Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Resolution

I'm not one to make New Year's Resolutions, but I read this today and thought that if I did, this would be a good guide to a thoughtful compilation of things to work on, for myself or my kids:

"Set yearly goals with your children - things they would like to obtain, qualities they would like to develop, and skills they would like to acquire."

Monday, 29 December 2008

Learning through humility

A good friend of mine was asked to be a Sunday School teacher at our church. She will be teaching a bible study to a class of 40 or 50 adults, leading discussion and highlighting gospel principles. The class is full of people at all sorts of religious and intellectual levels and experiences, some who have a career in bible education, others who have been Bishops or served in other leadership roles. Oh, and my friend isn't even 25 years old yet. And yet, when I heard she had been asked to take this position, I knew she would be perfect. Sentiment throughout the church echoes my own.

I have learned that there is only one requirement to being a devout student of faith. It is not years of experience or how many times one has read the bible. It is humility.

If you look at the world religions, there are examples great men and women in every faith. They are spiritual and intellectual giants, who have devoted their lives to studying and living their beliefs through their religion. Looking at these people, you could not say they were duped, fooled or misguided into choosing their religion. If then, it was possible to definitively determine which religion is correct using man's intellect alone, it would stand to reason that all of these men and women would find themselves coming to identical conclusions about truth.

But they have not. Thousands of religious sects exist, each proclaiming to be the only true way. It would seem, then, to be the height of hubris to say that one could determine the truth by his own studying, logic and deductions. It would take several lifetimes to study in depth all the options. And then it would deem those with less spiritual knowledge unfit to make a decision. I know that personally I have not even a "ha' penny" of the wealth of spiritual knowledge that many others have.

But God does not require that. He did not call the scholarly Pharisees to Apostleship, but humble fishermen. He did not call Saul to preach the gospel when he was a well-known community leader, but called instead "Paul", a meek version of his previous self, ready to teach and be taught by the Spirit of God. Moses was a terrible public speaker and worried no one would take him seriously as a prophet of God. Even the founder of my church, Joseph Smith, was just a boy of 14 when he started on his path, from a family of no importance. By all accounts, he should simply have been ignored among the gathering of great religious intellects of his time.

But, in the end, the only way to find spiritual truths is through humility. Once you admit that you are unable to find the answer by yourself, you come to the level of humility that enables God to teach you.

Colinisms

Trying to console an angry Caleb, who had been told "No playing in the oven", Colin reassured his younger brother: "It's okay, Caleb. Don't cry. I know it's rough."

***

James had just turned off the light while putting Colin to bed, and then sat beside him to sing a lullaby or two. Colin turned over in bed and was completely quiet, so James simply sat in silence, waiting to see if he was asleep. After a few minutes, Colin reached down and pulled his blanket right up and over his head. James was a bit alarmed, wondering if this is how Colin slept every night, and how he could possibly breathe with the blanket tucked in tight around his face. James sat, contemplating what to do, and then after a minute heard Colin's tiny voice rise above the blanket: "Daddy, are you still there?" "Yes, Colin, I am." "Are you worried about me?"

***

Colin is working hard to play with and include Caleb. Unfortunately, Caleb didn't seem to get the memo that he's not the oldest child. The two lock horns daily in the fight for who is leading the game and how it should be played. I recall a comment from my middle school teacher, who was teaching a split grades 6-7-8 gifted class. My mom asked how it was, teaching the gifted program. His reply: "Imagine trying to teach 20 leaders and no followers." I can see the difficulty arising already between the boys!

***

Colin, to his 2 1/2 year old cousin who was throwing a temper tantrum: "Erica! Use your words!"

***

I am constantly amazed at just how particular Colin is about routine. I have seen him forgo favourite snacks, the chance to watch a movie, playing with friends, and many other favourite things and activities because his expectations of the situation were not met. The culmination, however, was Christmas morning. Colin's excitement had been building for weeks as he started to understand the idea of gifts. Now, generally James wakes up with the boys and gets them breakfast, allowing me an extra 15 minutes or so in bed. But of course on Christmas morning I wanted to come down with them at the same time. As I started to descend the stairs, Colin collapsed beside me in a fit of tears. "No, you go back to bed NOW! Daddy and I and Caleb go downstairs and you stay in bed!" Even knowing there were presents waiting for him, and a special breakfast, some new toys and lots of fun, Colin cried on the stairs for nearly 10 minutes. I eventually coaxed him downstairs, but the morning had a cloud of uneasiness hanging overhead.

***

Colin: Mommy, guess what?! Caleb was trying to get into the garbage!
Mommy: Did you try to stop him?
Colin: Yes, but he was just too quick for me. But then Daddy tried to stop him.
Mommy: That's good.
Colin: And then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him, and then I stopped him, and then Daddy stopped him-
Mommy: Oh, that's great, honey. You're a good big brother.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Auntie Terri-Ann

I am an aunt! Yes, I know I have two children myself, but becoming a mother and becoming an aunt are entirely different. I am so excited to have a little nephew.

My youngest sister, Krystal, delivered Alexander a week ago. It was a difficult and long labour (why did we have to have those genes in our family!) but her little baby is beautiful. Krystal is, in many ways, a mirror of myself, so this experience has been a little like watching myself from afar. It's wonderful to see her and her husband take to parenthood so naturally. I myself am reminiscing of those early days with a newborn, where the world revolves around mother and baby, as this new relationship cements its deep bonds.

And I am ever so thrilled with being an aunt. I have showered him with gifts, held the tender bundle in my arms, and passed him back when he starts to cry. I can't wait for the cousin relationship to form between him and my boys. This is a new phase in the life of the family in which I was raised. We are entering a new stage of life, a time when we will share our secrets, joys, trials and tribulations of motherhood.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Give Something

"We must grow in love and to do this we must go on loving and loving and giving and giving until it hurts - the way Jesus did. Do ordinary things with extraordinary love: little things like caring for the sick and the homeless, the lonely and the unwanted, washing and cleaning for them.

You must give what will cost you something. This, then, is giving not just what you can live without but what you can't live without or don't want to live without, something you really like. Then your gift becomes a sacrifice, which will have value before God."

-
Mother Teresa, "A Simple Path"

In this Christmas season, I am glad to be reminded about what is truly at the heart of giving. Don't stress over the perfect gift to buy, how much to spend, and whether or not they will like it. No gift can ever have the same impact as one that is truly a sacrifice. I read a touching story of a husband and wife who had no money to their name for their first Christmas together. Knowing of their situation, the husband's grandparents sent each of them a separate cheque, with instructions to by themselves something nice for Christmas. The wife immediately set out to buy a gift for her husband, and tears of joy were shed Christmas morning when she realized that her husband had spent his money on her.

The best gift we will give is ourselves.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Lazy

Immersed in the "Anne of Green Gables" book series again, I have been struck by the industry of the people a century ago. From dawn to dusk there was work to be done, and they simply went about it.

Me, I find a sticky floor or a neglected bathroom or a growing pile of laundry and feel exhausted just looking at it. I look back on my day and know I lacked industry and organization. There is a list of projects that needs attacking, always growing and never receding. I steal an afternoon nap and lose time afterwards to the grogginess of reawakening. I pick up after the family in an ever losing battle for tidiness. I rationalize about young children, home businesses, sleepless nights, overflowing schedules. And yet I feel condemned by my conscience. Modern conveniences have eased the burden of work considerably from years gone by, and yet I feel it has only bred an attitude of laziness in me.

Perhaps it is the cold, melancholy of winter which descends upon me, and I do not give myself enough credit for the bustling busyness of summer, but I am not optimistic. Rather I feel spurred on to change. Maybe I am finally shedding the modern habit of idleness from this moment of enlightenment.

Guns

Toy guns has been an issue with me since Colin's birth. I grew up in a family of all girls - hence we never had any toy guns, or toy swords, or any toy that mimicked violent actions. James grew up in a family of all boys, so toy guns were an extension of their hands.

My natural tendency is to not allow these types of playthings in our house. I would hope my boys would understand the difference between fantasy and reality, and confusion between the two is not why I don't want toy guns in my home. I just don't personally like the idea of shooting another person for fun.

As I talk with friends who have older children (mostly boys), I realize that there is something hardwired in boys to play with guns. One friend spoke of how she didn't allow any toy weaponry in her home, and then one day her son bit his peanut butter and jam sandwich into the shape of a gun and "shot" his brother across the kitchen table. Other friends have stories about how even if there aren't guns, they will pick up tree branches, hockey sticks, recorders or pretty much anything at their fingertips and use it as a gun.

Some friends laughed at the notion of trying to keep toy guns out the of house; other friends claimed they are still holding fast to their rules and doing what they can. In the whirlwind of conversation, I find myself agreeing with both points of view and seeming to lose my own standing as I'm tossed back and forth in the debate.

