is already well past bedtime.

9) Planning a date night with your husband will cause the children to become violently ill. With fever. The more specific the plans (babysitter booked, reservations made, deposit paid), the sicker they will be.

10) Children who cannot make their beds, tie their shoelaces, hang their coat on a hook, get a drink of water, or pour a bowl of cereal without your help will manage to scale a bookshelf and toss the entire contents on the floor if your back is turned for six seconds.


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The myth of the stay-at-home mom

"Well, that's easy enough for you, you're at home every day... I work, so I can only get anything done on the weekend."

Heard that before? Does it make you want to tear your (unwashed, because you haven't even had time for a shower) hair out of your head?

It's enough of a problem being a stay-at-home mom and trying to explain to people how busy you actually are and how much you actually have to do during the day, when most seem to think it means you're a lady of leisure - or, in my instance, a work-at-home mom, doing everything a stay-at-home mom does plus running a company, which people seem to think operates itself while I live this life of leisure mommying my three boys - but at least other parents get it. They may think that they have it harder, being a working parent (which I actually disagree with - I've been a working-out-of-home mom, a working-in-the-home mom, and a non-working stay-at-home-mom; I can state unequivocally  that being a working mom is no more challenging than being an at-home mom) - but at the very least they do understand what's involved in parenting.

It's the people without kids.

It's your girlfriends without kids who look at you with naked envy when you tell them you've finished your Christmas shopping or hand them their tin of Christmas cookies - "Oh, I'm so jealous, I'll probably be at the store Christmas Eve. I wish I could get it done earlier, but there's just no time with work." - the implication being that you have endless amounts of time for that sort of thing because you don't spend eight hours a day in an office. They don't seem to understand that the Christmas shopping gets done at ten o'clock at night after homework is done, dinner is eaten and the kitchen is cleaned up, we're home from soccer practice and swimming lessons, the two older kids are showered and read to and in bed and Baby has been bathed and changed and nursed and put to sleep.

Working adults without kids get home at six or seven or even eight - and then have what to do? People without kids don't realize yet that literally every second that you are not on call being required or requested to do something is free time. People without kids who get home from the office and feel busy because they need to make dinner, do the dishes, run a load of laundry think they have no free time.

To a mom, getting to make a meal or do the dishes or laundry without children around IS free time.

My "me time" is doing the laundry, cleaning and shopping after the children are finally in bed at night.

When I was working out of the home - before my youngest was born and after my older two sons started school - I had that late-night time as well as the commute to work. Sitting alone in the car, listening to my favourite music without interruption, planning out my workday and making a mental grocery list, was bliss for a mom unused to five minutes without cries of "MommyMommyMommy!"

I actually have no idea what I did with my "free" time before I had kids. No idea. But I know I felt busy - which is why I don't blame those without kids for not understanding what it's like when you're a parent.

Someone without kids works eight, ten, maybe even twelve hours a day, five days a week - leaving twelve to sixteen hours each and every weekday and the entire weekend of "free time." Sleep has to fit in there somewhere, of course - say six hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, for most. But all the rest of that time is free time - time to take care of errands, chores around the house, and just hanging out. Moms "work" twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

As a mother of three young children, I have perhaps seven hours between when my oldest child goes to sleep for the night and my youngest wakes up for the morning. This is when I can do the laundry, dishes, housecleaning, and any odds-and-ends shopping. This is when I take care of paperwork for my business. This is when I return emails and messages and write my blog. And then - and only then - I get to sleep - at which point there are four or five hours left before Baby will wake up for the day. But then there are at least four or five wake-ups during the night after I've gone to bed that need Mommy - Baby needs to nurse; one child has a bad dream, one has an accident; Baby needs to nurse again; one child wants company for a bathroom and water break, one wants a snuggle; Baby needs to nurse again. I'm lucky if I get three or possibly (if I'm very lucky) four non-consecutive hours of sleep a night.

Working non-parents think they are wonderful multi-taskers. I know I did. It wasn't until I had children, when I had to balance Baby on a boob and my laptop on the arm of the nursing chair and the phone against my ear, calling out directions to my eldest for where to find the cereal and bowls for his bedtime snack while emailing payroll and records of earnings out to my staff and dialing my best friend for our weekly night-time phone date (my once a week hour of "social life") while nursing Baby to hopefully fall asleep, that I began to understand what multitasking really meant. It's not until you have children that you realize how much you can get done in a mere fifteen child-free minutes, and how much time you must once have been frittering away without even realizing. I have been known to spend an extra five minutes in the washroom when I take my Saturday morning shower and my husband is downstairs with the kids - because for a mom, those five minutes all alone, even if it's just spent deep-conditioning or applying lotion, are an almost unheard-of self-indulgent luxury.

I wouldn't change my life for any amount of free time and I would never want to go back to a child-free lifestyle - but I find it very frustrating when childless friends say they have no free time. Guess what? If you find yourself alone in a room for five minutes - even if you have a list of things you need to do - that's free time, and a luxury most moms rarely find. Especially those that stay at home with their kids.


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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Mom friends

Your friends and aquaintances tend to evolve as you age, but there is never a more dramatic shift in the make-up of your social circle than when you become a mom.

