Friday, 31 May 2013

Birthday reflections...

This month, I turned thirty-five. Sort of a milestone - another five-year mark. A little bit closer to the big four-oh.

I don't feel old. Of course, getting carded at the liquor store the night before my birthday and at the restaurant at my birthday dinner helped. I couldn't whip that ID out fast enough! But I don't feel old, whether I'm asked for ID or not. I don't feel anything, really. No aging-related angst over here. I had my little mid-life crisis at twenty-five - a full decade ago.

Ridiculous, I know.

But twenty-five was always that number in my head - you know, "by the time I'm (whatever age) I'll be (a chiropractor / married to the man of my dreams / working on a screenplay) and I'll have (two children / a Porsche / three novels published)." Everyone has a list of goals growing up and an age in the back of their mind for when those goals will be met. Well, mine was twenty-five.

On my twenty-fifth birthday I had a full-out mid-life crisis meltdown. (At twenty-five! Twenty-five!)

I felt like at twenty-five years old I'd accomplished nothing with my life. I'd met none of my goals - except I'd never even really fully formed any specific goals. I was coasting and drifting through life, vaguely dissatisfied and vaguely hopeful but completely directionless. I was back, after a few stabs at grown-up jobs that bored me to tears, to working in a full-time position at the same job I'd had through university because it felt comfortable and I was good at it and it made me happy, but I was also vaguely embarrassed about it. I was mildly unhappy in my marriage, starting to realize we'd married too young and were very different people than we'd been a few years earlier. I was terrified to make any changes, terrified of what other people would think, terrified of my family's reaction. I was lonely, depressed, and partying instead of facing or changing anything. I was competely aimless but too apathetic to move forward. At twenty-five I was not the person I wanted to be and not living the life I wanted to live and had no idea how or what to change. Twenty-five was not the greatest time for me to become introspective about my life.

In very short order after my twenty-fifth birthday (and completely unrelated to my birthday breakdown) I got pregnant, had a baby, moved, had another baby, got divorced and moved again. In the space of three years I'd gone from a working married woman - who was miserable - to an unemployed single mother of two - who despite everything was happy for the first time in years.

Becoming a mother changed everything for me. I found a purpose in life, a source of joy. I rediscovered hope and happiness and love, which had been missing from my world for a long time. I started to grow and change into a new person, a better person, a person I actually liked. I had a centre. Having children is always the biggest thing that can happen in anyone's life - but for me it was literally life-changing.

And then, odd as it may seem, getting divorced was probably the next biggest and most positive thing that's ever happened to me. It was the most agonizingly difficult decision I've ever had to make, it was a devastatingly heartbreaking process, and some of the fallout was absolutely shattering. But despite how difficult it made my life for a while - the raw pain that had to stay hidden most of the time, facing down a future full of uncertainty, returning to the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom and sending my poor sweet innocent babies off to daycare, working from home into the wee hours of the morning to make ends meet on a single income, trying to provide a happy life and family home for my boys all on my own - it was still one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I learned to be strong. I learned to be independent. I learned self-confidence. I devoted myself utterly to becoming the best mom I possibly could, and along the way became the best person I've ever been.

And now I'm thirty-five. Married for three years to the man of my dreams, living in the home of our dreams and with a third beautiful boy to complete our family, I'm happier and more at peace than I ever dreamed possible. So I'm just fine with being thirty-five. Maybe forty will be a problem for me - who knows. But for now I'm happy with who I am and where I am, cherishing every moment of every day and looking forward to the future.

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Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Younger moms

Having a child at any age is a big decision, and there are a lot of factors involved in making that decision. There is no "right" age to start a family. But I am very happy that we started our family when we were younger - I like being a young mom.

I was twenty-five when I got pregnant with my first child. I had just turned thirty-three by the time I had my third son. For me, this works out just about perfectly. By the time I'm forty, I will have a fourteen-year-old, a twelve-year-old, and a seven-year-old. I will turn forty-four when our oldest starts university, and I'll be fifty when our youngest is off to school. I'm not looking forward to the day my children leave home. I'm sure I'll be a blubbering mess when I realize they've grown up and started their own lives outside of the family home. But I am glad that when they do I'll still be young and (hopefully) healthy enough to enjoy the next phase of my life.

