Friday, 31 December 2010

The decade in review

2000 - My very first year of university. I spent the first year commuting from home on transit (horrible!) In February, and then again for the summer, I get my first taste of working in the film industry. 16 hour days, long stretches of doing nothing, meeting so many people outside my little sheltered life in which I was raised, and oodles of money earned. I also land my first big job at an advertising agency. The agency was such a blessing, as they were flexible with my school hours, paid me well, provided a wonderful supervisor, and allowed me to graduate school debt-free. I also move out on my own for the summer, and buy my first car.

2001 - Hmmm. Much more of the same in 2001. Still in school, still working in advertising. Moved out permanently from home, never to return. Really enjoyed living on my own, in a basement apartment. I'm an introvert that way.

2002 - Met James. Life is about to take a completely unexpected turn for me.

2003 - Got married, 8 years before I always said I would (at age 30 - which would be this year!)

2004 - Graduated from university and left filmmaking behind, for the time being.

2005 - Spend most of the year sick with pregnancy, lying on the couch in our apartment. The first three months I watched every program on the Entertainment Network. Once I had seen everything, I watched the Women's Network for the next three months. The last three months was the Sports Network. In between I managed to direct/edit a documentary film for the church, and really get back into music through leading choirs and directing canatas.

2006 - Spend the year in bliss with my new baby boy. Absolutely love being a mom. James takes the year off on parental leave to try his hand in the Toronto film business. At the end of his leave, he decides that while it is not a viable career to support a family, he no longer wants to work for Chrysler. He leaves Chrysler to expand his Dad's business in the Toronto area. We are now business owners.

2007 - We buy our first home in a town I always loved. Spend much of the year sick with pregnancy. James and my Mom tag team watching Colin while I lay in bed, barely able to sit up. Caleb is born.

2008 - A bit of a blur. Caleb cried for most of the year, completely exhausting me as a mother. But good friends and family help me through.

2009 - Spend the first half of the year sick with pregnancy. We hire a nanny for the two boys, since James is working so much and my mom is still teaching. She was fantastic, a true blessing from heaven. Colin starts kindergarten. Benjamin is born.

2010 - Sleep deprived nights, fun filled days. Still in the survival mode of early parenthood. Trying to find my own rhythm as a mother, wife and friend. For the first time in 4 years, some semblance of order is returning to my life, although it looks very different than ever before.

***

Last night over New Years Eve takeout (Thai), James and I did sort of a verbal review of the last year and ideas for goals for the coming year. It was actually really fun. Instead of just jumping into all the things we'd like to do better on, we took the time to talk about what we accomplished over the past year. I highly recommend this exercise, because it provided a very positive foundation for talking about the areas in which we need to improve. So often New Years resolutions are the same year to year, and you end up feeling like you just can't get them done. This way, we were able to see how far we've come.

I'm still processing my ideas for 2011, but I'm hoping to get them all written down soon.

Music

I know that much of a child's music preference is based on what they hear when they are young. Between James and I, we have a very eclectic taste in music.

If you ask the boys what they want to listen to, you would currently get the following answers:

Colin: Michael Jackson
Caleb: Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Benjamin: Southern country gospel ??????

An old Anne Murray song came on the other day, "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," and Benjamin went crazy for it! His face lit up, he ginned from ear to ear, he twisted around in my arms in a sort of baby dance. He has never responded to any song like that before! The Michael Jackson is obvious: he is James' favourite artist, and James plays his music all the time, especially for the boys and him to dance to. The MoTab is slightly more of a mystery. We have a couple CDs in the van that we sometimes throw on for the 5 minute ride to church, but other than that it's not on all that much. Then, beginning about 6 months ago, every time we got in the van Caleb would ask for the "Mohmin Nabernaberknuckle Coyer." To each their own!

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Benjaminuggets

It's so strange when something happens with your third child that is completely new. Benjamin has discovered our floor vents. An acute fascination with them led to the discovery that they can be lifted out. Neither Colin nor Caleb ever knew they came out, or at least they never bothered to do it. Now all day I hear "clunk clunk clunk" as Benjamin lifts the vents and reveals the gaping holes and ducts in the floors around the home. Luckily, he's too big to fit down, although I'm sure a leg or an arm could fall through and get him stuck. Unluckily, I'm sure it won't be long, if it hasn't happened already, that things start being tossed down there. Benjamin already loves the "throw things from my high chair" game. "Throw things down the floor vent" is, I'm sure, much more fun.