Friendships are often formed out of convenience - when you're in high school and university, it's your classmates and teammates, when you're older it's co-workers. You pick the people who you have a few things in common with, who you can laugh with, who you're attracted to out of the pool of available people in your neighbourhood, in your class, on your team. As you get older, the pool of people seems to shrink - by the time you're thirty, you're pretty much not going to make a lot of new friends - there are a lot fewer opportunities to meet new people, and you're really not looking for any new relationships (who has the time?); by that time you've also whittled down the list of existing friends - some drop out of the rotation entirely as you grow apart, some become twice-a-year coffee dates, some turn into couple friends if your spouses hit it off, and some are lifelong besties.

And then, suddenly, you become a mom and everything is turned upside-down. If your existing friends are moms or soon-to-be-moms too, you're lucky - you've got the foundation of friendship already there and a whole new level of commonalities to bond over, you have people you trust to talk to about this whole new world you've suddenly entered, people who can actually relate to your frustration over lack of sleep, stretch marks, saggy boobs, teething pains, temper tantrums and calls from the principal; people who are understand your joy over baby giggles, first steps, soccer tournaments and snuggles and report cards full of A's.

I didn't have that - I became a mom many years before any of my girlfriends and had to muddle through on my own. And, because I had kids and my life and schedule and responsibilities were so dramatically different from theirs, I lost touch with a lot of my friends for a while. Busy with my first baby at an age when my girlfriends were just getting started in their careers and planning their weddings it became very easy for months and months to just slip away before we even realized that we hadn't spoken in half a year, let alone met for a coffee or drinks. Married to a man I had increasingly less and less in common with, stranded in the town he moved us to an hour away from anyone I knew, raising my baby with a partner uninterested in parenting - I felt very alone. I got so much joy out of being a mom and wouldn't change anything that has happened in my life for the world - but I felt very isolated, often going days on end without a single conversation with another adult other than the check-out woman at the grocery store.

By the time my second son was born, when my oldest was only a year and a half, I was very alone and making mental preparations to begin a new life without the boys' father. It was then that I made my first mom friends, and realized what a difference that could make.

The neighbourhood we lived in was a very family-friendly neighbourhood, filled with young children, commuter dads and stay-at-home or work-at-home moms. I became friends with two neighbour moms. Both had boys the exact same age as my oldest son, which is how we met - and is the only thing we had in common. One was eight years older than me, one was twelve years older. They grew up in very different neighbourhoods and in different times than me with memories of parties and proms in the 70's and 80's and they were in different stages of their lives, looking toward retirement and paying off their mortgage while we were just entering that world; but our boys were the same age, and for that reason alone we became friends. We started having play date / coffee dates, and it opened up a whole new world to me.

For the first time in a couple of long, lonely, just-me-and-my-boys years I discovered that there were other women in the world who could relate to everything I was going through as a mom. Who actually cared about the silly little details and minutia of a mom-and-baby day as much as I did. Who could offer me advice and ideas and resources for mommying. And who could chat and laugh with me as a person in my own right, as a grown woman with opinions of my own and a life of my own. I had virtually nothing in common with these women other than our children's ages and would under no circumstances otherwise have made friends with them at all; but during those years living in isolation in that town in the middle of nowhere these two women became my closest girlfriends and were my salvation not just as a mom but as a human being.

It's as a result of these friendships that I was able to get through the emotional disaster of starting a new life with my kids when I left the boys' father when my second child was just one year old. I relied heavily on their unconditional mom-support. And it was during this time that I figured out which of my old friends were important enough to me to make an effort to keep, regardless of whether they were moms yet or not - those friends that loved and supported me no matter what, when one week I'd say something expecting their support and say the exact opposite the next time we spoke, when I was hemorrhaging emotion all over the place and terrified about a future I'd never imagined for myself.

I make more of an effort now with those old friends then during my first years as a mom - I try, anyway. It doesn't matter if they're moms yet or not. It's impossible to live a balanced life without a good girlfriend or two, even if your lives seem to be in polar opposite places right now, even if you only manage to get together for a coffee every couple of months or meet for Christmas cocktails once a year - those weekly phone dates and quick messages back and forth keep you connected to your adult self, the non-mom you who likes to giggle and reminisce about university or watch cheesy eighties movies with a bottle of cheap wine or discuss celebrity gossip, the one who still remembers leisurely afternoons of shopping and boozy evenings at the bar and wearing properly put-together, fashionable clothes without spit-up stains.

These friends are in our lives for a reason - we may have come together because we grew up down the street from one another, because our parents were friends when we were kids, because our lockers were next to one another in high school, because we lived in the same university residence, because our respective boyfriends were buddies from back in the day. But something else has kept us together, and it's that something that we not only value in each other, but need from each other. Our lifelong friendships with our girlfriends are a part of what makes us who we are, and though it's very easy to let them slide when things change and our lives get in the way it's so important not to let them slip away entirely.

Mom friendships are completely different. I have noticed over the last few years - at first during the years that I was raising my boys alone and learning to live my life on my own but just as much over the last few years as the kids get older and I'm no longer on my own - how much being a mom influences the people we meet and the relationships we develop.

The people I see and speak to on a daily basis are not my close girlfriends. They are neighbourhood moms who are out in the park at the same time as us every day, moms I see in the schoolyard every morning and afternoon, moms I sit with two or three times a week during soccer practices, moms who are on the parent council at school with me, and moms of my boys' best friends. I know these women, I like these women, I speak to them every day, I know what's going on in their lives with work and husbands and their kids' sports. I know more about them and their lives than I do about most of my closest girlfriends. And yet I wouldn't call most of them friends. I don't call them to chit-chat in the evening. We don't get together socially with our families. These are mom friends, and I'm pretty sure once their relevance to my life has passed, we will all move on from one another.