Most boys have natural aggression pent up in their little bodies, and need a way to release it. And certainly all references to violence don't automatically translate into hurting another human being. That being said, as a parent I know I have the right and responsibility to guide my children the best I can.

And so my current stance (and somewhat of a compromise with James) stands as: no toy guns, but those Super Soaker Blaster waterguns might find their way into the backyard toy bin.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Hotel follow-up

It seems this topic is hot on my mind, and I see remnants of the idea in conversations everywhere. At a gathering of friends the other morning, the topic of "coping with holiday business" came up, and the forefront concern was getting all the regular household chores done on top of all the added bustle. The conversation meandered along, leading to a dissection of how we as moms and wives handle chores in general.

Spurred on by my recent "Hotel or Home" post, I piped up quickly that my children would participate in things like laundry as soon as they could understand how to do it. I threw in the age of 8 or 10, just to be specific. I was met, however, with a hoard of disbelief. All sorts of comments arose, but the gist of them all seemed to be this:

"My children could never do it just the way I want it done."

Very, very true. And yet, in my opinion - very,very irrelevant. Currently my kids clothes are kept in their own laundry basket, and at the end of the week I toss it all into the washing machine (yes, unsorted), wash it, then toss it all into the dryer (no special treatment for one shirt or another), then toss it all into a laundry basket and haul it back upstairs. It is then folded and stored in one of four drawers (socks and underwear, pajamas, shirts, pants). Any 8 year old could handle this.

The big thing is letting go about "the way I want it done". If the clothes aren't folded squarely, if they aren't in the "proper" drawer - so what? If the kitchen floor has a crumb or two left after sweeping, or a fingerprint is left on the TV - resist the urge to "do it right" and therefore negating the effort put forth by your child. They can do this - they should do this. As a part of the family, it is nothing more than pitching in where they live. I have a favourite t-shirt that reads "M is for Mom, not Maid" and I intend to make sure my kids understand this.

Today Colin (3 years) vacuumed with me. I pushed the massive beast around, but he used the hose to clean against the walls and furniture. I didn't do it first and then let him "vacuum" up after, and I didn't take the hose from him after to pick up what he missed. I provided instructions ("look for all the little crumbs") and then let him go to. He also matches socks for me, picks up his own toys, puts his clothes in the hamper and makes his bed. Okay - he still need reminders, he is only three after all, but he's starting to get the idea.

Stay tuned for a post coming up on "The Parenting Breakthrough". I wrote about this book a while back, and now that Colin is three I have compiled a list of responsibilities and abilities that we will work with him this year to learn. He is starting on the pathway to independence.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Child care

The following are excerpts from a Toronto Star newspaper article. I initially started to read the article curious about the quality of Canada's daycare system. But as I read, the focus of the article became apparent, and I became just a little ticked off. Good quality and available childcare is important, don't get me wrong. There are certainly family situations that require both parents to work (or, more urgently, a single parent to work) and in these instances child care is necessary. But I firmly believe in the importance of raising your own kids. I know many families (mine included) that went without luxuries in life so that my mom could stay home with us. It's not always an easy life, but if a parent can be the one to raise their children, they should not be casting off that responsibility to another.

Note especially the last two paragraphs here, which talk about the importance of a child's development in early years, and their rights to the best formative education. Experts agree that a child at home with a parent is the best option for early development. So why aren't governments helping moms to stay home with their kids by offering tax incentives?

Because of one reason, a reason that is clearly the focus of this article, and a reason that absolutely enrages me is the focus of providing good childcare: it is a booster to the economy, allowing parents to work and pay taxes.

Here are some excerpts, or go here to read the entire article.

"Canada ranks last in the first comparison of child care services in 25 developed countries, according to the United Nations Children's Fund."

"Canada's poor showing represents a lost opportunity for economic growth at a time of economic uncertainty...Building a system of high-quality early-childhood care and education creates jobs and allows parents to work and pay taxes."

"Toronto mother Laura Garrido knows about lost opportunities. The former hairdresser would love to be working full-time, but has been waiting since last spring for a subsidized child care spot for her 4-year-old daughter, Paola, who started kindergarten this fall. "I have always worked, but my daughter is only in school for 2 1/2 hours a day. I have no one to care for her the rest of the time and child care is too expensive," she said yesterday. With her husband's long hours in construction, Garrido makes do with the odd part-time shift at her local community centre. "I'm lucky to have that. But with child care I could do so much more," she added."

"[The study] notes high-quality child care has the potential to boost school success and enhance the cognitive, emotional and social development of children, as well as advance women's equality and mitigate the effects of poverty. However, poor-quality care, especially for infants, can do great harm, the report warns."

"The benchmarks, which represent the first attempt to evaluate and compare early childhood services for children younger than 6, describe a set of minimum standards for protecting the rights of children in their most vulnerable, formative years, the report says."

Hotels or homes?

"Many kids are being raised in hotels instead of homes today."

I heard a great "Focus on the Family" broadcast the other day about parenting techniques today. The observation was made that many parents are making their homes like hotels for their children. The cleaning, the cooking, the tidying all done by parents wanting to raise "happy kids". Is there anything wrong with wanting to raise happy kids? No. But are kids really happy these days? No. The harder we try to make our kids happy, the unhappier they seem. It stands to reason then that the things we are doing to "make them happy" are in fact having the reverse effect.

We talk, cajole, explain, and reason with our kids. We treat them as equals, try to see their point of view, and try to be their friend. We let them explore, test boundaries, and reason with us.

And somewhere along the way, we seem to be forgetting one thing: that we are the parent and they are the child. Sometimes the answer is no "because I said so".

Caught up with many of the current parenting books, I have adopted the "talk to your kids about what you're doing" approach. I have explained to my three-year old why it is wrong to hit and why it is important to share. I have spent hours calmly finding out the reason for a meltdown and working through it with him. I have given my one-year old latitude because of his age. I have met his every whim because babies have needs, not wants.

And I'm seeing now how much it is not working.

I'm seeing how our problem areas are mounting, and how my kids are not the understanding, grown-up happy children I was promised they would be.

So I'm trying something new.

If I recorded my house for a day, I think I would be shocked at just how much I talk at my kids. I'm forever trying to explain life. And I forget that kids hear nothing more than the first five words before they tune out. Especially if my voice becomes a white noise machine. So I'm vowing to talk less, and let actions speak for words.

Yesterday Colin started screaming at me to stop playing the piano while I was practicing. I had not been playing more than 5 minutes, and I have told him before that crying and screaming while I play is not acceptable because Mommy is busy right now and I'll be with him in a few minutes and I just want to finish this song and to play with his toys for 5 minutes and...and...and...

So instead, I just picked him up, took him upstairs, sat him on his bed, closed the door and came back downstairs. He screamed. He screamed for a good 45 minutes. And then he stopped. At this point I went back upstairs, opened the door and announced that he could come back downstairs to play. We didn't talk about what he'd done, why it was inappropriate, why he was removed from the situation, and why he was now allowed to come downstairs.

I was nervous about it at first. Would this really work?

Yes!

Later on while I was practicing a song with James, Colin started to fuss. But within seconds he stopped, looked at me, and said "But I'm not going to cry now, because then I would have to go upstairs again like this morning."

I kid you not. I was shocked and amazed and overjoyed. He got the message, loud and clear. And there were no more meltdowns while I played the piano.

This philosophy begins and ends with actions. Here's one more example of how it's worked for us. I picked Colin up from nursery school the other day, and he ordered me to carry his bag to the car. He is plenty old enough and big enough to carry it on his own. I told him that. He hit the floor kicking and screaming and crying. The nursery teaching assistant tried to talk, cajole, and coax him into carrying the bag. I simply sat silent. After a few minutes, I pronounced that it was time to go and if he didn't want to carry his bag, we would leave it there. But that would mean he would have nothing to bring his snack tomorrow in. In the end, I partially gave in by putting the bag on his back and whisking him away. I paid for that, though, because when we arrived at home, he ordered me to carry the bag inside. This time I dug in my heels. I left the bag in the snow. After 10 minutes Colin came inside sans bag. I quietly sent James out to rescue it and hide it in the garage. I told Colin if he left the bag outside someone else might very well carry it off. And that was it. The next morning, Colin came downstairs ready for school. He looked me square in the eyes and said "I have to carry my own bag, or another kid might take it."

My home is not a hotel where the customer is always right. This is my domain, and my children are my responsibility. And they don't have to be happy all the time. They are loved, they know they are loved, and they know this because I am raising them to be responsible, loving, caring adults.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

3 car garages

I am amazed anyone out there still scrapes ice off of their cars. I remember days of frozen fingers gripping a long ice pick, snow chips flying into my face. I recall sweeping inches of snow from the top of the car into my boots. I hate the cold, and there's nothing worse on a cold, dark morning than having to spend half an hour digging my car out before trudging off to work.