I have quite a few girlfriends just starting their families now, in their mid- to late-thirties. I have several friends planning to start families within the next few years. I have one girlfriend who just had her first child at thirty-eight and now, turning forty, is expecting her second. And there's nothing wrong with that - some waited to get their careers underway, some took time before finding a partner they wanted to have children with, some worked to pay off student debt and buy a family home before planning to start a family.

There are a lot of arguments for waiting until you're older before having children - you're more financially stable, your relationship with your partner is more solid, you're student debt-free, you own your own home, and you have a chance to travel and go to the theatre and have nice dinners out before babies come along and your personal and social life is sidelined for a couple of decades. I didn't get to do any of those things.

But because I had children younger, I will have the opportunity to do those things when I'm a little older, and I won't have to wait until I'm in my sixties or seventies before having the freedom to do so.  Because we will be younger by the time our children are off to university, the expense of their post-secondary education will be behind us with a lot of working years left before us to ensure our retirement is comfortable - I would hate to be approaching retirement with the expense of three children's university educations hanging over my head. (We do not plan to allow our children to take on the expense of their own education and are determined to pay for it ourselves). The option of early retirement is a very real possibility for us. We will be young enough to enjoy travelling. We will be young enough to know our grandchildren. There are countless things we can look forward to doing when our children are grown that those friends just planning their families - many of whom certainly did a lot more travelling, spa days, dinners out and weekends away than we did in our twenties - can't even begin to plan for since there's that whole "family" phase of life between now and then.

And, of course, there are the advantages of being a younger mom in the here and now. There is a huge difference between having a child in your twenties and having a child in your thirties - I can attest to that even in the seven-year difference between my oldest and my youngest. Pregnancy, childbirth, the sleepless nights of infancy, keeping up with the activity level of young children - they are all much harder to handle in your thirties than in your twenties, and I can only imagine even more challenging in your forties.

I like being young enough, active enough, and fit enough to be able to keep up with my boys. I like being agile enough to climb on the jungle gym, crawl through play structures and curl up on the floor to play. I like having the energy to kick around the ball at the park, go on long hikes and bike rides and run around with my little bundles of energy. I like the fact that, although I would prefer more than a couple of consecutive hours of sleep, my body is able to deal with less and I'm able to function and see the light at the end of the tunnel when I will one day be able to spend evenings with my husband and sleep all night without be awoken by a crying baby or child with a nightmare.

I certainly had to sacrifice a lot in order to start my family young. But I think it was well worth the sacrifices for all the benefits of being a young mom.

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Monday, 27 May 2013

Joiner moms

I've always laughed a little bit at those uber-active, over-involved moms, chairing this committee and sitting on that one, organizing the school concert and fundraisers, acting as convener for the baseball league, volunteering to hang fliers for the local theatre and pick up donations for the church yard sale.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with being that involved. I think it's great. I admire the hell out of women with that much energy and enthusiasm left over after working, taking care of the kids, cleaning the house and doing the laundry and the grocery shopping. Some people are just like that - they're joiners. These are the people who were involved in student council and yearbook committee and varsity sports way back in the day. But it is kind of entertaining to watch these moms bustling into the school office with boxes and boxes of sports bottles to sell at recess, scurrying over to talk to the coach after every soccer practice, passing out clipboards for snack sign-up sheets and taking the minutes at every meeting. They just look so - busy.

And the thing is, it's always the same few moms. You know without even looking that their hand will be the first in the air when anyone's looking for volunteers - it doesn't even matter what they're volunteering for.

The very first mom I met when we moved to Pleasantville a few years ago was one of those moms. I didn't realize it at first - new to the neighbourhood, new to the community, and new to the school I was still just figuring everything out. Our sons became instant best friends on the first day of school so I had to seek her out in the schoolyard and introduce myself to extend a party invitation - the only "new friend" invited to join Eldest Son's friends from the old neighbourhood for his birthday party. After that, we chatted every day - I can be kind of shy and nervous about meeting new people, so a familiar, friendly face in the schoolyard sea of moms was nice. She was a fountain of information about the school, the teachers, the principal, the community groups, the sports teams, the local events. She introduced me to other moms (she knows everyone) whose names escaped me the moment I shook their hands, but it gave me a few more people to smile and nod at as I waited to pick up the boys each afternoon. It took a few months before I realized why she knew everything about everyone and everything - she was a joiner mom.

She's a member of parent council. She chairs the school fundraising committee. Her son plays rep hockey and her daughter's in competitive gymnastics - and she volunteers for both organizations. She's a joiner. She's super involved. She does it all and does it well.