But for now, these are the people who are in my life. These are the people I see and speak to and, for all intents and purposes, are my circle at the moment. We rely on one another for parenting ideas and advice and reassurance; we discuss teething and teachers, share mommy blog posts and clothing or grocery sales, forward fun community activity and field trip finds, lament lack of sleep and picky eaters, laugh about goofy things our husbands have done and our failing attempts at getting our bodies back in shape. I have exchanged phone numbers with a few of them, but I don't know if I'd classify any as real friends - or at least as lasting friends. They are temporary friends - lovely women who I'm so glad to have in my life and are invaluable resources in making me a better mom and a well-rounded human being, but who I feel fairly certain won't be in my life once we no longer have kids in the same school or on the same team. My girlfriends, though I may only see or speak to some of them every couple of weeks or even months, are friends for life.


For me, mom friends and girlfriends are two very different things. My girlfriends are friends who share my life; my mom friends are acquaintances who share my experiences in this particular time in my life. But they are all important people in my life - at least for right now.


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Monday, 26 November 2012

I would, but that's when Baby sleeps...

This notion that our lives have to grind to a halt because our kids are on a schedule is simply mystifying to me. And I am a person for whom scheduling and organizing are not just necessary life tools, but enjoyable hobbies and even mild obsessions.

Having your children on a schedule is absolutely imperative to running an organized life and home - and the more kids you have, the more organized your schedule needs to be to avoid things falling through the cracks. We are very set in our routines in our family - I have systems of organization in the kids' bedrooms, in the kitchen and in the front hall closet that make it possible for us to get up & ready for school, make & eat breakfast, make lunches and pack backpacks and get out the door with coats and shoes and everything on in twenty minutes flat, if necessary, although we don't often sleep in. Our mornings are so organized that the kids don't even notice, but our systems allow us to function and follow our schedule without effort. After school we have essentially the same processes in reverse, and by half an hour after coming home we have put away all our outdoor things, unpacked backpacks & lunches, had snack and done homework, signed notes and agendas and written cheques for school stuff, and are left with lots of time to play before dinner and evening sports. Dinner is between six and six-thirty, depending on evening sports, and bedtime is between eight and eight-thirty for our eldest two. We definitely have a schedule.

But that schedule needs to be flexible; realistically, life with children doesn't follow a schedule. The kids want to play at the park after school. One of the boys has invited his best friend over for a playdate. Husband has to stay late at the office. The books are due back at the library. It's raining so I need to wait for the car to come home to run errands. There's an evening event at the kids' school. We decide to go swimming at the public pool. A later night means a sleep-in the next morning. Life doesn't follow a schedule.

I am not in any way, shape or form attached to our schedule - I can't be. But I do think it's important to have one. The best way to manage it, I think, is to make the most minutely organized schedule you can possibly imagine as your base line - and then live your life despite it. If you have the systems of organization in place, if you have routines set up and a schedule you intend to follow, then it's possible to lead a chaotic, unplanned life without feeling disorganized and while still feeling like you're following a schedule - the schedule is more of a guideline.

Baby fell asleep while out sledding with his brothers!
I have noticed that people with a baby tend to be the biggest offenders when it comes to being overly rigid with their schedules - first-time parents even more so. And I do understand where that sense of fear comes from: you're tired. Baby doesn't sleep - AT ALL, it sometimes feels like. You are exhausted. Your life has changed completely - and the older you are when you have your first child, the more dramatic of a change it feels like. When you finally get that sleepless baby on a schedule of some sort with napping and bedtime, you can practically hear angels singing. Why risk that?

Because you have to.

There is absolutely no point in trying to keep a baby on a schedule.

Baby is on his own schedule, however much you may think you've imposed it. And that schedule will change on a whim. Just because it happens to be nine o'clock and that's the time you put baby to bed last night does not mean that baby is necessarily going to go to bed at nine o'clock tonight. Baby may well still be awake and happy and ready to play at midnight.

Babies are also the most flexible, adaptable creatures on the planet. If you go to your out-of-town in-laws' house for Thanksgiving dinner, baby may well fall asleep at the table with a mouthful of sweet potatoes if it happens to be when he wants to sleep. Opting out of the family dinner so that you don't throw him off his schedule is not only ridiculous, it's pointless.

Baby's schedule is his own and nothing you do or don't do will guarantee that he will sleep when you want him to.

And in the meantime - life goes on.

You can't simply stop living your life because you have a baby.

I may seem hypocritical saying this - after all, I'm the mom whose entire life revolves around my kids and family, who went from a party girl to a mom overnight at twenty-five, who went from clubbing every night to a social life revolving around the kids' playdates, who never leaves the kids with a sitter and considers a date with my husband an evening at home when all three kids are asleep at the same time.

But - though I live my life very differently now that I have children than I did before - I have not stopped living it. If friends invite us over for dinner, we go. The kids come (as long as they're invited!). They stay up late - very late - and fall asleep in the car on the way home. If there's a family occasion at my parents' or grandparents' place up north, we go, we stay all day, we eat late and drive home in the middle of the night. Sometimes we'll sleep over, unplanned. If I have to go in to work at the last minute, the kids come - I don't know how many times they've sat through one of my fitness classes, colouring when they were younger and "helping" me teach when they were older. Baby gets woken up ten minutes into his nap and bundled bleary-eyes into the stroller to go pick up his brothers from school. On occasion I'll keep the boys home from school for a day or half-day if we have something to do or just for a treat. Sometimes we'll stay up late with a bowl of popcorn watching movies until way after bedtime. And you know what? They're just fine.