But we bought a house with a garage. It's not a large garage, but it fits our car. And there is no way I would stash boxes full of stuff in there instead of my car. When we pulled our snowless car out of the garage after last year's first snowstorm, our neighbour remarked that we are the first ones in 20 years to use the garage for a car.

And yet the majority of people do not use their garage for a car. For some insane reason, they would rather waste time scraping ice and snow off their car than part with the unknown contents of a few superfluous boxes. What is our fascination with stuff that creates this anomaly in human behaviour?

Not only are all houses built with garages now, but most are built with two or three car garages. And still the driveways look like parking lots. Well, at least I found my sanity in the frigid weather of winter.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Reflections of Christ

I saw this beautiful artistic piece today. It is a collection of photographs depicting the life of Jesus Christ, set to an inspiring interpretation of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing".

I am amazed every day at the power that art has in our souls. It speaks to our spirits on a level unattainable by our communicative mind. It conveys something to our very depths. It reaches in and stirs emotions that you didn't realize were there.

This is the reason why a haunting melody, a touching movie scene, words on a page, the lyrics of a poem, the colours of a painting or the captured life of a photograph can bring literal tears to our eyes. They touch truth.

Take a moment to watch this short five minute presentation called "Reflections of Christ". I have been touched by paintings and film scenes before, but seeing these photographs today brought home to me the very realness of the life of Christ. He lived on this earth and walked the roads. He spoke to the people and touched their lives. He lived, and he died, and now he lives again. There is a reality to this that is often missed, and as we come into this holiday season that exists because of Him, I hope this will help remind us not of the abstract elements of faith, but the true fact of his life and existence.

"Reflections of Christ" (slideshow)

Friday, 5 December 2008

Coming to a Kindergarten class near you...

I would be remiss to let the current political situation pass by without throwing in my two cents about it. Canadian politics is generally fairly uneventful and even borders on boring. We don't produce the characters so common in American political elections, and our "close" races usually end up being fairly predictable within minutes into the results coming in.

Therefore, I third minority government, an opposition coalition, the governor general's involvement and a proroguation of parliament have all added up to some spectacular news-worthy events this past week.

So then, what to make of it all? Personally, if I was the governor general, I would take the four party leaders by the ear and drag them down the the Principal's office. I would tell Stephen Harper (Conservative) to start playing nicely with the other children. I would tell Stephane Dion (Liveral) to stop being a sore loser. I would tell Jack Layton (NDP) to sit down and be quiet. And I would tell Gilles Duceppe that if he doesn't want to be in the school, then he shouldn't get much say about how it is run. Then I would tell them all to get back to Parliament and work together to govern this country through the economic crisis as the government the people voted for. If 5 year olds can learn to get along, surely grown men can also.

This all stems from my indignation at Harper for not at least trying to get along with the other parties. He can't pretend he has a majority by making everything a confidence vote. He deserved the protest from the other parties. But I'm outraged at the coalition which was obviously in the works before the economic statement was released. I do not believe that every time we have a minority government the opposition should choose to gang up on the winning party to thrust a losing leader into the Prime Minister role.

Most importantly, if we take the Liberals and NDP at face value and acknowledge that their concern is about moving immediately about the economic crisis, then I really don't agree with them. If this recession (or depression) lasts years (or a decade), then what we don't want to do is work for only a few days on a plan. The economy is complicated. Even I know that. Even for experts, it's complicated. So I would much rather they take some time (6 weeks is not long, considering the length of time this could last for) to come up with a solid plan - the best of what everyone can come up with. A hasty decision may put us deeper in crisis than we already are.

One final comment. I laughed with scorn the other day as I heard one analyst remind us that the Canadian economy and banks had actually weathered the first part of the storm fairly well. We would be affected by outward pressures, but within Canada we were pretty solid. That is, until the politicians created their own mini drama. Then we lost confidence internally. Way to go, guys. I can only imagine how other leaders on the world stage view us. If we can't keep it together internally, how can we expect to be consulted about the world economy? I wouldn't trust this unstable government, and don't see how others would either. In many areas, Canada has always seemed to have to jostle for position in the world. Now I doubt we're even being thought of.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Guided path

Every day I am faced by decisions. Some are larger and more important than others. Some are simple. Some need a lot of my attention. Some just need to be made.

I had never realized the potential seriousness of the consequences that result from each decision I make. I had never realized that there are generally three different courses of action to take, and that each choice has such a drastic result. Then I read this passage yesterday and the imagery stunned me into recognition:

"In meeting these challenges, spiritual submissiveness is fortunately and helpfully adroit - sometimes helping us to "let go" of things...other times to "hold fast," and still other times to use the next stepping-stone."

I imagined myself stranded in the middle of a rushing river, balancing precariously on a stone. The cold water courses past me and I am alone in a wilderness. I have three choices. The first is to "let go". I am not strong enough to swim against the powerful current, but if I let it carry me downstream, just around the bend and out of sight perhaps it empties into a calm, shallow pool. The second choice is to "hold fast". Perhaps instead of safety, at the end of the river is a plunging waterfall that would hurl me into danger. But if I were to cling with all my might to the rock, I could wait out the high season of water and eventually the river would recede to a depth which I could wade through to the shore. The third choice is to "use the next stepping-stone". Maybe this river always runs high and fast, and I would only expend all my reserves of energy by clinging to the stone. This would leave me with no choice but to try and leap from one rock to the next, up or down stream, and eventually to the riverbank.

I do not have the ability to see what lies beyond the river bend; I do not have the knowledge to determine if the high water levels might subside; I do not know if there are enough stepping-stones to lead me to the shore. Which decision should I make?

Each of these decisions is drastically different, each holding it's own path and consequences. Seeing this image in my mind so clearly speaks to me the importance of not relying on my own limited experience and knowledge to make the decision. Why would I want to? There is someone omniscient, with a much better grasp on life than me. Why do I put myself before God, trusting in my "arm of flesh" over his all-seeing eye? Why do I see spiritual submissiveness as a weakness, rather than a strength?

It makes no sense. And yet it is a lesson I'm still learning...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Happy Birthday Colin

Today marks three years of Colin's journey of life on this earth. I look at my little boy and his eyes and face betray his growing older. His thoughts are more purposeful, taking in and understanding and processing much that seems beyond his years. And yet there are times when he still crumples in a ball of tears and frustration that reminds me he still is only a little boy.

His imagination is so vivid. Surrounded by a plethora of toy cars, he will build a small garage out of blocks and then build a small car to go into the garage. He recreates scenes from favourite movies. He finds a quiet corner to devour a pile of books. He's not much of an outdoor kid yet, but he loves to have a playmate. He is starting to see his younger brother as a possible friend. He watches out for Caleb, warning him of danger, or taking his hand to show him a new game. He explains the rules clearly, expecting his brother to understand as clearly as he does himself. He loves music of all kinds, and will request everything from pop to disco to classical to Show Tunes to children's music. He enjoys the symphony of musical instruments at his fingertips to play, from the piano to the drums to the flute. He loves to dance and can pass more than half an hour this way. He is starting to understand God, especially through music. He feels the difference of a spiritual conversation as opposed to another.

He is growing, growing, growing. He is imitating his parents, he is absorbing the world around him, and his photographic memory permanently imprints everything onto his forming mind. This is one day to commemorate, but it reminds me to celebrate him every day.

Happy Birthday, Colin.

Sausage rolls

Over the past six months or more, I've had a concentrated effort to buy, cook and eat better food for myself and my family. In tangible terms, this means that I try to buy whole, unprocessed foods. It means that I make homemade chicken nuggets and fry up my own french fries. It means making a lot of bread and even my own pizza dough. It means baking once a week to make homemade treats. It means shopping "peripherally" in the grocery store, where all the fresh foods are, and staying away from prepackaged items. It means giving up the convenience of many frozen meals, like chicken fingers and sausage rolls.

But this week while doing my grocery shopping, I passed by a box of sausage rolls on sale. And they looked so yummy! I actually passed it by, and then retreated to consider the purchase. I didn't stop long - I simply threw a box in the cart and continued on my way. I was tired, I didn't feel like cooking what was on my menu that night, and really, I'm not a die-hard cling-to these new food habits. We're just trying to do better overall. We still grab a hamburger at A&W once in a while, and the occasional bottle of pop shows up for a movie night.

That night we threw in the sausage rolls and cooked up some homemade fries (we just can't seem to go back to frozen now!). I set the table and served the meal. I even made myself an extra sausage roll, wanting to indulge in this treat so long denied.