I'm fairly involved as a parent - I've always attended school council meetings, I've volunteered in the boys' classrooms and on field trips, I've coordinated team snacks for their sports and I even coached their baseball team one season. But I've never really seen myself as one of those moms, the ones with their fingers in every aspect of their kids' and communities' lives, the hyper-involved, endlessly energetic ones who volunteer tirelessly for everything.

And yet, as time went on and we realized that this was going to be our forever home, I found myself becoming a lot more involved. It happened without planning. It happened without even noticing. After attending school council meetings for an entire year, I joined parent council. Just to be more informed and have some input. Once I was involved in parent council, I found myself volunteering for one, then another, then all of the school fundraising campaigns. Once both my older boys were in school full-time, I joined a local mom and baby group with Baby. I had a few suggestions and an idea for an event and all of a sudden I found myself the group's community manager. The kids' soccer teams needed someone to take charge of communications - so guess who stepped up?

Last weekend our Middle child had his entire class - twenty kids - over for his birthday Pirate Party. Pirate themed, from the food and cake to the decor and swag to the games and crafts - and even pirate costumes for the guests. It was the first time we've ever done a party of that size at home - ever since the kids have been old enough to have "friend parties" we've had them at other venues (the wave pool, the bowling alley, Chuck E Cheese). When that mom friend of mine showed up to drop off her kids (her daughter is the birthday boy's best friend and we invited her son to keep my eldest company) she looked around at the party set-up and the number of kids, shook her head, and said, "I don't know how you manage it with everything else you do. You're amazing."

Looks like I've become one of those moms.

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Friday, 24 May 2013

Super Mom

I try. I try my absolute best.

But there are some days when my Mommying gets a big fail.

We slept in this morning. Well, not slept in so much as just couldn't be bothered getting out of bed. The kids were tired from a late night out at my eldest's first away game of the season. I was tired because after finally getting the kids to bed in the middle of the bloody night (who plans these things? Seven o'clock out-of-town game start time on a school night? We didn't get home until almost ten o'clock!) my husband and I may have had one or two cocktails too many.

No big deal. The kids and I have our morning routine down pat. We can do this get-dressed-change-Baby-make-beds-eat-breakfast-make-lunches-pack-backpacks-walk-to-school thing in an astonishingly short amount of time. No worries.

Oh, but it's Friday - spelling test day. We always do a practice test before school Friday mornings. No problem, we studied while we ate. I took turns calling out words to each boy while desperately trying to get a pot of coffee going. Needed coffee. Weeknight cocktails not sitting well on weekday morning.

"Mommy, what do we have in our lunches?"
Oh God, lunches. The kids get a hot lunch every day as sandwiches, apparently, are beneath them. Lots of fruit, veggies & yogurt. Usually one Pinterest-worthy creative snack creation. Nothing processed or prepackaged. This morning? Found some leftover hamburger buns in the back of the fridge. They got those. No meat, no cheese. Buns. And an apple, and a banana, and a yogurt, and a granola bar, all of which took roughly seven seconds to locate and toss in their lunch bags. Lunch fail.

Got to school just after second bell - kids will be marked late. Teachers sorely lacking in sympathy for hungover mothers trying to raise a couple of million children. Eldest son skipped off to his class, calling out blithely, "Pizza Day!" (Oh yeah. Friday. Pizza Day. What the hell did I just make you a lunch for? I don't care if it sucks. It's still a lunch.)

Back home, kitchen looked like trailer owned by white trash alcoholics who don't believe in birth control. Dishwasher full & clean so both sinks and half of counter covered in dishes from last night's frantic dinner rush before soccer game and this morning's frantic breakfast rush before school. Other half of counter covered in empty beer bottles and remainder of case of Mike's Hard Lemonade. Kids' breakfast debris covering kitchen table. Contents of Baby's play kitchen and grocery basket covering entire floor as no time to pick up before leaving for school this morning. Pile of random items sitting in corner - shin guards, baby wipes, Ironman action figure, Ninja Turtles sword, library book. Cat must have been investigating Little T's half-constructed animal diorama due next week and sitting where I thought was out of the way on a buffet shelf - bits of cotton batting and glitter everywhere. Cat conspicuously absent.

Ignored kitchen, went out back with Baby and sat with coffee, willing sun and fresh air to perform miracles. Baby wanted me to play in sandbox. Sat there, poking at sand with shovel, staring off into middle distance. Baby got fed up with boring useless Mommy and went off to play in the ball pit.