My kids have a schedule. Our family has a schedule.
And that schedule gets thrown out the window more often than not.

And we're all perfectly happy with that.


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Friday, 23 November 2012

Other people's kids

Yesterday I spent the day babysitting my two adorable nephews. Just me and five boys - an eight-year-old, a six-year-old, an almost-three-year-old and two one year olds. Insanity.

The boys play so well together. They adore each other. And they're all such good kids. But - my God - five kids are a lot of kids!

I have had dozens of people suggest to me over the years that I look into starting a home daycare as an income option while I'm at home with my kids - I already have a bunch of my own here, what's two or three more? I've always laughed the idea off because I know my limitations. I have several girlfriends who run home daycares, and I don't know how they do it - spending the day with my nephews didn't do anything to change my opinion. I worship my own children. I love my nephews. I like my friends' kids, neighbours' kids, my kids' friends. Specific kids, kids that I know. But I could not picture spending all my time with children who weren't my own - kids whose parents I didn't know, kids I'd just met and suddenly had to spend my whole day with. I love spending all my time with my own children. But there's a big difference between hanging out with your own children and looking after other's people's kids.

A day at home with my own kids is a treat - a day for lazy, late breakfasting while we lounge around in jammies playing board games and doing crafts or kicking around the soccer ball in the backyard or playing at the park or maybe planning a last-minute field trip to the community pool or skating rink or indoor playplace. It's a loose, flowy, stress-free day and doesn't feel in any way like work - no more work than it ever feels like to take care of your own children.

A day at home with other kids - kids other than my own, relatives or otherwise - definitely does feel like work. I love my nephews and cherished the opportunity to spend more quality time with them than I can at big family birthday or holiday celebrations with a half-dozen children underfoot and a dozen adults conversing over one another. But it was definitely significantly more tiring than hanging out with my own boys who know our routines and rules, who still think of Mommy as their best friend, with whom I share a more intuitive form of communication than just asking what they want or what they need or trying to interpret what will make them happy.

Even playdates with friends, when for a few hours I have to be an interim caregiver for my kids' schoolmates, requires a lot more mental alertness and energy than when it's just me and my boys. I'm not even sure why - maybe it's all in my head and a matter of perspective - but that's how it feels. I enjoy seeing how my kids interact with their friends, how they play together and how they are with other people and all the little ways they show themselves becoming their own people independent from Mommy and the family. But it does seem to take more effort to supervise a playdate with a couple of extra kids than just to hang out with my little loves.

I had a blast babysitting my nephews. I loved spending time with them. I loved watching my boys playing with their cousins and seeing how much they care about each other. And I'd love to get to do that again. The odd day babysitting an extra child or two is fun for all of us. A playdate once a week with a couple of the boys' best friends is a treat. But I maintain, as I always have, that loving to spend time with your own kids does not necessarily translate into wanting to make a career out of spending time with other people's kids.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Can boys play with girls' toys?

I'm not one of those people who buys into gender-directed toys. My boys can play with whatever they like - the toys we buy them have always been directed by their interests.

Babies and toddlers seem mostly to play with gender-neutral toys - bright primary colours are the theme rather than fluffy pink princesses for girls and army-print-clad action figures for boys - Fisher Price Little People, Mega Blocks, shape sorters, stuffed toys, books and balls. This was true of my boys, anyway, and the other little children I know - any gender-directed toys at that age are more about what adults' perceptions of what they should play with than what they want to play with.

I do believe that it is primarily nature, not nurture, that leads most kids toward less gender-neutral playthings. We have never directed the boys' interests, yet ever since they were old enough to show preferences they've gravitated toward dinosaurs and building toys and cars and trucks and trains. Now that they're older, it's mostly Star Wars and superheroes and Transformers and Lego.

But they have on occasion seen what most people would describe as a "girls' toy" and wanted it. And I have no problem with that. When we moved a few years ago the boys discovered a box of my old Barbies and played with them for weeks. A couple of years ago the number-one item on one of our boys' Christmas lists was a hot pink and purple Zoobles playset. Santa brought it, alongside a bunch of Handy Manny toys and some Hot Wheels and Lego sets. The following Christmas both boys became obsessed with Zhu Zhu pets, which I didn't even realize were geared toward girls until I discovered them on the pink side of Toys r Us. And this year, Middle Child saw a Barbie guitar that he cannot stop talking about while we were shopping for a gift for his friend. The rest of his wish list: a Star Wars battleship, a pirate sword & playset, a Lego fire station and another light sabre.

I don't see anything wrong with that.

I know some people who would never allow their little boys to play with girls' toys. The unspoken fear seems to be that they will become "girly" - and effeminate behaviour will eventually make them gay.

Stupid.

Nothing is going to make a child gay. Allowing your six-year-old boy to play with an occasional pink toy or letting your toddler son teeter around the front hall in that pair of heels he found in your closet is not going to make him gay if he is straight. Nor will forcing your eight-year-old boy to play baseball and hockey when his real interest is drawing make him straight if he is gay.