Calebites

(While I was reading a book of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast")

"Mommy, Belle is beautiful. She looks just like you."

***

A couple nights ago, just before bed, Caleb broke down in tears of exhaustion. As he wept, I enveloped him in my arms, wiped the tears from his face and spoke softly, "Caleb, you're breaking my heart!"

The next day, when something went awry and left Caleb once again in tears, he wandered over to me and, through gulping sobs, asked "Mommy, am I breaking your heart?"

Then I told him I really need a Caleb smile so that my heart could smile. He tipped his head up and grinned the best he could.

Colinism

"When I grow up to be a man, I want to give all my toys to my sons. If my mom has boys."

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Productivity

I heard an interesting radio piece the other day. Apparently, we are the least productive society in history. Why? Well, it takes at least 15 minutes to get into a groove of whatever task you are doing. That may not seem like very long, but after every interruption, it takes 15 minutes again to get back into it.

So obviously mothers at home cannot ever be working at peak productivity. When did you ever have 15 uninterrupted minutes at one task? Ha! Multitasking goes hand in hand with motherhood, so I just let that one go.

What the radio host was talking about, however, had more to do with our instant notification fetish. Cell phones, computers, and smart phones are all designed to notify you with a beep, pop up message or blinking light that you have some new message sitting, waiting to be read. James calls the light on his Blackberry the "red light of doom." I hate it. Hate hate hate hate hate it. Because as soon as that red light flashes, the natural sense of curiousity kicks in, and there is an immediate need to click in and see what it is. And trust me, 99% of the time it is nothing that couldn't have waited until our conversation was over.

Rant finished. Maybe.

Back to the radio show. Imagine how many times a day you check your email, facebook account, voice mail, or text messages. The estimate was 40-50, just in an 8 hour work day. That's on average 6 times an hour, or every 10 minutes. Now recall that it takes 15 minutes of uninterrupted attention to get to your optimal productivity level.

Okay, that was a lot of stats, and it really all comes down to this: just let it go. Designate times to check in with your electronics and to answer messages. Turn off the notification system so your brain isn't going nuts with anticipation. Better yet, put the item away so you don't see it. There are times that James checks the Blackberry to see if there are any messages even when the little red light isn't blinking, and that light blinks as soon as anything happens. No red light = no messages, period. I think that behaviour borders on addiction, and it is rampant in our society.

So next time you've got a project to do, set aside some time to do it (at least 30 minutes) and do it away from the temptations of technology that just won't leave you alone!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Christmas

Christmas is 2/3 over. My sisters and I decided to celebrate our Christmas on New Years Day, since around the 25th usually gets overloaded. We'll see how it goes this year. But it does mean Christmas decorations stay around for another week.

I'm not sure I can even find my children under the plethora of toys we have. On the plus side, it is spurring me on to get the garage cleaned out so that I can store some of the favourite toys that just won't fit in the playroom. That garage has been driving me crazy for months! At least twice a year I get in there and organize it, but somehow garages never stay tidy for long.

I tried to be very discriminate about the gifts we got the boys. I did cave to pressure from James and got them a few more "toys" than I wanted (which was only one for each!), but they also got some movies and books and art supplies. What was crazy was that, as I was looking for one last gift after one fell through, I couldn't find a single thing on the Toys R Us website that we didn't already have, in some shape or form. How many big trucks, small playsets, puzzles, and trains can you have? I just don't see the point in buying a second of something we already have, just to fill our the present pile.

And yet, no matter how many or few gifts the kids are showered with, they will always revert to the simplest games. After the opening of presents Christmas morning, the boys wanted to play a Lego game on the computer they have recently discovered ("screen time" was not as strictly monitored over the holidays.) And this morning, they have spent much time playing "opening presents" - they find a toy, tell the other brother to close his eyes, and then place the toy in his hand and say "here's your present!" Caleb's variation is to even pretend with an imaginary toy, presenting his cupped, empty hands and pronouncing what the imaginary present is.