Fed Baby leftovers for lunch. Didn't reheat or anything - cold leftovers. Then spent two hours trying to convince him to nap. Begged, pleaded, tried to negotiate and bribe. May have dropped the f-bomb - something along the lines of "will you please just take a f-ing nap?" Nope, don't feel even remotely guilty about it. Can't do it when older children are home - Mommy's entitled to a swear every now and again.

Obviously, Baby refused to nap - only because I wanted him to, I'm pretty sure. Bloody contrary child.

Waiting to pick up kids from school (still unshowered, as Baby didn't feel a shower was necessary) Parent Council President Mom scurried over with a clipboard and a sheaf of papers to thank me for volunteering to man a table at the upcoming fundraiser. (I did what...?...)

Kids came out, Eldest son's left shoe literally falling off his foot - sole of shoe somehow detached from rest of shoe at some point during day. Looked like homeless child, quite sure all other schoolyard moms were judging. (Wait - didn't I just buy you new shoes yesterday or the day before? No, you bought me cleats yesterday. You bought me new shoes last week but those were indoor shoes. Of course. Why wouldn't I make eighteen trips to the same store for a hundred and fifty of the same item in the space of a week?)

Middle son reminded me research was supposed to have been brought in today for diorama project due Monday. I asked, "But don't you need it this weekend to get ready for your presentation?" Yes, they were supposed to bring it in to school and then back home again. (Why? Why? Why? That doesn't even make sense. Why do I always have so much homework for my kids' Grade One and Three classes?) There was a note from his teacher in his backpack. (OMG, Mommy got in trouble from the teacher.)

Back home, their sweaty hair plastered to their flushed red faces, they begged for frozen juice pops for snack. Sure. Checked the freezer. Only two juice pops left. Three children. Meant to make more. Snack fail. Watermelon in fridge, chopped up whole bloody thing, threw platter on coffee table and turned on Netflix. Not above having TV babysit my children when necessary.

Enormous pile of backpacks, lunchbags, agenda books, homework and library books strewn across all portions of kitchen counter not piled up with trailer-trash-esque food and booze waste disaster still left from last night and this morning. Kitchen beginning to look like episode of Hoarders. Could not face after-school tasks today. Could not. End of week, reached limit. Stuffed everything but lunchbags back in backpacks and hung in hall closet. Will revisit on Sunday. Hopefully no pressing homework or correspondence. Don't actually much care if there is.

Eldest calls from living room, "What's for dinner, Mom?" (Oh for God's sake, I forgot to defrost the roast. Dinner fail. At least I'm consistent.) Picked through fridge, found leftover chicken and veggies and greens. Chicken caesar salad. Also found leftover tuna casserole - tossed with ranch dressing and random herbs, served cold and called it pasta salad. Fooled children, not husband. Whatever.

Made it through rest of evening on autopilot. Cursed standard "late bedtime on weekends" policy.

Finally got kids to bed, straightened up kitchen. Not clean per se, but tidied away enough that an unexpected guest showing up wouldn't result in a visit from child services or the health department.

Went online for social media fix. Found: two emails from Parent Council President Mom reminding me about upcoming events, an email from Crazy Rep Mom setting up a telephone tree, snack list and carpool schedule, an email from Eldest Child's team manager reminding me about next weekend's tournament, an email from Middle Child's friend's mom reminding me about a party I already RSVP'd to at the exact same time as Eldest Child's tournament in another town. (How? How? How? I am the scheduling queen. I forget nothing. How could that have happened?) and a Facebook home page filled top to bottom with two Pinterest-obsessed mom friends' posts. Crafts. Homemade jams. Baking recipes. DIY upcycling home decor projects.

Um, no. Not today. Can't even look.

Some days, I do kind of feel like Super Mom.
Today is not one of those days.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The preferred parent

It must be so hard to be the not-preferred parent.

All kids go through that phase of having a favourite parent. Sometimes it's Mom, sometimes it's Dad. Sometimes it's the parent they spend most of their time with because they're familiar, sometimes it's the parent they only see for an hour or two before bed because spending time with them seems like a treat. Sometimes it switches from one parent to another. Sometimes it's only when they're a baby, sometimes it's in the toddler and early childhood years. But all kids go through the phase of preferring one parent.