And then I bit into it and it was...okay. Actually, in the end I only ate half of what I'd put on my plate. This once coveted comfort food, one of my favourite staples as a university student, was no longer the delectable treat I once thought it to be. As I nibbled at my food, I found myself wishing for something whole and fresh.

Ah well. At least I was able to console myself with a homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookie.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Colinisms and Calebites

Caleb's favourite book is "Pat the Bunny" (which, incidently, was one of Colin's favs also). Caleb is much more interactive with the book, pattin gthe bunny, playing peek-a-boo, smelling the flowers, playing peek-a-boo, feeling Daddy's scratchy face, playing peek-a-boo, reading the book, playing peek-a-boo...you get the picture. But the funniest part is the end. The last page has Paul and Judy waving goodbye, and asks the reader to wave goodbye also. Caleb loves this part, and always waves enthusiastically. Then yesterday we were reading an Usborne book about Farms (the only other book Caleb is interested in). We flip through all the pages, backward and forward, backward and forward, until he's through. Then, when he closed the book, he waved goodbye. It was hilarious. Now whenever we finish a book, he waves goodbye to it.

***

I have taken to calling Caleb "Cay-Cay" on occasion, usually when he's crying. Now Colin has started calling him Cay-Cay to ease those frequent tears. But the other day, Colin paused after calling his brother by this nickname, then said:

"He's Cay-Cay, so that means I'm Ca-Ca."

(To be fair, the first syllable in "Colin" is pronounced more like "Ca" than "Co")

I burst out laughing, and tried to explain why he maybe shouldn't refer to himself as "Ca-Ca". He either didn't get it, or didn't care, because he kept laughing and calling himself Ca-Ca all day. Oh, this is just the beginning of the toilet humour prevalent in raising boys. I wonder if I really missed much not having any brothers?

***

Colin has a new game, thanks to my beloved husband. With the (very early) release of the trailer for the new Star Trek movie (it doesn't come out until next spring!), sci-fi fever is running rampant in our home. James pulled out two of his large Star Trek ship models, and now Colin loves to fly the Enterprise around our house. That would be cute enough, but of course our little guy takes it that one step further to make it adorable. James has shown him one or two scenes from Star Trek movies, and so Colin now reenacts these scenes, complete with soundtrack. That's right, my little three-year-old runs around the house, taking the ship to "warp speed" and singing the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" theme song in all its movie-score varieties. Priceless.

***

I took Caleb grocery shopping yesterday. This is something I never do, because wrangling children while shopping is not something I wish to battle through. Nonetheless, there we were. I struggled to get him into the cart, then pushed my way over to the produce section. As I turned the cart, Caleb's eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. A smile spread wide across his face as he took in his surroundings. I could almost hear the words forming in his mind: "What is this place, this heavenly place where food piles up in glorious mountains of deliciousness all around me?!" As I navigated through the fruits and vegetables, he stretched his little arm as far as it would reach, desperate to get his fingers on some of this wonderful food. He was like a kid in a candy store. Or rather, a kid in a grocery store...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Sexy

Flipping through the Sears wishbook today, trying to get ideas to go on my Christmas list. First of all, finding it very difficult to come up with ideas. I have lots of things already, do I really need a whole bunch more? As I flip I come to the women's clothing section. I'm impressed that most of the models are actually wearing clothes that cover their bodies. The style this year seems to be layers and length, which is nice to see. One model is wearing long shorts, tall boots and a shirt that ends above her belly button, and I wonder who on earth wears this during winter?

Flip, flip, flip. I start to notice a trend. Model #1 seems to be saying "Look how sexy I am in my evening gown!" Alright, evening gowns are supposed to be stunning and alluring. Model #2: "Look how sexy I am in my tight sweater." The sweater, previously designed for warmth, has evolved with fashion to also be enticing. Model #3: "Look how sexy I am in my jeans and t-shirt." Sorry? Aren't jeans and a t-shirt the epitome of casual, laid-back, lying around the house outfits? Model #4: "Look how sexy I am in my oversized, large winter jacket." Now I'm really confused. Was I supposed to buy my winter jacket based on its sexiness quotient, rather than the ultimate, warm, covers-me-all-over model? Model #5: "Look how sexy I am in my very, very short dress with low cut neck and short sleeves." I'm sorry, I forgot to check over my shoulder out the window, but it's still winter, right? Model #6: "Look how sexy I am in my pant suit and dress shirt." What job do you have that requires you to give that "Look how sexy I am" look? Model #7: "Look how sexy I am in my belted sweater, arm "leggings" and old tights, a look inspired by the hobo." The outfit looks terrible, and the face still says sexy.

I'm appalled by the catalogue. I didn't even get to the lingerie, and every single outfit I saw was selling sexiness. Somehow this is the only criteria for buying an item of clothing. How can we wonder why young girls wear what they do, act the way they do, and portray themselves as sex objects toward boys? I would hope there was no woman on the advertising team that created this catalogue, and yet I know that is untrue. Women are all over the advertising industry, and they are only abetting the scenario. Even the young girl models, under 10 years old, display their clothing with sass - not quite sexiness, but the underlying message is the same.

Looking good, being well-groomed, and wearing clothes that fit nicely are far cries from the need to look sexy in every outfit. And yet, somehow and too often we fall victim to the marketing schemes and need for approval that plagues so many of us women.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

He'll Carry You

He knows your heart
He knows your pain
He knows the strength it took just to simply breathe today
He sees the tears that you cry
He knows your soul is aching to know why.

He hears your prayers, each humble word
When you said you couldn't face another day He understood
He knows the path when you walk blind
Though you've felt alone He's never left your side.

He knew there'd be moments when no earthly words could take away your sorrow
And no human eyes could see what you're going through
When you've taken your last step and done all that you can do
He will lift your heavy load and carry you.

He'll bring you peace and leave you hope
And in the darkest night He'll comfort you until you know
the sun will rise
And each new day
You will have the strength to live again.

And in the moments when no earthly words can take away your sorrow
And no human eyes can see what you're going through
When you've taken your last step and done all that you can do
He will lift your heavy load and carry you.

He hears you
when you're crying in the night
He hears you
when your soul longs to fight
'Til the morning will come
and the light of the dawn reassures-

That in the moments when no earthly words can take away your sorrow
And no human eyes can see what you're going through
When you've taken your last step and done all that you can do
He will lift your heavy load and carry you.

- Hilary Weeks

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Freedom of Speech

This is an interesting yet difficult entry to write. I am amazed sometimes at the audacity of the claim that North Americans hold to regarding freedom of speech.

Last month James and I saw an interesting documentary called "Expelled", regarding the theory of Intelligent Design in the world of science. The basic idea is that the genesis of all life was begun by some sort of creator. The community does not necessarily saw "God", but simply that the very first spark of whatever needed some sort of designer to put it there. Even evolutionists cannot agree on how that very first spark of cell could have appeared. The documentary explores the suppression of this theory in the scientific community, and how professors and researchers are having their careers ruined by even considering the idea. It is not an argument about the theory of evolution, it is an exploration on freedom of speech and expression.

This past US election gave birth to a new controversy regarding freedom of speech. You likely have heard about Proposition 8, which asked Californian voters their thought on the definition of marriage. By a slim margin (about the same that Barack Obama won the Presidency), the Proposition was passed, defining traditional marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Many religious voters organized themselves to campaign for this proposition, expressing their personal beliefs in traditional marriage. Likewise, many people campaigned against the proposition also. Now, after it passed through the fair and long-standing way of voting, people are rioting against communities who voted for it. What I'm specifically referring to are the acts of defacement, destruction, and threatening against members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church has pulled out thousand of volunteer missionaries, fearing for their safety. Religious church buildings and temples have been seriously vandalized. People attending the churches have been warned: "Let this be a warning to the Mormon church: Dissolve completely or be destroyed."

I believe opponents of Proposition 8 have every right to express their feelings on the subject, but I am in awe that they feel these tactics are justified. I think this quote sums up exactly my feelings on the subject: "To place anyone in fear of threat to their houses of worship or their personal security because they have expressed deeply held religious views is contrary to everything this nation represents."

Sometimes I think Western countries sit on high horses, staring down their noses at countries who put others' lives in jeopardy for expressing their beliefs. Just last week there was another attack on girls in Afghanistan trying to go to school. The acts were condemned by the West, and I doubt you could find many people in North America who would agree with the perpetrator's actions. And yet....

This isn't a journal entry on whether or not Proposition 8 should have been passed or not. This is about the freedom to vote according to your conscious, and not to live in fear because of your beliefs.

It will be interesting to look back on history 100 years from now and see how "archaic" our lives today seem. I think back to the mid-1800s in the US when an extermination order was issued against people of the Church of Jesus Christ (the Mormons). An extermination order. I would hope and pray something like that wouldn't come about today, but it seems, according to some (small, marginal) groups, that the warning "dissolve completely or be destroyed" is not that far away.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

A small victory

Last night, Caleb slept! That's right, we may finally be turning a corner.