Me? I was spoiled with a Kindle (electronic reader.) I was on the fence for a long time whether or not I would enjoy one, since I love the feel of a book. But since I love classics, and they are mostly available for free, I think it is fabulous that in one tiny thin, paperback size machine I can hold hundreds of books at my fingertips. It is a fantastic solution to the terrible library collection we have in town. And reading it really is marvelous - it really does look like paper.

The only thing absent for me this year is Boxing day shopping. While I might hit a store or two tomorrow evening while the boys catch a movie in Brampton, I didn't hit the stores bright and early on Boxing Day (Sunday this year) and shop the stores and malls all day, searching for good deals. I think I've been hit by the "too much stuff" fever, and the thought of buying and bringing in anything else into our home is maddening! So other than a nice winter sweater, a swimsuit for our upcoming vacation, and a case for my Kindle, I'll just layoff the extra shopping this year.

I think my favourite part of Christmases this year was the music. Everywhere I went, and everyday at home, I had my guitar out and strummed through favourite Christmas songs. With James' family, it was mandatory that everyone perform a song (or reading) before opening presents - even the boys. Caleb performed three verses of the "Reindeer Pokey" and Colin wowed the crowd with "When Christmas Comes to Town." (Yes, they were videotaped for posterity!) We also went caroling as a family (the five of us) on Christmas Eve, driving around to several neighbours and friends' homes. That was the most joyous part of the holiday, seeing the joy we brought to their faces as we sang a few songs, then sprinkled "reindeer food" on their front lawn to bring Santa their way.

I would love to post a few pictures, but this year we really just got right down into the middle of it all, and we rarely remembered to step back and snap a picture. Hopefully we'll be able to retain the memories, knowing that we enjoyed every moment together as a family.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Boys vs. girls

I was perusing a friend's blog today. She has four girls. She was writing about taking family photos - she had several with all the girls smiling gorgeously for the camera in the cutest coordinating (not matching) outfits. She wrote about doing crafts, making decorations for the tree, decorating gingerbread houses. She wrote about homeschooling, and how while some days are crazy, many days the girls do sit and get some work done.

It made me think about my three boys.

I started thinking about how boys don't want to sit and pose for lovely family portraits. I thought about how a craft might last two minutes, with a quick marker drawing and maybe one or two things glued on. I thought about decorating gingerbread houses and how I would probably end up doing the decorating. I thought about homeschooling and how I can't seem to find something that works, that we can stick to, that the boys really want to do. I thought about their love of sweatpants and hatred of sweaters or button-up shirts, no matter how cool and stylish they are.

Boys and girls are truly from completely different worlds.

I will admit that looking through the window at my friend's life made me yearn a little for a girl. or perhaps it is not really a girl, but just a little less chaos in my life with boys.

Sure, I love camping and sports and hiking and adventures. I'm not one to sit down and paint my toenails and shop all day for clothes or go to a boyband concert. I have also never liked pink.

Until now.

That's right. When I was small, my mother dressed me in pink all the time. I can remember thinking that pink with red hair was so ugly! As soon as I could buy my own clothes, I never wore pink again. Then, one day (I remember it distinctly) when I was 20, everything changed. It was a cold January day and I was walking in downtown Toronto by the Holt Renfrew store on Bloor Street. A woman was in the window display, setting up the new clothing line. And everything was pink! There was rose and blush and hot pink and coral and fuchsia - every shade you could imagine. I can still remember thinking "oh no! Pink is in!" Not too long after that, I purchased my very first pink top. It was just the right shade to go with my long red mane, and I loved it!

Now I actually own a few pink items - not tons, but a few. But you know what? Lately I have found myself tending more and more to the colour pink, and all things girly. My only explanation is that because I am surrounded by boys, my inner girl is craving some serious femininity, which is manifesting itself in a penchant for pink.

I know the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and when my friend is in the throes of four teenage girls, I'll be laughing. But these days, things aren't so funny.

Love the chaos-love the chaos-love the chaos-lovethechaoslovethechaoslovethechaoslovethechaoslovethechaoslovethechaoslovethechaos

Do you think if I keep repeating it, it will come true?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bosom friends from far away

It was the beloved literary character Anne of Green Gables that made famous the term "bosom friends." It refers to a friend whose friendship reaches right down to the heart of each of you.