My boys love to play soccer, baseball, Lego, Hot Wheels and Wii Sports. They love bike riding, Star Wars, Transformers, Handy Manny, and anything pirates. They also like to watch Care Bears and cook in their play kitchen with their baby brother. I encourage all of it - if I didn't I'd be a pretty poor mother. I love my children and I want them to grow up happy and confident human beings. I couldn't care less whether they are gay or straight.
Barbie Jam with Me Guitar
Barbie Jam With Me Guitar
Photo: amazon.com

That Barbie guitar will be under the tree this Christmas, because it's what my son wished for. What kind of a Santa wouldn't grant a child's wish? Santa isn't bigoted in our household. Our family and our Christmas is based on love - period. And I look forward to rocking out to "Barbie Girl" with my little six-year-old boy while his brother raps in the background on the T-Pain Mic he got for Christmas last year.


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Monday, 19 November 2012

Bringing art to life (a special stuffy for my special boy)





















I can't take credit for this idea - I originally saw it on Pinterest courtesy of Child's Own Studio and thought it was the cutest idea ever. What a wonderful gift for a child, and what a wonderful way to capture and preserve their special brand of childhood creativity forever!

This mompreneur started a business out of a craft she created for her son, turning one of his drawings into a "softie" (we call them "stuffies" in our house). I think this is a brilliant idea - both clever and adorable beyond words. Unfortunately, also expensive beyond words. I desperately wanted to order some for my boys, but though I'm sure the cost is absolutely justified given the time involved in creating one of these works of art, it was simply outside my budget.

Then I thought I might try it myself. I had drawings in mind that each of my older boys had done when they were younger, so I pulled them out, made a list of supplies, and headed over to the craft store.

I am not the craftiest person in the world. Nor am I the greatest seamstress. But some coloured felt and wool and embroidery floss, pipe cleaners and pompoms and cotton stuffing - and an absolutely obscene number of late-night hours spent planning, snipping, sewing, and stuffing - I have finished the first one.

I am inordinately proud of this little stuffy and absolutely cannot wait to give it to my boy - but I'm going to have to, since his brother's isn't made yet! Hopefully I can manage to finish the next one by Christmas so they can both have a special surprise from Mommy under the tree.


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Friday, 16 November 2012

Winter Wonderland snowflake craft

winter wonderland paper snowflakes, kids crafts

Paper snowflakes are always a fun and easy winter craft to do with the kids. My Grade One made one of these 3D snowflakes at school and wanted to make some for home - so, as usual, we went overboard.

It's a winter wonderland!

3D Snowflakes:
You will need:
     8 sheets of paper
     scissors
     tape 
     stapler




1. Fold paper down from corner into triangle to find the square.


2. Cut off excess paper; fold triangle once more.







3. Make two cuts from the side with the single fold along the longest side of the triangle.


4. Unfold paper and lay flat.


5. Curl in the points of the innermost cuts and tape together.


6. Turn paper over, curl in the points of the second set of cuts and tape together.





7. Turn paper over again, curl in the points of the outer set of cuts and tape together.


8. Repeat steps 1 - 7 eight times.








9. Staple paper shapes together in a row (all eight).


10. Staple all eight shapes together at their points to form a snowflake shape!



kids crafts












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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Christmas crafts

Christmas is the best time of year for kids' crafts because there are just sooo many ideas out there - and the best thing is that not only are they a project for the kids, but a wonderful keepsake to pull out year after year to decorate the tree or the mantel for the holiday season.
reindeer thumbprint ornament, Christmas ornament, kids crafts
Photo: everythingleb.blogspot.ca




I love these little thumbprint reindeer ornaments (left). I'm going to have each of the kids do one this year - I'm thinking on a matte red ball. If you're doing something like this, don't forget to record which child made it and the year somewhere on the ornament - I use a metallic Sharpie and tuck it in tiny print up near the top on the opposite side.






snowman handprint ornament, Christmas ornament, kids craft
Photo: thisgirlsblog.com


These handprint snowmen (right) are adorable, too - such a creative idea. These would be better for older kids, I think - the detail with a fine paintbrush or coloured Sharpies would have to be done by Mom for a younger kid, which in my mind defeats the purpose of having the kids make their own ornaments - they're supposed to be made by the kids & kept to remember these precious times when they're small. If we do these this year, it'll just be the older two boys.




kids craft, Christmas craft

Maybe just a handprint for Baby - I have this one (right) from when my oldest was in kindergarten that is one of our most precious Christmas treasures. It lives on the little potted pine tree he's been cultivating since Earth Day last year in the hopes that it will one day be big enough to plant in the yard. Very "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

reindeer handprint ornament, Christmas ornament, kids craft
Photo: mommygaga.com




I like the idea of these handprint reindeer (left) made out of craft foam, glitter and pipe cleaners. We made similar craft foam gingerbread men (below) a few years ago when the boys were quite young, but I think these are really cute and we'll probably give them a try this year.

kids craft, Christmas craft






kids craft, Christmas craft, Christmas ornament


The boys made these little paper-cup Christmas trees (left) a couple of years ago - cone-shaped paper cups, glued-on macaroni, paint, glitter, sequins and felt scraps. They don't pack away very well and every Christmas we seem to be a few more macaroni bits short, but they're adorable and the kids worked so hard on them.
handprint Christmas tree, Christmas craft
Photo: ucreatewithkids.com



This handprint Christmas tree (right) is a great way to incorporate all the kids in one project and we will definitely be doing this one - but I'd rather take it a few steps farther. I'm thinking real tree bark for the trunk and having the kids decorate the tree with beads and glitter for garland and tinsel and miniature homemade ornaments.