In our house it's always been Mommy for all three of our boys. They love my husband, obviously. They leap up into his arms when he comes in the door from work and start pestering him to play their favourite card game before he's even taken off his coat. They love helping him in the garden and playing soccer in the park and Middle Child coerced him into coaching his soccer team this year. But they're all Mommy's boys and always have been - when they're hurt, when they're sad, when they need help with something, when they want to snuggle, when they want to play, Mommy's the go-to.

For Baby, because he's still a baby, the difference is very pronounced at the moment. It's all Mommy, all the time. He gets excited to see Daddy when he gets home from work, running as fast as his chubby little legs can carry him to the the railing overlooking the front hall yelling "Hi! Hi! Hi!" and dangling his toes through the railing for a tickle. When we're hanging out playing in the same room he's just as happy playing with one of us as the other and will climb up on Daddy's lap with a book and a demand for entertainment just as often as Mommy. But if I make a move to leave the room - or even move a few feet away - he loses his mind, drops what he's doing, leaps off Daddy's lap or slithers off the couch and hurls himself at my legs begging "Up, up." When I run upstairs for a second to grab something he comes with me. When I go to the washroom he comes with me. When my husband is holding him - because I'm in the middle of making a dinner that requires two hands and proximity to a hot surface - he wriggles and squirms and reaches for me.

I love that my boys are Mommy's boys. I love that Baby wants to spend every single second of his life in my arms. But it's exhausting. I don't want to say no when he wants up - I know this time is fleeting, I know in the blink of an eye he'll be too big to pick up, I know he won't always want snuggles, I know he won't always want Mommy all the time - but there are moments of the day when I would literally do anything for five bloody minutes to myself. Anything. I have been known to hang out in the washroom for an extra five minutes just for the peace and quiet and alone time.

But I can't imagine how it must feel from the other parent's perspective. How does my husband feel when Baby pushes him away and stretches out his arms to me? I know, and I'm sure he knows, that it doesn't mean Baby doesn't love him or loves me more - it has nothing to do with that at all - it's just a phase babies go through. But it must still make him feel bad. No-one likes feeling rejected.

Being the preferred parent is exhausting - but if it were the other way around, if Baby ran to my husband instead of me or burst into tears every time he was placed in my arms, I think it would break my heart.

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Monday, 20 May 2013

Baking with my boys

I love to bake. And I'm pretty good at it. Anyone who's had any of my creations - especially my legendary melt-in-your-mouth buttery Christmas shortbread - will tell you they're fairly epic.

Home baked sweets and goodies are so much tastier than store bought, and it's such a warm, fuzzy feeling to watch how much my family enjoys eating a treat I've made for them myself - but even better is to bake with my boys. It's an enormous mess, but they have an absolute blast. They love measuring and scooping (a great way to sneak in some math practice during the summer!) and mixing and stirring - and, most importantly, tasting!

The easiest and most-often-made of our family baking projects is my fruit crumble. Almost any fruit can be used - I've made it with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, pears and apples. We had most of a basket of ripe summer peaches sitting on the counter this morning so that's what went in today's dessert.  

baking, recipe, fruit
Peach crumble
Peach Crumble Recipe:
1 cup oats
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
Press 2/3 mixture into bottom of 8" x 8" pan.
3 cups sliced peaches
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Pour fruit mixture evenly over oat mixture.
Sprinkle remaining 1/3 oat mixture over fruit mixture.
Bake 45 min. at 350F

Delish - and a fun way to spend a lazy morning at home with my boys.

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Friday, 17 May 2013

Family meal planning

The more mouths there are to feed, the more factors need to be considered when planning meals and groceries - and of course as the family grows and the number of mouths to be fed multiplies, the budget becomes tighter and tighter.

The key making sure your family is eating well while staying within budget is planning.

Between my husband and I and our three boys and the whole family active in sports our grocery budget is astronomical. We stay on budget by planning out the whole week's worth of meals in advance and shopping accordingly - and I'm fairly strict about sticking to the plan.

I started by making a master list - everything we'd need in an average week, meal by meal - weekday breakfasts, school lunches, after school snacks, protein and carb and veg and salad for every dinner, staples and snacks that fly out of the fridge as fast as they go in. I literally wrote down every single thing we'd eat that week and how many of each item and how much each item would cost.