Today I have been thinking about two friends who I wish lived much closer.

Lori lives an hour and a half away, on the other side of Toronto. She has five beautiful children. She loves music and theatre and teaching and reading. She directs musicals (I wish I could be a part of.) She is in a book club (I wish I could join.) She taught the gifted class and believes in true learning and education, not just schooling. She is all things music and I'm sure we could pass hours singing at the piano together. She has a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and an equal passion to share the good news through the talents with which she has been blessed. Other than having 5 children (I'm two shy), when you describe her you could be describing me.

Lori and I have a constant back-and-forth about how the other person needs to move closer. The other day, when she mentioned she had a copy of a book I'm looking for, she told me I needed to move closer. So I told her we need to start keeping score. 1-0 for her. Today I evened it up when she wished to be part of an impromptu Christmas sing-a-long I'm hosting. We both love our respective towns, but I'm really hoping one day ours wins out and she moves here!

The other friend, Bonnie, lives 2 hours away. We've only met up a handful of times, but an email and blog correspondence meant we got to know each other really well. Bonnie also has a love of music, God, and family. Bonnie has 6 lovely children, and she homeschools them in her country home, complete with goats and chickens. She has found herself in a simpler way of life that I deeply admire. She also loves a good debate; I do too - I good debate always fires me up! Bonnie challenges me, flips my way of thinking on its head, gets me out of my comfort zone, and I love it. There is so much out there to learn, so many ways to open your eyes, and it's too easy to settle down and forget how to really live!

I am so grateful for technology today that lets me keep in touch with friends like these. My life is so richer because of them.

Dear Benjamin

Dear Benjamin,

As I rocked you today, I noticed your hands seemed a little bigger, your face a little older, and you seem a little wiser.

Please stop growing so fast.

Love,
Mommy.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Happy Birthday Benjamin!

Benjamin,

How on earth has an entire year passed by already? My little baby turned one year old today. This photo is a perfect representation of you. Yes, you have my red hair, but what I love about this picture is that it shows your eyes - the most beautiful, clear shade of grey. I've never known anyone with grey eyes before, although I have read of characters in literature possessing that colour. I love to look into your eyes, because the colour is so unexpected and astonishing.

You love to smile. You smile every time I walk into the room. You smile at your brothers when they play around you. You smile at strangers in the store as they coo over how cute you are. Each smile seems so personal, and I have seen many strangers melt as though that smile was delivered just for them.

You have given me a wonderful birthday present on your birthday - the last two nights you have finally slept through the night! 8am to 4am, for the first time ever. Please let this be a corner you are turning; I can function much better for you on a (somewhat) full night's sleep.

You are so close to walking. You walk holding onto my hands, you toddle along the furniture. I can see it in your eyes that you want to be able to keep up with your brothers; although you can speed crawl more quickly than any baby I know, once you get up and run there will be no stopping you!

You have started to pick up on a few baby signs: "food" and "enough." Generally, though, you just have this really loud, nasal "anh" that means you want food. Breads and grains are your favourites, hands down, although pears and sweet potatoes also rank right up there. Some days you rival Caleb for the amount of food you eat.

You discovered the piano the other day. Now you love to be pushed up to the keys in your high chair, so that you can play away. You don't just bang at the notes - you really seem to understand playing different notes. And you love to sing along. You have this very sweet and deliberate coo sound you make that is imitating singing. You even coo high and low notes. At church you always sit on my lap during the hymns, looking at the hymn book and cooing along. If the song is particularly enthusiastic, you have no fear in belting it out with the rest of us!

You also love to "read." Lately you have taken to opening up one of your big board books and "reading" (cooing). Funny enough, your reading coo and your singing coo are markedly different; you really do hear the difference and then alter your own voice to mimic either reading or singing. You even try to turn the pages through the book, as though you understand that there is a progression from the beginning to the end of the story.

Have patience, my little man. You will catch up to your older brothers soon enough; I know they get frustrated when you try to play with them right now, but before long you'll be right in there with them. Don't grow up too quickly, though. For now, I'll get all the cuddles in I can, even the ones at two in the morning.

I love you.