Christmas crafts, kids crafts, puppets, toilet roll craft
Photo: urbancomfort.typepad.com/urban_nest




These are cute little Christmas characters. The kids and I do toilet-roll projects for every holiday of the year, so of course we'll make Santa and his reindeer and elves.






reindeer pinecone craft, Christmas craft, kids craft
Photo: busybeekidscrafts.com





We've made these adorable pinecone and pipecleaner reindeer (right) before - super easy and festive. I'm thinking maybe we make nine of them this year (only one with a red nose!) and a sleigh made of popsicle sticks - possibly filled with the toilet-roll Santa and his elves?


Let the Christmas crafting begin!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas baking

This weekend marks the beginning of my month of Christmas baking.

The Toronto Santa Claus Parade is this Sunday - one of the biggest in North America and in its 108th consecutive year. We used to go down every year, bundled up in coats and hats and scarves and mittens and huddled under a blanket together on the curb, waiting with millions of other frozen Torontonians for the eventual appearance of Santa - but last year, with the arrival of Baby and our move further from the city to Pleasantville, we created a new tradition of watching the parade on TV.

We spend the morning baking Christmas goodies - the kids love to help. We turn on the Christmas music and pull out the Christmas decorations and put up everything but the tree and stockings (my old rule of decorating December the first has sort of gone out the window but I have to draw the line at the tree.) And we all sit down with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows and a great big platter of freshly baked cookies to watch the parade together.

My Christmas baking has always been more or less the same batch of tried-and-true recipes - gingerbread men, candy cane cookies, drizzled chocolate mint bars, and shortbread cookies. I make the best shortbread cookies in the world - actually the best. Ask anyone.

This year, though, thanks to the world of Pinterest, I have a couple of baking ideas I'm excited to try out.

Santa hat brownies, Christmas baking, Christmas food
Photo: cutestfood.com/4893/santa-hat-brownies
Christmas tree strawberry brownies, Christmas baking, Christmas food
Photo: thefabweb.com/12256

I may cheat a bit with these adorable Santa hat and Christmas tree brownies -  I'm thinking I'll probably make a large slab brownie in a big pan and use round cookie cutters to make them the size I want. I'm not the most talented or the most patient ice-er in the world so I will probably only make a few of the trees for a pop of colour on the cookie platter.

We still go to the small, local little Santa Claus parade - that first glimpse of Santa every season is something we all look forward to every year. But I'm so glad we've replaced those long, cold afternoons on the curb downtown with a cozy afternoon in front of the television with cookies and hot chocolate.

Tried & True Christmas recipes:


Gingerbread Men
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease baking sheet.
Sift together:                                  Cream together:                  Blend in:
2 1/2 cups pastry flour                 1 egg                                     1/4 cup hot water
1/2 tsp salt                                     2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda                    1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon                     1/2 cup molasses
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg 
Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet, combining well after each addition. Chill. 
Roll out 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut with a floured gingerbread man cookie cutter.
Bake 10-12 minutes. Cool & decorate! Makes 2 dozen.


Candy Cane Cookies
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together:                                  Mix together:
1 egg                                               2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar          1 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter                          
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
Stir dry ingredients into wet. Divide dough in half. 
Blend 1/2 tsp red food colouring into one half.
On lightly floured board, roll 1 tsp red dough and 1 tsp white dough into 4-inch strips. Place strips side by side, press lightly together and twist. Curve top down to make candy cane.
Bake 9 minutes. While still warm, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Makes 2 dozen.


Drizzled Chocolate Mint Bars
Base:                                             Icing:
1 egg                                             2 cups icing sugar
1 cup chocolate mint chips       1/4 cup margarine
1/4 cup margarine                      2 tbsp. milk
1/4 cup icing sugar                     green icing sugar
1 1/2 cups Oreo crumbs 
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Melt chocolate chips and 1/4 cup margarine over hot water. Reserve 1/4 cup for top drizzles. Add 1/4 cup icing sugar and egg to remaining melted mixture and beat well. Stir in Oreo crumbs and nuts. Press evenly on bottom of 8-inch square pan. Chill. Cream 1/4 cup margarine, 2 cups icing sugar and milk until fluffy. Add green food colouring. Spread evenly over base in pan. Drizzle reserved melted mixture over top. Chill until firm; cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen.

Shortbread Cookies
My secret recipe - can't share that one!


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Friday, 9 November 2012

Christmas bling

gold and silver Christmas decorations
Photo: sparklepartiesandevents.blogspot.ca
I didn't manage to hold off until December first this year.


Last weekend I was going through the box of Christmas ornaments inventorying what we had and what we'd need for decorations this year. And I got over-excited. So I ended up decorating. 

red and gold Christmas decorations
With the exception of the tree (we get a real tree every year, so can't get it before December first unless we want a pathetic Charlie Brown-esque twig standing in our living room by the time Christmas rolls around) the house is now dressed for Christmas. This year it's all gold and sparkles - it's our Christmas bling!

Christmas bling

Every corner of the house is hung with gold balls and a gold wired ribbon and has a sexy, glittery, sixties-style gold Christmas tree or two. Next weekend we'll finally be able to put up the tree and our house will be all blinged out!
Christmas decor
Christmas ornaments, Christmas decorations


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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Christmas decor

Christmas lights, outdoor lighting, Christmas decor
Green garland with white lights
Photo: christmaslightinstallationlosangeles.blogspot.ca
This year, instead of the assorted mish-mash of Christmas items we've collected over the years, I am finally going to have the coherent, themed Christmas decor I've always longed for. After hours of scouring the internet for ideas and an afternoon digging through the Christmas box to inventory what we have, I think I've settled on a plan.