He slept from 7:30-10:30, drank a bottle of milk, and then slept through until 6am! At which point he nursed a little and is still sleeping...and it's already 7am! So that means that this morning I was able to pray, shower, dress, eat, check email and start this blog all without little bambinos at my feet.

What is different? Well, a couple of things.

First of all, we've had some light shed on Caleb's personality that likely is the reason for much of his sleeplessness so far...he has a wicked temper! I have never seen the like in a baby. When he doesn't get what he wants immediately, he screams, kicks, hits, flails on the ground, and throws anything he can get his hands on. We regularly find his soothers clear across the room. The other day he actually picked up the laptop and tossed it when I closed it up so he couldn't touch it. Before you think it, we don't spoil him by giving in to his every whim. As much as you can help a one year old learn that screaming doesn't get you everything, we are trying to teach that. Because he hates to be alone, when he wakes and finds he's by himself, that temper boils over and the screaming begins.

I've also realized that he nurses when he's scared. Yesterday I had some friends and their kids over, and the house was full and boisterous. Whenever the noise level peaked, Caleb clung to me to nurse. So all those nights when he wakes up alone and needs to be calmed down, he wants to nurse.

The last few days he's started to give up morning naps, which I will sorely miss, but would trade anytime for a good night's sleep.

The last thing we've started to do is let him sleep. Up until this point we've been waking him around 10pm (on those very few nights when he didn't wake at 10pm on his own) to give him a night feed, hoping it would help him sleep through. Then the other week it occurred to me that perhaps by waking him we are interrupting a natural sleep cycle. So even though it meant likely waking just after I'd fallen asleep at 11 or 12, I let him go. Two nights ago this method produced his first six hour sleep at home (from 7pm to 1am). Then he woke at 1am, 3am, 5am, 6am and 7am, but at least he got that six hour stretch.

And so, last night, he slept through. It's impossible to know why, if it was something we did, or if his body finally kicked into sleeping gear, but whatever the reason, I'm so grateful. Two days of showering, two days of breakfast by myself, and yesterday was the first day in a long time when there was an air of peace lingering in the home.

One small step for baby, one large step for family and mom's sanity.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A simple testimony

Something different about the church I attend is that we don't have a preacher, per se. Not in the same way as other Christian churches, who have one (or a couple) designated persons who preach the Sunday sermon each week. Instead, all the members of the congregation take turns teaching each other, with 2 or 3 speakers sharing the sermon time.

Yes, this means that everyone will likely speak at least once during the year. The topic is assigned by our Bishop (at the head of the congregation), and usually you have 10-20 minutes to fill. So although not everyone is a powerful orator, and each speaker is at a different point in their spiritual journey, we realize that we can all learn from each other. Even the teens take a turn (although they usually only speak for 5-10 minutes).

Yes, it can be very scary. Standing up in front of 150 people to speak about such a personal subject can be daunting. But the experience is also humbling and revealing. And the person who inevitably gets the most out of the sermon that day is...you!

Some weeks I struggle to stay focused, as someone reads monotonously from a novel of typed pages. Other weeks we are in stitches as a father shares stories he learned as a dad. Some Sundays are deep in doctrine as someone who has made a career of studying the scriptures shares what he knows. Some Sundays are profound in their simplicity. Today at church we had a beautiful example of simplicity.

An elderly woman sat poised her chair in the front of the chapel. Her smile was there, but there were slight trembles at the corners. She surveyed us all as the meeting was opened in song and prayer. When it came to her time, she slowly rose and made her way to the podium. Her trembling hands placed sheets of paper in front of her and she looked out upon her audience. "This is my first talk in front of you all," she confessed in halting English, layered thickly in a Polish accent. She then began to deliver the words she had prepared on the most simple subject taught by our Lord: charity. The concepts she spoke of were not complex, and the scriptures she quoted were short. A minute in, her eyes began to tear as her trembling voice tried desperately to get through. "I'm so scared, I have such stage fright" she interjected, then continued. Her fingers reached for a tissue. And yet she persevered. When all her reserves of courage finally gave out, she stopped mid-thought and pronounced "I think that is all, now." She quietly made her way back to her seat. Even though the ordeal was over, I think it was likely her heart still pounded in her ears.

I was taught much today. God's message is one of beautiful simplicity. Charity: the pure love of Christ. All the rest is ornamental; it is this one virtue for which I must strive, for without it I am nothing.

I also remembered that I must rise to the occasion to which I am called by God. I pray not for a task equal to my ability, but an ability equal to my task.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

My new gadget

For my birthday, I asked for a FoodSaver preserver. It's a great little machine that sucks the air out of packaging so that the food you freeze remains preserved much longer. Even though I got it about a month ago, I finally was able to pull it out the other night to try it out on three family bulk size chicken breast trays I got on sale.

It works FANTASTICALLY!

I LOVE IT!

There I was at 9-o-clock at night, snipping off bags from the roll, seal one end, filling the bag with chicken, and then vacuum sealing the other end. I labeled each back with contents and date, and popped it in the freezer.

This new gadget, along with my new canning equipment will be put to much use next summer, as I hopefully start shopping a lot more at local farms, and buying up in bulk to preserve for the winter.

Yes, I am aware how crazy this sounds, since I have at least 5 major grocery stores within 5 minutes of my house. Yes, I am aware how time-consuming of a task it will be. And yes, I am aware how much tastier fresh farm food is, and how much better it is for us, knowing the grower and the exact process of how my food came to my dinner plate. A friend looked at me a little crazy the other day when I mentioned my new plan. But then I said: well, what else do I have on my plate? Seriously - I don't work outside the home; I'm home every day with my kids. I'm sure I could find one day a week throughout the summer that I could spend preserving food.

I'm hoping it will become a little bit of a friend and family event. This year I canned pears with a friend, and we had a blast (and her husband was very grateful he wasn't the one who had to help her peel bushels of pears!). The images hearken back to a day when members of a family sat out on the front porch peeling potatoes, mothers and daughters baked up pies in the summer kitchen, or church friends gathered to pick strawberries and boil them down into jam. Now that's community!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Work

Work. Job. Career. These three words have evolved to have very different meanings over the thousands of years of human life.

"Work" implies getting something done. The very basic of the idea, a task, perhaps menial, perhaps enjoyable. These days often termed as a "dirty four letter word".

"Job" is the next step up from work, a place where you go to earn money. It is often neither enjoyable or passionate, but it "pays the bills."

"Career" insinuates formal training, personal interest, climbing the corporate ladder, investing your time. Many people feel defined by their career and display a certain amount of pride in their chosen field.

Ultimately, though, all three things boil down to fulfill the same thing: the basic needs of life. Whether I'm doing work, performing a job or fulfilling a career, I am earning money to put a shelter over my head, clothes on my back and food in my tummy.

This thought has made me pause and consider the lifestyle our culture has come to embrace. Many people go out and spend 40+ hours a week earning money to buy these necessities. Doesn't that seem like an unnecessary middle step to you? First you spend the time working, then you spend the time in the stores buying, then you spend the time fixing and cleaning the home. What if we simply worked for the necessities in the first place?

I know, I know - completely archaic, right? I mean, our ancestors did that for thousands of years - thank goodness we have our modern conveniences that free up our time to enjoy pleasure and leisure.

Free time?

When was the last time you actually had "free time"? If you look back to "primitive" people's lives, it is thought they spent somewhere between 2-5 hours a day collecting and preparing food. Their simple dwellings were built by their own hands, completed within months (if it took that long). General tidying and upkeep went fairly quickly - even I could keep two or three rooms clean. Sewing became a skill they were so adept at that a roll of material could be turned into a dress, a pair of pants, a shirt, in a day or two. Granted, the material needed to be purchased, as did a handful of other things, but those people realized that direct trade was much more efficient than first working for money, then going out to spend that money.

I wonder then what my life would look like today if our family relied on these "primitive principles"? (Okay - I realize first I'd have to buy a little land, and endow myself with years of experience my family does not currently have. But after that...)

James would not commute an hour and a half into the city for his company. Work would begin right here in our own home and on our own land. Most of our time would be spent in the area of food - planting, harvesting, preserving. In order to "purchase" those extra items needed, we would like trade our famous family berry pie, or perhaps a music lesson or two. Maybe James is enlisted to perform at the local Christmas concert, or I help in the neighbours' children's school studies. No, we couldn't trade these skills for a widescreen television or a computer, but I think the community socials, neighbourhood gatherings, and family nights would fill what I could indeed call "free time".