I use this master list every week to plan our week's meals. Obviously there's a lot of variation - salmon might mean tilapia this week, chicken breasts might mean turkey breasts or a whole chicken, roast beef might mean steaks, broccoli might mean carrots, rice might mean couscous or potatoes. But it really helps to have the master list so that I know each week I need at least sixteen yogurts, twelve litres of milk, six head of lettuce, three bags of apples, two jumbo boxes of cereal, and so on and so forth. I also find it very helpful to have the price guidelines set in place because it gives me an idea how much wiggle room I have for extras or treats - if I buy the store brand of granola bars for the kids' lunches I have a few extra dollars to spend on an even better cut of meat for dinner.

Although I was hoping that this crazy overplanning would also allow me to shop only once a week, for our family it's simply not practical. We eat almost nothing that isn't fresh - our pantry is filled with baking ingredients and spices, cereal for school day breakfasts and coffee to keep Mommy functioning, and that's about it. And fresh food just doesn't last that long. So I have to shop a few times a week - we're constantly running out of milk. The kids polish of an entire bunch of bananas every second day. We have salad with dinner every night and there simply isn't room for six or seven heads of lettuce along with everything else in the vegetable crisper. So I find myself at the grocery store every couple of days. But these extra trips are all included in the week's shopping plan and I'm never left running out to grab a couple of things for dinner and blowing the budget on a bunch of food I hadn't thought of or planned for.
Fruit, vegetables

Meal planning helps us to eat healthy as well - it's those quick-serve, pre-prepared, last-minute-pick-up items that are the devil as far as healthy eating goes. Fresh food is the best food. Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meat. Nothing canned, nothing boxed, nothing pre-made. We also do organic as much as we can.

Canada's Food Guide recommends four to six servings of fruit and vegetables per day, three to six servings of grains, two to four servings of milk products, and one to two servings of meat products per day for kids (depending on ages - see the Guide for details.) It's hard to make sure your kids are meeting their needs without a little bit of planning.

I am a strong believer in the protein-grain/starch-veg plate for dinner; we have lean chicken, fish, beef or occasionally pork every night of the week. I prefer to serve a healthier carb like quinoa, couscous, wild rice or potatoes, but when we do pasta it's whole grain. I always make extra of the carb and the veggie so those days when my bottomless pits of children are still hungry after their second and third platefuls there's plenty to fill them up. And we have salad with every meal which I load up with veggies and usually a legume like chick peas or kidney beans. If I didn't have a plan in advance for what we were going to eat each evening I don't know how I'd manage to make sure I had everything in the house I needed or enough of every item. I'd be rushing out to the store before dinner every evening - and probably spending a lot more money on a lot less healthy food choices.

Advance meal and grocery planning is also a great way to make sure no food goes to waste - you can plan for those leftovers and how to reuse them, hide them in other dishes, or portion and reheat them for school lunches.

With a little bit of advance planning and a commitment to sticking to the plan, it is possible to keep your family eating healthy within your budget!

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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Money lessons for kids

No-one really likes talking about money - whether we have a lot or a little. How much we make, how much we owe, how much our house is worth, how much we have to spend - it's awkward, uncomfortable, and personal.

And we certainly don't want our kids growing up thinking money is an issue - again, whether we have a lot of money or a little. So often we just don't talk to them about money at all. If they need something, we buy it for them. If they want something, they get either a "yes" or a "no," but rarely are they given a reason or an explanation.

But the problem with children who aren't taught the difference between wants and needs or the importance of budgeting and prioritizing is that they grow up into adults without any notion of how to budget their money and an entire generation living beyond their means.

It's important to teach our kids about money. It's important to help them distinguish for themselves the difference between and want and a need, and how to budget their money to determine how much is left over for wants after the needs are met.

How do we do this?

Giving kids an allowance is a great way to give them some money to manage on their own (see Allowance for kids). The common rule of one dollar for each year of their age is the one we follow, and we base their allowances both on behaviour and meeting family expectations in general as well as weekly chores, which are age-appropriate with responsibilities increasing as they get older. This helps them understand the concept of work for pay and earning their own money. Out of this allowance we set aside everything over and above five dollars as savings - they each have their own bank account that they can monitor and watch grow, but they cannot spend that money until they're older. This helps to teach the importance of saving. The five dollars a week that they have left is theirs to spend however they choose, and we don't direct how they are allowed to spend their money but simply remind them that it is finite. We hope that this helps them to understand the actual value of money - if they want to buy a toy that costs twenty dollars, for instance, they know that it will take them four weeks to save up for it.