Green garland with white twinkle lights everywhere - at the front door and over the fireplace and wound around all the railings and pillars.

dining room Christmas decor, parsons chairs, red bows, Christmas decorations
Festive bows on parsons chairs
Photo: thecinderellaproject.blogspot.ca







Big red bows on the front door and the backs of the leather parsons chairs in the dining and living room. Small gold and silver ornaments hanging from the centre of the bows instead of that pinecone cluster.






Christmas garland on stair rails
Green garland with white lights
Photo: christmastimedecorations.com





Gold and silver and red will be the theme this year with lots of lush greenery. Sparkly balls dripping from every mirror and spilling out of every glass bowl. Little white twinkly lights reflecting off of every surface all season long.

Our house will be beautifully coordinated in its holiday decor this year and look like one of those Christmas magazine spreads I have always envied so much.




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Monday, 5 November 2012

The six weeks of Christmas

Christmas is the happiest time of year. We make a very big deal of Christmas in this house and drag the season out as long as we possibly can.

skating, fireworks, Christmas tree lighting
Photo: toronto.ca
Six weeks before Christmas we bundle up and head downtown to Nathan Philips Square for the Cavalcade of Lights - free concerts, the big tree lighting ceremony, skating under the twinkly lights, and a massive fireworks show. This is also our chance to check out the Bay Christmas window displays - a Toronto tradition. We pull out the Christmas decorations and inventory what we have and need and I spend a few days obsessing over this year's decor theme, what we need to buy, and what new crafts the kids can do this year.

Christmas cookies, Christmas food
Five weeks before Christmas we do our first round of holiday baking - shortbread, gingerbread, and candy cane cookies (my favourite recipes here). The kids love helping with the baking and it turns into a huge, messy, two-day project with every surface in the kitchen and dining room covered in flour and sugar and bowls of dough and cookies on cooling racks.

This weekend is also the Toronto Santa Claus parade. Though we used to attend every year, now that we live a little further from the city we've started a new tradition - we turn on all the twinkly lights, put on our Santa hats, and watch the parade on TV with a big platter of Christmas cookies and mugs of spiced hot chocolate. That night the kids sit down to write their letters to Santa so we can post them the next week. My husband pulls out the ladder and climbs up onto the roof to hang the outdoor lights, though we don't turn them on until December.
Christmas decorations
Four weeks before Christmas is the local Santa Claus parade - we brave the evening cold and set up camp on the curb in our Santa hats and eagerly await the arrival of the big man himself. This weekend is also usually when the local theatre group performs their community Christmas show - either the Grinch or The Night Before Christmas.

Three weeks before Christmas is when we really gear up for the holidays. We get our tree (we still get a real tree every year - it's a disaster as far as needles go, but there's something about the smell of a real Christmas tree that makes it feel so much homier and holiday-ier) and spend an entire happy afternoon decorating it - again, with a platter of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.




The Town tree lighting ceremony takes place this weekend, where they have stations set up for the kids to create their own decorations to hang on the enormous tree in the town square and Santa himself appears alongside the mayor to declare the official start of the season. Then it's indoors to warm up with hot chocolate, caroling and a reading of "The Night Before Christmas" with Mrs. Claus.

Two weeks before Christmas is when we visit Santa at the mall. We do a last run-through of Toys R Us first so the kids can work themselves up into a frenzy of excitement, then line up for photos with the big man and a wish list reminder. We go down to see the Santa at the mall in the town where my husband and I grew up, because that's the real Santa. Seriously. While the idea of wish lists and gift-getting is fresh in the kids' minds, we take the opportunity to sort through all their toys in the playroom and decide which ones they'd like to give to kids who don't have as much. We finish off the weekend with a family trip to whatever seasonal kids' movie is in the theatres.

One week before Christmas everything is ready and we spend that last week basking in the glow of family holiday happiness. The twinkly lights on the tree and around the house stay lit day and night. Christmas music plays softly in the background. Santa's village and train stay on and animated all week and the platter of Christmas cookies is constantly being refilled. The kids get their letters back from Santa and a Magic Santa email message and we curl up every evening for a Christmas movie or TV special. Most of our non-family holiday entertaining and visiting happens this week and the excitement maxes out in those last few days before Santa comes.

And then it's Christmas!


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Friday, 2 November 2012

Fun, free things to do with the kids

As the Christmas holiday approaches so does another school break and a few weeks with the kids at home all day every day. Realistically speaking, the novelty of Christmas gifts wears off after a couple of days and children will be looking to Mommy for entertainment again. With budgets extra squeezed at this time of year it's important to remember that it's not necessary to spend a lot of money to keep the kids happy and entertained and make their Christmas vacations memorable.

It's very easy to drop almost as much money in the week following Christmas as you did on the Christmas gifts themselves trying to make the holidays feel special for the kids - a trip to the movie theatre one day, the indoor play place the next; a dinner out one night, a sporting event the next; Boxing Day shopping despite dozens of new toys that week and the annual Disney on Ice tour for a holiday treat - but it doesn't have to be that way.

There are so many fun things to do with the kids that are free - or very nearly free - and will make the holidays just as special and memorable for all of you.