I'm not working on a time-machine, here. In fact, quite the opposite. I think this could be a movement of the future, where jobs like "telemarketer" don't exist, and where essential careers like "doctor" are supported by the community. Then we could work 20 hours a week side by side with our family, instead of spending 20 minutes with the kids before we tuck them into bed at night. Our kids might learn the value of work and actually leave home before the age of 30. We would be satisfied with less, because that "less" was wrought with our own hands. And we might finally have some free time on our hands, to do with as we please.

Let it snow

Usually I can't stand winter. It's cold, wet, takes an eternity to get kids ready and out the door, and difficult to walk anywhere pushing a stroller over unplowed sidewalks. Did I mention it's cold?

But winter came early this year. Saturday night we were buried under a foot of snow, catching everyone by surprise. Many of our trees still had leaves on them. The snow was so thick and heavy that it is still resting six inches thick on the tree branches.

It's an absolute winter wonderland.

Softly falling flakes have been coming down on and off for the past few days. One minute the sky is a beautiful bright blue and the next we are in our own little snowglobe. Last night the snowflakes were so large and falling so slowly that I stood for a few minutes in the grocery store parking lot staring up into the midnight sky, in absolute awe of the beauty. The contrast of dark wood and ivory snow have illuminated the abundance of trees in Orangeville, making every drive nearly like a "picture print by Currier and Ives".

We usually hold off until December to decorate for the Christmas season, but nature has set the pace for us all - how can we not revel in the glow of Christmas lights, the scent of candles, and the green hues of garlands when outside our windows are a blanket of snow?

And so I say...let it snow! Let the warmth of the holiday season banish the chill of winter winds. Let it snow!

Monday, 17 November 2008

New toys!

Today I saw the fruits of a great mom trick I heard a while back. The growing trend of children's inability to focus and concentrate is sometimes linked to the toy overload in our houses. With hundreds of different options, kids bounce from one thing to the next, never stopping to really explore and enjoy one specific toy.

I like to cull our toy collection often. There are some that are favourites, some that hold a certain appeal, and some that just don't seem to attract my kids. I pass these neglected toys onto friends or Goodwill stores, hoping that some other child will find pleasure in them.

And yet, even after a good purge, I found the toy room still cluttered and bursting. So I bought four Rubbermaid bins, and started sorting. I set out the larger items against one wall of the room. I put all the cars into a bucket. I found all the pieces to toy sets and collected them in a pile. Then I started filing my bins, with a good variety of large toys, small toys, cars and toy sets. Once this was done, I lined up three bins in the play room, and put one bin into the basement.

That was six months ago. This morning, I did another clean of the playroom, tidied all the toys into the three bins, then swapped out one of the bins for the one downstairs. It was like Christmas morning for the boys! Toys that had gone unused in days gone by were suddenly being rediscovered. Fresh delight filled their faces as they dug through the new bin. You know what? They didn't ever realize some of their other toys had mysteriously disappeared!

This is a practice I will definitely keep up. My plan is to rotate every 2-3 months (it was only 6 months this time because the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" bin in the basement went forgotten for that long!). Be sure when you choose toys to "disappear", they aren't the current favourites, or you might be found out. But this toy tip worked like a charm for us.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Community

"It's no secret that we, as a society, have been losing the traceability not only of our food, but of every aspect of our lives. On any given day, chances are high I will have no idea what phase the moon is in. I cannot reliably list my brothers' birthdays, and I regularly use products that work according to principles that I cannot explain. I suspect I will go through life without meeting any of the people who make my shoes, or even seeing the factories where those shoemakers work. Like many people, Alisa and I have lost all trace of our traceability to community. We've lived five years in the same crappy apartment block, where the rent rises yearly while wages continue to flatline. We've never met the owner of the building, and we know none of our neighbours by name." (J.B. MacKinnon, "The 100-Mile Diet)


Community. We practically live on top of each other in our neat little suburban subdivisions, and literally on top of each other in the sprouting city condos. And yet we are less familiar (and often strangers) with our neighbours, our land, our city officials, our schools and our markets than the settlers of a hundred years ago who had to walk miles to their "next-door neighbour".

Is anyone else feeling the loneliness of today? It might be in large part due to the busyness we get ourselves into. Whatever happened to simple gatherings? Days when neighbourhood children would roam from backyard to backyard, tasting homemade treats and playing hide and go seek? Whatever happened to lazy Sunday afternoon picnics, or weekend barbecues, or just "stopping in" for a visit and a chat. We are notably called "bedroom communities" now, because most people spend their time home inside.

I've noticed a trend (or maybe it's always been a trend) of returning to the beloved books like "Little House on the Prairie" or "Anne of Green Gables" and the like. Our hearts are longing for those simpler times, when connections were electrified by daily encounters with friends. A time when life rolled by, and when you checked up on your neighbour instead of the stock market. I'm not blind to the problems they had back then (I wouldn't give up my flush toilet and hot shower!), and of course literature often preserves the ideals and dreams of the author. But I can see, feel something missing in our lives today, a new phenomenon we are creating that has never existed in any culture I think in all of existence.

So to all who know me, and are local (or not) - my door is always open. Drop in without calling, stop by for lunch or afternoon tea. Bring your kids - we've got a yard, they've got their imaginations, and we have all the time in the world.

Garden food

"If you wish to truly make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." (Carl E. Sagan)
I am deep-down, dug-in, diving fast into a new book: "The 100-mile diet". The story chronicles the adventures of a husband and wife as they try to spend a year eating only food local to their dwelling. A quick review would include words like "witty," "fresh," and "honest." Their writing style is only the icing on the cake, however. Their adventures are inspiring.

I am guilty of what most people in North America are guilty of: a very narrow variety in diet. I might spice them up or vary the sauce or change the method of cooking, but generally we eat a steady diet of (vegetables): potatoes, carrots, broccoli, corn, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes and a little squash. Certainly nothing exotic or unpronounceable, and I don't think I've ever bought something at the market I hadn't heard of before. What I find amazing is that authors Smith and MacKinnon are the types to have a wide-reaching diet, and yet day after day of their experiment they came across new, unheard of foods (mostly plants).

Although it is not my desire to take such a drastic change in our own grocery list, my interest in gardening has been tweaked again. I am excited to get down and dirty in my own backyard, sow and reap the food I find on my plate, taste the delectable difference of fresh-from-the-garden food. I'm also excited to branch out a little next year in food shopping, making a better habit to shop at the farmer's market, and also to visit local farms directly. This year the summer passed as a busy time for the business, which meant most days I was with both kids and without a car. Next year, the car issue will likely be solved. And the kid issue, well, I've decided that if I can't take them along, then I will stimulate the local Orangeville economy by hiring a babysitter. It's worth the $10 or $15 - I am seeing that now.

I'll leave you with one more inspiring passage from the book - food for thought (I couldn't resist!)

"My fresh market salad was different. It was human scale. I could relate each item not only to its place but to its specific farm and to the faces of those farmers. Greens from the Landley Organic Growers; eggs from the Forstbauer family farm; garlic scapes from a shy man named Albert. The foods that overflowed our big glass bowl were not only the flavours of spring, but of this particular spring, this unique year with its hard rain and rare glory of sun."

Lima beans

Last night for dinner (after I started a recipe and misjudged the preparation time) I made pizza and homemade french fries. For Caleb I also cooked up some frozen mixed vegetables.

Colin looked longingly at the bowl of veggies. "Mommy, could I please have some vegetables?"
Like he has to ask twice. I scooped a good helping onto his plate. He rummaged through the pile and found what he was looking for...one lone lima bean, as though it were a Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.

"Mommy - look! A lima bean! I got a bean, Mommy! Oh, it's my favourite!"

He held the precious find for a moment and then savoured the flavour as he popped it in his mouth. He then proceeded to clean his plate of the vegetables. James ended up with Colin's french fries, and the pizza went untouched back into the fridge. I love it.

Caleb, on the other hand, felt the only useful purpose of his pile of vegetables was target practice on the floor.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Houses and homes

"There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing then they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cow-birds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveler with their chattering and unmusical notes." (Henry David Thoreau)
I have always been fascinated with the idea of building homes. Other than raising your own food, building your own home fills life's most basic needs. I've often watched houses being built, observing each stage as the house slowly reveals itself. Have you ever walked the aisles of a building centre and noticed that there really aren't that many different sizes of pieces of wood? It would seem to me that it's just a matter of learning which pieces go where, like solving a puzzle. Constructing a modest, simple home cannot be beyond the average person, as average people regularly built their own dwellings for thousands of years.

In fact, my grandfather, father and uncles built the house my grandparents moved into for retirement. It is simple, but beautiful, and everything my grandmother wanted. When many people hear of someone "building their own house", it often means something nearly palatial, and custom designed and built by a company. The way I see it, the more space you have, the more area there is for family members to spread out. A big house is there perfect way for everyone to be home and never see each other.