It's important to teach kids about how grown-ups manage money, too. We don't avoid talking about money with or in front of the kids. We don't discuss the specifics of the mortgage or anything like that - but when we're talking about various house projects, for instance, and they ask when the deck will be done or when the new counter will go in, we point out that these are extra things we save for and we only have so much each month to spend on extra things. When they talk about next year's Disney trip we remind them that Disney is an extra, a special treat that Mommy and Daddy have to save and set aside money for all year long - it's not a given. They understand that sometimes a big purchase has to wait until the next paycheque. (Mommy, being a small business owner, only gets paid once a month from my contracts and that date fluctuates monthly.) Even when we're grocery shopping, if they ask for a treat or something I might not otherwise buy we'll look for the store brand or item on sale instead. We don't overemphasize money or the cost of things, but we do try to make a point of teaching them the importance of budgeting and understanding that money is finite and spending needs to be planned.

And hopefully these lessons will stay with them as they grow up and they will learn to be responsible with their own money as adults.

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Monday, 13 May 2013

Mother's Day

It's so nice for mothers to have a special day dedicated to celebrating motherhood.

Mothering can be a thankless job - most of what we do is just taken for granted, and although we know how much our children love us and our husbands appreciate us, it's nice to have one day when they're reminded to say it out loud.

There's nothing better in the world than being a mother, and there's nothing that takes more work. Mothering is a 24/7 job. There is no time off.

Mothering means kisses and cuddles and bedtime snuggles and a tiny little trusting hand in yours. Mothering means learning to play all over again. Mothering means seeing the whole world anew through your children's eyes as they learn and grow and discover and become their own little people. Mothering means a heart full of a love you never dreamed possible. Mothering means a whole new dimension of being a woman.

Mothering also means being woken up at 5:30am by being vomited on (how my Mother's Day started!) and wiping snotty noses and changing soiled diapers and cleaning food from the floor and breaking up arguments and year after year of sleepless nights and an endless cycle of cooking / cleaning / dishes / laundry.

Mother's Day means something different for every mother and family. For some it means breakfast in bed made by Dad and the kids, followed by a kid-free lunch out with the girlfriends and an afternoon of pampering at the spa. For some it means cards and flowers and a little blue box with something sparkly inside. For some it means special plans together as a family - a trip to the zoo, a picnic, an afternoon at a waterpark.

Most of us don't want or expect much for Mother's Day. Family time, alone time, a macaroni necklace and a crayon-and-construction paper card from the kids, a little thank-you and I love you from the husband. Possibly time for a shower without an audience, a meal we don't have to make ourselves. All we want is an acknowledgement of how hard we work as moms and some sort of reminder that we're doing a good job most of the time - and are loved and appreciated even when we mess up.

Happy Mother's Day, Moms!

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Friday, 10 May 2013

Fun at the zoo!

The Toronto Zoo is our family's all-time hands-down favourite field trip. It's such a wonderful way to spend a day. Fresh air, sunshine, lots of walking, learning and exploring. We've been taking the kids since they were babies and none of us have ever tired of it - no matter how often we go there's always something new.
animals, zoo, Toronto Zoo

animals, zoo, Toronto Zoo
birds, animals, zoo, Toronto Zoo

birds, animals, zoo, Toronto Zoo 

animals, zoo, Tononto Zoo
Toronto Zoo, zoo, animals, rhinos

And there's so much more to see and do at the zoo beyond the animal enclosures and pavillions!

The Conservation Carousel, the ZooMobile, camel rides, the KidZoo play and learn area, Splash Island...endless activities mean that each trip is different and special and full of fun.

The KidZoo area is a fantastic hands-on area for little ones completely different from your traditional zoo experience. Animal shows, interactive play-and-learn experiences, a petting zoo, and even a dinosaur excavation area give the kids a unique way to learn about animals and burn off a little energy during the zoo day.

Splash Island, the zoo's massive seasonal water park area, is awesome and a wonderful way to spend a hot summer afternoon. Definitely one of our favourite parts of the zoo!

We've spent so many happy days at the zoo - long summer afternoons in the water park, all-day walking excursions, quick trips to check out the latest visitor or brand-new baby, burgers and beers by the zebras and hippos, a picnic lunch next to the kangaroos, ice cream with the polar bears, special events like the Easter egg hunt or Boo at the Zoo for Halloween - and of course every year it's Mommy's only choice for our Mother's Day family field trip.