Neighbourhood Exploring
There's no reason you can't play outside just because the cold weather is here.
Bundle up and go for a long bike ride through the neighbourhood. Try a trail or path or road you've never taken before and make it a couple of hours' excursion. Celebrate with a mug of hot chocolate when you get home!
Or go on a nature walk. Make a list of some of the types of trees and animals you might see and bring along the camera to snap shots when you find them. Print out the pictures, have the kids label them and turn them into a book.
A scavenger hunt is a fun way to make a walk feel more like fun. Make a list of things you know you'll see on your walk (eg: fire hydrant, Christmas wreath, pinecone, pond, yellow house, red car) and make a copy for each kid. Then make sure you stick to your route so you'll see everything!
A night-time drive through the neighbourhood to look at the Christmas lights is always a fun family activity for little ones. Find those houses that go absolutely crazy with lights and inflatables and be sure to include them in your route.


Picnic & Park
Just because it's winter doesn't mean you can't picnic like you would on a warm summer afternoon. If there happens to be snow, why not pack the tent and pitch it near the park? It'll keep you sheltered from the wind and keep the ground dry enough for you to sit and eat - and it feels like a real adventure for the kids! Then follow it up with a game of catch or frisbee, just like in the summer. Spend some time at the playground - it's usually fairly deserted during the winter months and you can often have the place to yourselves. As long as everyone is bundled up well you can easily spend most of a winter's day at the park just like during the summer months.

Yard fun
Outdoor fun can be had closer to home in the winter, too. There isn't usually enough snow by December for snowforts or snowmen, but there's no reason you can't do most of the same summer activities in the cold weather. Stock up at the dollar store on bubbles and sidewalk chalk - maybe they can be stocking stuffers - and go play. Fill up squirt-style water bottles with water and food colouring and "paint" pictures in the snow on the lawn.

Town & community events
There are endless events going on during the holiday season - all free for residents, paid for by your tax dollars. Tree lighting ceremonies, Santa Claus parades, community theatre performances, story time with Mrs.Claus and visits with Santa. Most towns will host at least one free public swim or skate at the community centre over the holidays. And of course outdoor rinks are always free - strap on the skates and take the kids to the pond for a skate and stop at Tim Hortons's for a hot chocolate on the way home. The library is a great, free way to spend an afternoon with the kids, curling up with a good book the whole family can enjoy and exploring the racks for a few choices they can each bring home.

Epic Crafts
Crafts are always a fun way to spend time with the kids and encourage their creativity. They can also easily be turned into major projects that will keep the kids busy and entertained for a full day or even a few days. Crafts in our house are pretty epic lately, and the kids are always super excited when we come up with a new idea. Stock up on crafting supplies at the dollar store - crayons & construction paper, scissors & glue, feathers, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, pom-poms, glitter, sequins, stickers and play clay. You probably have a ton of stuff at home already in the craft drawer - fill the kids' Christmas stockings with fresh supplies and you'll be able to do anything your imaginations can come up with. We start with something basic - making an animal with crayons and construction paper and googly eyes, or a spooky witch with toilet rolls and felt, or a Santa Claus with popsicle sticks and craft foam - and then expand it. Why make just one animal - how about a bunch of them? Maybe we can all work together and make different animals. What are all the kinds of different animals we see at the zoo? And the construction paper animals need somewhere to live - who don't we make them a zoo? The witch could use some friends - a ghost? A pumpkin? A scarecrow? A monster? A bat? And where will the spooky toilet roll creatures live -how about a haunted house? Santa needs reindeer and elves and a workshop and sleigh. Virtually any craft idea you can come up with can be multiplied and expanded and turned into a group activity to become an epic, all-day project.

Epic Pretend Play
Just like a simple craft activity can be turned into an epic project, so can dress-up and pretend play. Most people have a dress-up chest in the playroom or basement - if you don't, put one together with what you already have around the house. Old Halloween costumes, hats & scarves hiding in the back of your closet or your husband's drawer, and maybe grab a few dollar store items to fill it up - goofy glasses, silly hats, a crazy wig. Kids love playing pretend, dressing up and acting out stories, trying on different personalities and future careers. Have them write a story (or dictate one to you, if your little ones are younger) and encourage them to be as creative as possible. We've had pirates and aliens and ninjas and Transformers and Jedis and dinosaurs and sharks interacting seamlessly in our house. Pull out the crayons and have them draw pictures to go with the story (their storyboard). Then they can dress up in the costumes from their toy chest and act out the story! Kids have such a blast playing pretend and imagining stories on the fly and are so much quicker and more intuitive with improvisation than adults - it's such a joy to watch. And they will love putting on a little show for you.  Snap photos of their performance and put them in a little binder with their handwritten script and the pictures they drew - instant memory!                                   

Movie Night
Agree on a couple of movies ahead of time to avoid arguments - hold a vote so everyone agrees or have the kids select one favourite each. Grab one of the mattresses and put it on the floor in the middle of the living room (because we don't have a designated guest room, we have an extra foam mattress that lives in the crawlspace and acts as a guest bed when necessary and our movie night / fort building mattress the rest of the time). Have the kids grab pillows, mattresses and a favourite stuffy off their beds and set up on the mattress. Close the blinds and shutters, pop a big bowl of popcorn, brew some hot chocolate and everyone snuggle up for an at-home movie night!

Plan ahead, arm yourself with a few dollar store supplies, and enjoy the Christmas holidays at home with the kids making memories - without breaking the budget.


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