Mommy.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas traditions...yet to come

Ah, my mind is swirling with Christmas traditions...not ones that we currently do, but ones that I would love to do someday. They are my "traditions yet to come." Because right now I have 3 boys under 5 including a baby that still nurses through the night. Right now, I can barely manage to keep the house in order and the fridge stocked. Right now, it is a full-scale production to do even the little things like bathtime, or getting the boys dressed, or tidying the play-room.

So, right now, I'm just going to file away some good tradition ideas to implement in the coming years.

1. Reading a different Christmas story each night. This would sort of be an Advent event - starting December 1st, we can sit as a family around the Christmas tree (or under the tree - James loves to look up at the lights from lying under the tree) and read one of the many Christmas books we've got.

2. A manger of hay. I just saw this idea today and LOVE it! You have a small manger, about a foot long, and a jar of "hay" (from a craft store). The idea is to do small acts of service through the month of December, and each time you do you put a little hay into the manger. Hopefully you can fill the manger by Christmas day.

3. Christmas caroling. In the near future, this will just mean singing around the piano as a family. I would also love to sing with our extended families at our get togethers, but not too many of them have the love of music we have here at home. As the boys grow, I hope we can actually bundle up and get out into the town to carol - whether at people's doors, or even in our local park that is decked out in Christmas decorations. People visit there nightly, and it would be neat to sing as they walk through.

4. Making Christmas gifts for each other. My sisters and I did this growing up, and I still have some of the gifts they made me. Since boys are usually not as crafty as girls, I would have a name draw between all five of us, each person making one homemade gift for one other person in the family.

5. Holiday baking. This one I really did want to start this year, but our weekends filled up so quickly! I would love a Saturday afternoon with my sisters and/or sisters-in-law where we all bring a recipe and make enough batches so that everyone takes home a good haul of baking for the season. Perhaps I'll get to it next year.

6. Christmas in July. Okay - this idea isn't new; I've been to a lot of "Christmas in July" celebrations. However, I'm not talking about gift giving and baking. I'm talking about service. I would love to put up the Christmas tree in July and then do a big family service project together. Everyone thinks about going to a soup kitchen at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but not many people remember it 6 months later.

7. A musical service project. James and I (and the boys, when they are older) would offer our musical services for the evening in return for a donation to a charity. Each year as a family we will research and choose a different charity. I envision the evenings either being mini fireside concerts with mostly performances by James and I (vocal, piano, flute) or us leading sing-a-longs, either with piano or guitar accompaniment. I have always wanted to get involved in service projects at Christmas, but so many people are also looking to do the same thing that often it is hard to really get in and serve. But this way we can share the talents with which we have been blessed with those around us, and donate to a cause close to our hearts.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Totally lost my cool

On Monday, I completely lost my cool, collected manner. I'm usually pretty good in an emergency situation; I can assess the problem, stay in control and take action. So I was really surprised when I betrayed myself in such a way. I'm just thankful James was here. He didn't jump in instead, but just seeing him for a moment or two helped me clear my head, steady my nerves, and be able to do what needed to be done.

Colin spiked a fever on Sunday. No other real symptoms, just a really high fever. He slept most of the day, playing while the acetaminophen was working, crashing when it was time for his next dose. Monday he had a bit of a runny nose. He was going through boxes of Kleenex like mad, because he was just dabbing at the tip of his nose and then grabbing another tissue, and another, and another. So I tried to teach him how to gently blow his nose and get a little more out. Now, he's only five, and five-year-olds don't really have a lot of power behind a nose-blow. So when I was in the kitchen and I heard Caleb exclaim "There's something coming out of Colin's nose!" I didn't drop everything and run right away. I figured it was just a long line of snot. But then Colin started to weep, that kind of low, steady scared cry. When I came in, there was two inches of plastic tube handing from his left nostril. I immediately knew it was the tube he had inserted during his tear duct surgery last month. And I knew there was no way it was supposed to be able to be dislodged.

I froze. My body shook uncontrollably. My mind went completely blank.

I scooped Colin up in my arms and just stood there, unmoving.

I ran to the door and yelled for James to come in. He was just about to pull out of the driveway for work.

James came in the door and I tried to covertly explain what was going on, without alarming Colin. Even though I had completely had my own wits scared out of me.

"I just need to call the surgeon. I'll call the hospital. Or his office."