A few years back I had signed up with Habitat for Humanity to assist in the construction of homes in Toronto. Two weeks later I found out I was pregnant with Colin, and so was unable to work with the organization, but one day I hope to volunteer again.

Last week I saw advertised in a Home Hardware flyer a cottage. That's right, an entire cottage. They supplied all the materials necessary to build one of two or three designs. I figure if they are advertising it in a flyer, it can't be beyond the average woman!

What a dream fulfilled it would be to one day build my own home. Every day I would lay down to sleep surrounded by the walls I built with my own hands, and perhaps sing with a little more poetry in my voice.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Wintery, blustery day

Last Monday we walked to Kinderclub, it was 18 degrees Celsius and we ditched our coats.
This Monday we walked to Kinderclub with snow on the ground, snow falling from the sky, and bundled in long johns, snowsuits, hats, mitts, boots, scarves and blankets.

Only in Canada.

Walking was a last minute event this morning, as James had to run out to work to fill in for a sick employee. So with only 20 minutes until class and a 20 minute walk ahead of us, I raced around to dress everyone. But the surprise of walking took me off guard, and we hadn't had a chance to "practice" the snowsuit yet, which is really important for Colin. He has a difficult time with change, and really needs some advance notice for things like this. After struggling and arguing for 10 minutes, I finally gave up on the hat and mittens and plopped him into the stroller. Off we went, the wind making tears streak down my face and my nose snuggled into my scarf. As we walked, and as each extremity of Colin's froze, he quietly asked for each additional winter item, first hat, then mittens, then finally for me to do up his jacket.

My heart ached for him, though. It really is tough on him, and when we arrived at his nursery school the stress of the morning caught up with him and he threw his arms around me, bursting into tears. I often get so caught up in our schedule that I forget how easily I could toss it aside. Really, what difference would it have made if we skipped class today? He absolutely loves going, it's true, but my adult watch-wearing, clock-watching, time-keeping habits certainly aren't necessary in a child's life. I think I need to take a page from my kids' book, toss the clocks and live life moment for moment.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Happy Birthday

Can a year have passed so quickly? Caleb is celebrating his first birthday today. A baby grows so rapidly during his first year, changing more than he ever will again.

Caleb is a joy in our lives. He runs around the house as fast as his little legs will take him. Once he discovered walking, there was no way he was going back to crawling on all fours. He loves cars, and drives them all over the floor, making a little "drrrrr" engine noise as he goes. He is understanding a few words now: "ball" was the first (about a month ago), and will happily find his ball for anyone willing to play with him. And he's got a heck of an arm on him, easily launching the ball across the room. He also knows the word "kiss", and turns his whole open smile to you, leaning in for an open-mouthed kiss if you ask. He has a good temper on him, and has mastered the art of crying and screaming when he is unhappy with the situation. He doesn't sit still for a second, and is constantly roaming and exploring his surroundings. There is little fear in him, and has no qualms about climbing, turning, digging, or doing anything he sets his mind to. And he's as smart as they come. It took less than 2 minutes with each childproofing device to figure it out. He sees something once and understands how it works. He's very strong, and holds his own against Colin, despite his age and size. If you take something from him, he'll likely charge you and get it back. He's a mama's boy through and through, and is rarely happy with anyone else if I'm in eyeshot. He loves to nurse and is showing no sign of self-weaning yet. In fact, he nurses on average between 10 and 12 times a day! I'm sure this has something to do with his affinity for me. He loves food. He has a sixth sense for food, even if it's covered, wrapped, or hidden. He trains his eye on it and there's no distracting him until he obtains the golden prize. Most of all, he has the most joy-filled smile, big apple cheeks and sparkling eyes that make your heart melt.

He's my little guy, and he's a whole year old today. How time flies by you before you even know.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Family Tree

The old nature and nurture question has been brewing in my mind today.

I have many different friends, all with different views on life, ways to build a home and raise their family. They have different ideas on faith, how we got here and where we're going. I love to get a glimpse into their lives and see who they are and what they are becoming. Most of all I love to see the gentle evolution of self. As they learn and grow and read and ponder, each one is developing new ideas to incorporate into how they spend each day of this life they have been given.

I see in them qualities I admire. I see the battles I fight daily that they seem to have already won. I see concepts they are grasping and planting deep within, and often wish I had the same root.

I see homes that are fun, homes that are peaceful, homes that are creative, homes that are educational, homes that are always busy and homes that retreat into family life. Of course most of them are balanced, but each family has a particular characteristic that emerges as a sort of defining element. I wonder how my family is seen, not out of fear of being judged or of not measuring up, but more out of curiosity and clarity. Amid my whirlwind, what is rising to the surface? I find it impossible to wade through the chaos to look in from the outside and see.

Are nature (parental genetic code) and nurture (parental influence) the only influences? Both of these have a large parental aspect, which seems to leave out both individual personality and evolving growth. Can I ever integrate a new quality that I see in another friend or family? Or are the influencing factors of nature and nurture simply too strong to ever accommodate a more drastic change of direction? Will I only ever be able to achieve an imitation of the deep-seeded natural characteristics I admire?

Can I ever have a home with more peace, with a family of first-born, out-going, natural-born leaders? Or am I fighting a losing battle, and should simply embrace the chaos and energy and spend my time channeling it?

How much do we really change from our long family line? If history doesn't repeat itself, I've certainly heard that it rhymes. Will I one day meet a family in my ancestry who seems just like a reflection in a mirror?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

New music

I'm learning to play the flute. For the longest time I've been wanting to learn an instrument that would be more portable than the piano. I played the clarinet for years, but I really wanted to learn something practical like the guitar (great for camping), or sweeping beauty like the violin, or delicate like the flute.

Well, a friend of mine mentioned she has two flutes, and graciously loaned one to me. And I am loving it!

The most difficult part is mastering how to blow air across the flute. My friend will drop in next week to pass on some advice, however it's really going to be just a matter of practice. Thankfully the fingering is close to the clarinet, so it didn't take long for me to pick that up. And because I already play the piano and clarinet, and have basic trumpet and saxophone, adding another instrument is easier than it sounds.

That being said, just to pat my own back a little, I was able to play a few songs during that first half hour of practice! And now after four days (I get about 10-15 minutes a day to practice) I actually have been through 15 or 20 different songs! Now, they aren't all perfect, but they all do sound recognizable. My dad walked in the other day (not knowing about my new instrument) and thought I had a friend over practicing a flute/piano duet (with me obviously on piano!).

I am glad that it did come so easy, however. Between the previous few moments of time to practice, and my natural weakness to give up on anything that doesn't come quickly (a character flaw common to most gifted learners, I've recently learned), I think if I wasn't getting any sound out of the thing yet I might not be as motivated to continue.

I hope to perform for a music number at church sometime in the future (that will still be a while away!), but for now I'm just absolutely loving the floating melodies filling the air.

Guilty Pleasures

It's that time of year when the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
"Merry Christmas, may your New Year Dreams come true!"
And this old rhyme in 3/4 time
Wishes you and yours
The same thing too.

Christmas is my favourite time of year. There's just something about the snow and the music and the light step in people's gait. There's the time spent with loved ones and the bounteous tables of food and the aromas of holiday baking.

I love the memories of Christmases past - decades past - of sleigh rides and Christmas balls with waltzes and long elegant red coats trimmed with white fur.

And there's the decorations.

I love to roam the stores and peruse the catalogues to take in the Christmas decorations. I love the bows and lights and wreaths and trees. I love the Christmas dish sets and table decor. I love candles burning and holly and mistletoe.

I see the displays and flip through the pages and just wish that I could buy it all up and deck the house from top to bottom. I wish I could host dinner parties and music concerts and Christmas celebrations and do it all in style. I know that I could hold all these events surrounded by family and friends and miss nothing of the joy it would bring by missing the abundance of decorations. But they're so pretty!

It would be a guilty pleasure of mine to buy up these decorations by the bagful. "Guilty" because I'm in this place right now where I'm learning the difference between need and want, and much about the great needs (not wants) around the world and even in my own city. My new motto of simplicity twinges me with guilt when I think about indulging in this pleasure, especially since it's only for one month of the year.

And yet...wouldn't it be beautiful, even if only for a short time...

Monday, 3 November 2008

Go hug your children

This week, two good friends have shared very personal and very scary stories with me about events their children underwent. One friend's son is 17 years old, and upon hearing her story I came home and cherished the ages of my kids right now, that although there is a big world out there, for the time being they are under my protection most of the day. The other child is Colin's age, and all I wanted to do was go wake up Colin and give hold him all night. It was 10pm and I wasn't about to actually wake him up, but I longed to envelop him in my arms.