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Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Play clay ocean craft

I love this craft because my boys came up with it all on their own. They are obsessed with all things ocean-beach-piratey - their room is an Underwater Pirate Paradise and our annual Spring Break family vacay to the Caribbean Beach resort at Disney World is all pirate-themed.
crafts, kids crafts, epic crafts

One of our favourite epic craft projects, their Under the Sea pom-pom creature craft, sits on permanent display on the craft table in their playroom. Last week they found a couple of unopened packages of play clay in one of the craft drawers and all on their own decided to add to the undersea adventure.

craft, kid's craft, play clay, ocean
A couple of carefully molded play clay fish, an octopus, a shark, a crab, a stingray, a snail, a starfish and an ocean full of pipe-cleaner waves and the project was complete! For now...
craft, kid's craft, ocean

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Monday, 6 May 2013

String bubble craft

I've seen this project a few times but have never tried it. I thought if it worked, though, that these would make a great addition to my boys' Underwater Pirate Paradise bedroom.

Super simple, but super messy - we did this one outside to keep the gluey mess out of the house.

Blow up a bunch of balloons to different sizes. Dip the string (I used brightly coloured craft wool) into white craft glue, then wipe off the excess so it's not too drippy (it will never dry otherwise and leave a cracking, crumbly mess around the wool.) Then simply wrap the wool around the balloon in a random pattern until you're happy with the way it looks. Hang the balloons to dry somewhere that drips don't matter. Once the glue has dried, pop the balloon and carefully remove the balloon bits. String bubbles!

If this craft worked well I was planning to make a million more to hang in the boys' bedroom, but it didn't come out as cleanly as I had hoped, so I'm not sure. I'm simply not the most successful crafter.

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Friday, 3 May 2013

Under the Sea bedroom update

Our String bubble craft prompted the boys and I to add a few touches to update their Underwater Pirate Paradise bedroom decor.

Assorted inflatable sea creatures now hang on the wall with their painted fabric ocean murals. 

Inflatable palm trees and "leaf" canopies frame their beds. 

And the moderately successful string bubble hangs from the ceiling.

Middle Child's favourite pirate, pirate's sword and a map of Neverland sit next to his bed and the boys' Beta fighting fish (Sparky and George) are on the dresser between the two beds. His big brother likes to curl up and read at night so his corner is a cozy nook covered in a leaf canopy and some favourite stuffies.

The entrance to their bedroom welcomes buccaneers with a pirate flag, a sea monster, and their Disney Pirates League sashes, swords and photos to prove their pirate mettle.

Such a fun, cozy, Under the Sea pirate fantasy bedroom for two special little pirates!

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kid's bedroom, big boy bed, Elmo, blue bedroom

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A little stone, a lot more curb appeal

Before - bare and ugly
The front entrance to our home has always been a bit of an eyesore.

We live in a three-story walk-up townhome, so instead of a welcoming front entrance with a cozy little porch or a seating area with a garden and a pathway up the front lawn we have a tiny little patch of grass next to the driveway and a large brick wall in front of the flight of concrete steps waaaaay up to the front door. Because it's a townhouse, the utility boxes are all located on the front of the house - gas meter, electrical meter, cable box, random cables and wires and lines. UGLY. It's bothered us since the day we moved in, and we knew exactly what we wanted to to do make it prettier, but it's taken us until now to actually tackle it.

Before - bare and ugly

diy, home improvement, landscaping, interlocking stone, retaining wall
We cut out a couple of inches of the driveway and a chunk of front lawn from the sidewalk up to the garage and installed an interlocking stone pathway-slash-border. The useless corner where the driveway meets the brick wall, concrete stairs, garage door and utility boxes - an ugly utilitarian mess - was transformed into a small garden with a stone retaining wall, the mish-mash of surface finishes hidden and the pipes and cables camouflaged as much as possible - our hope is that they'll be hidden almost completely once the cedar fills out a bit more. A new stone step fixed the too-high first step problem we've always had with the stairs and hid the gap between concrete steps and driveway, and lots of green cedars softened all the brick and stone and warmed up our little front entrance.
retaining wall, interlocking stone, garden, diy, landscaping, home improvement

We're sooo happy with the results - and kicking ourselves for not having done it sooner. One weekend of hard work and a few hundred dollars at Home Depot and our little townhome is now just oozing curb appeal!

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