But our kids are so often in tune with what we need. Colin has only woken up in the night a handful of times since he was an infant. But last night within half an hour of hearing my friend's story and me raising my need to hold him to the heavens, I heard this tiny voice calling my name. "Mommy? Are you there? I need a hug."

I rushed into Colin's room and scooped him up, pressing my cheek against his and breathing his smell in deeply. In no time at all he snuggled back into bed, with no fuss. 6 hours later, at four in the morning, that little voice woke me from my slumber. "Mommy? Daddy? Are you there?" James went in this time, but nothing would settle Colin. Eventually he crept into bed with James and I, something he's only done once before. "I just want to hug you, Mommy," he whispered as he cuddled up between us and drifted off to sleep.

***

Thank you, Lord, for your ever watchful eye over us.
Help me remember that you are Lord over the Storm.
Call me back to you, and shelter my trembling body
and weakening belief.
Fill me with faith to wash away my doubt.
I feel only peace when I am hidden in the shadow of your wings.
I am yours.



***

"At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you."
(John 14:20)

***

"Under His wings, O what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life's trials are o'er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me;
Resting in Jesus I'm safe evermore
(William Cushing, "Under His Wings I Am Safely Abiding)

Friday, 31 October 2008

Hallowe'en

An interesting day today. The weather is beautiful out - blue sky, shining sun, and warm enough to toss the jacket. It's Hallowe'en and there are a ton of different fun things we could have done today. Could have done.

Unfortunately, we lost out entire morning to an orange. An orange! The morning started out well enough as the boys knowingly awoke just as James was pulling out of the driveway. Breakfast was uneventful, and Colin even asked to get dressed (clothes are a daily battle in our home). I threw on a movie for Colin while I put Caleb down for his morning nap (he'd been up early) and then came down to grab a quick 20 minute nap while Colin's movie finished. I had just lied down when Colin asked for an orange (clementine). I peeled and sectioned it, put it in a container and lied back down. 10 minutes later Colin told me to go get him another orange. Anticipating this, I had put an extra one on the table within his reach. I told him to bring it to me.

He burst into tears and yelled at me to go get it. I insisted he bring it to me. And so back and forth and back and forth we went. I'm trying to help him learn to do some more things on his own, and also that demanding I do anything will result in nothing.

He screamed and yelled and cried for half an hour. When I was done my "nap", I went to get myself a snack, and so I offered to peel the orange at the table.

Colin burst into tears. He didn't want me to peel it in the kitchen, but in the living room. He took the prepared orange slices and tossed them at the fridge. He cried for another half an hour. Caleb woke up and I went to get him. I offered to take the boys out somewhere. But Colin was fixated on this orange thing!

Still crying, Colin then picked up the slices and placed them at James' seat at the table. "That's Daddy's orange. Make me a new one." So back and forth we went about how the orange would dry up if left there, how it was perfectly fine for him to eat, and how he cannot demand anything of me. He cried for another half an hour, demanding a new orange.

Then I ate "Daddy's orange." More screaming, yelling and tears. I got Caleb dressed and pronounced us ready to go out, if Colin chose. Distracted just long enough, the waterworks ceased. Colin asked politely for an orange. I graciously gave him one.

Two hours we lost to the orange. All morning, essentially. We sang some songs and played some games and soon enough it was lunch time. And the gorgeous day laid to waste.

***

Tonight we are taking Colin trick-or-treating, although I think his excitement is really only stemming from ours. He's going as a firefighter, thank goodness. For the month leading up, the only thing he wanted to be was "Thomas the Tank Engine", and I'm not that good with crafts! But he saw this costume in the store and got really excited, so I snatched it up. It's a size 8, but I just cut the coat to fit him, and he's happy as a lark. Caleb is going as...nothing. We borrowed a costume when Colin was 1. Several times I had really cute costumes in my hand to buy for Caleb (a pumpkin, a caterpillar, Tigger), but each time I realized that dressing up a one year old is really only for the parents, and there was no need to spend the money. So although we'll all go out tonight, Colin will be the only one dressed up. We'll only go out for a block or two, but it's amazing the haul young toddlers can get! For some reason people see a cute two year old and think he needs a whole handful of candy rather than just one piece!

***

Postscript - once the boys got up from a good long nap, their humours were much better. We had a fantastic 30 minute outside, where Caleb spent the whole time trying to sweep leaves and a reluctant Colin got excited about a new toy I'm building him. It's incomplete, (there are houses and a fire station and an airport, plus sides and legs for the table!) but he loved it anyway.


Sleep

Sleep is a word that has not been in our vocabulary this past year. We've struggled since day one with trying to get Caleb to sleep well, which of course would result in me sleeping well. And more than just trying to get enough sleep to be able to function, a lack of sleep in Caleb also makes him very temperamental, prone to crying fits and being generally unhappy. Those few times when his smile and laughter break out, he's such a joy. But all too often he is suffering in more ways than one because of his lack of sleep.

We've been working on this since birth. I've read countless sleep books, surfed websites, talked with our doctor and even a baby sleep specialist. None of these resources were able to help us with why Caleb has difficulty sleeping, which makes it especially hard to fix the problem!

Finally, however, I stumbled across one small paragraph in yet another book about sleep that seems to pinpoint his troubles precisely:

Issue: He hasn't learned how to fall back asleep on his own
Solution: Babies with poorer self soothing skills and more challenging temperaments may tend to wake up when they enter periods of light sleep. These transitions occur about once every 60 minutes. That's a lot of opportunities for a baby to wake up each night. If there's anything else that disturbs them as they make this transition - hunger, noise, cold, wetness - it's game over in terms of baby's sleep and yours.


Four things:

1. Finally seeing something about temperament included was a relief. I always thought this was a big part of the problem, and seeing it acknowledged felt like I was finally getting somewhere. Caleb is easily frustrated and hates being ignored or put down during the day - add the frustration of being woken up and it's a nightmare!

2. The 60-minute sleep cycle makes perfect sense. Caleb's daytime naps were always only one hour. But after a little bit he'd be super-cranky again. Now when he wakes after the hour I just put him back down and he gets the second hour that he really needs. His night wakings are also always on the hour (ie: if he goes to bed at 7:30pm, he usually wakes at 10:30pm)

3. The "conditions" aspect finally explains why he sleeps through the night at my parents but is constantly waking here. They live further out in the country, in a completely quiet neighbourhood, where he sleeps in a dark room with well-controlled heat. Here there are cars that drive by through the night, plus the vent to his room is shared with Colin's room, so noise travels easier. There is no return in his room so the temperature is difficult to control. He also hates a wet diaper during the day, insisting on being changed as soon as he wets it, and often is woken by a wet diaper at night.

4. I was not pleased to read this paragraph and find out that their conclusion to the solution was "game over". What kind of an answer is that?! Too bad, so sad, nothing you can do. Well, I guess it's true. The answer is to do the best we can to control what we can and hope for the best.

Although nothing is really solved, per se, it's at least nice to have some answers. I also found some ideas on how to break Caleb of the habit of needing to nurse to fall asleep. That, of course, is my own doing in resorting to feeding to calm him down. Unfortunately, because of his temperament and how easily his senses are stimulated by sound (singing, shushing), sight (someone in the room), smell (milk), and touch (being held, rocking, rubbing his back), nursing is the only thing that actually calms him down, whereas all these other things only wake him up more.

And so, our days and nights go on. We pray for sleep to come soon, as Caleb grows and hopefully outgrows some of these habits. I keep reminding myself that one day he'll be a teenage boy who we won't be able to drag from bed at noon. One day.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy

I love discovering new-old hymns. There is a lot of fantastic new and inspirational Christian music, but there is something enduring in the hymns of years gone by. Every so often I become acquainted with an old hymn whose poetry touches my heart.

"Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" is one I've come across lately.

The words and melody are beautiful, but it was the story behind the song that impressed me. The hymn was written by Philip Paul Bliss after hearing a sermon about the Cleveland harbour.
On dark, stormy nights, although the lighthouse burned bright, it was of great importance that the lower lights of the town along the shoreline be light. Although the lighthouse could guide the boat in the general direction, the lower lights enabled the boats to navigate the rocky channel. The sermon was concluded with this admonishment:

"Brethren, the Master will take care of the great light-house; let us keep the lower lights burning."

And so, the words to this mid-19th century hymn were penned.

Brightly beams our Father's mercy from His lighthouse evermore,
But to us He gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning! Send a gleam across the wave!
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue, you may save.



(Aside: just as I wrote the title of the hymn above, Colin started singing the song to himself while he is playing! There is much simplicity and beauty in being taught spiritual truths through music.)

A Prayer from Mother Teresa

Deliver me, O Jesus,
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the desire of being popular,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being suspected.