My brain was the first to come back online. I muddled through what needed to be done. Colin needed to be dressed. We needed to make sure he didn't pull at the tube. I needed to find out where to go to have the problem addressed.

I grabbed the phone, surprised at how much it shook in my hand. I stared blankly at the numbers. I needed a phone number. Where to find the phone number?

It was like my mind was moving in slow motion through a lake of tar. It used every effort in me, but I shook myself loose from the stupor and finally jumped into action.

The surgeon was in Mississauga and was leaving the office in 45 minutes - not long enough for us to get to him. We were instructed to go to the ER here in town, and have the doctor call the surgeon for instruction.

The clock was ticking. I dressed Colin, gathered my things and high-tailed it over to the hospital. I was obviously shaken, because as I carried him into the ER waiting room the triage nurse rushed to me. But when I explained what was going on, a wall went up and she condescendingly instructed me that I would just have to wait. The area waiting to be triaged was packed. And once you were triaged, then you had to wait to see the doctor. It was going to be a long wait.

As I saw the clock tick by, the hands passed the time when the surgeon was leaving his office. Now what would happen?

3 hours later, we were finally in to see the doctor. It was a small consolation when she expressed anger and frustration at the triage nurse for not admitting us earlier so that she could talk to the surgeon. She spoke with some of the surgeon's colleagues, who gave instructions based on what they knew about our surgeon. As it turned out, there wasn't much to do other than remove the tube completely.

So there is no longer any tube hanging from Colin's nose, but the result is that we may have to start this whole process again, including the anesthetic and surgery. The tube was supposed to stay in for 3-4 months, and it was in barely one month. There is a possibility the new duct will have healed enough to work, but it is just wait-and-see for right now.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Solo?

The past two nights I sang in a Christmas choir. This is something I try to squeeze in every year, even though it means 8 weeks of Sunday night rehearsals, half of them up in Barrie, an hour away. I just love to sing in a choir, and our director Barb is amazing. She digs up some fantastic pieces with beautiful harmonies, flowing poetry and either haunting harmonics or exciting pizazz. This year was no exception.

James was also asked to perform a solo for the concert, which is always fun for us to prepare. However, I was also asked to perform a solo this year! Me. Me with the major phobia of singing on my own. Me who much prefers to hide behind the piano.

Here's the story.

There I am, sitting in choir practice. We had been working on this fantastic southern Baptist-type song, full of "Glory glory" and "Hallelujahs," replete with sass and fun. I'm smiling away, belting it out, enjoying myself, when Barb announces there is a solo part. My eyes dart down to the music: it's for a man. Barb's eyes survey the choir and she asks a man sitting in the front row to take the solo. At this point nothing is even on my radar. But Barb's eyes don't go back to her music - they continue to scan the choir. Her eyes lock with mine and I hear the strangest words roll off her lips:

"Terri-Ann, will you take the next two lines?"

I respond automatically, without forethought.

"No!"

Barb jolts. She looks up, confused.

"No?"
"No. Sorry, no."
"For real?"
"Yeah."
"Like, for real, for real?"
"Sorry."

Now I'm starting to realize what my mouth is involuntarily saying, and I am beginning to feel bad. Barb looks like a deer in headlights. I figured she would just ask someone else, but she genuinely didn't expect me to say no, and so she is stunned in silence. Then, just as I reacted initially from a reflex of fear, my mouth keeps running on its own, and this time I speak out of compassion for a fellow musician who is just trying to pull together a Christmas concert of volunteers.

"Well, okay. I'll give it a go."

WHAT? WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT WHAT?

Doth my mouth betray me?

But that was it. Barb smiled and cued the pianist. Just like that, I had a solo. Albeit but two lines, but you have no idea how big this was for me.

How did it go? Not bad. The choir is so big I had to sing it into a mic, which sprinkled a little more anxiety on the situation. I was a little frustrated at myself; it was two small lines, after all. A tiny little part in a huge program, and no one would likely even remember it after. Why was I making such a big deal out of it? Even knowing my reaction was involuntary didn't help.

The first performance went okay. My family was all there, which made me a little more nervous. My stomach was a bundle of nerves during the songs leading up to my "solo." Then, as I approached the microphone, all psyched up and ready to go, Benjamin (in the audience, about halfway back) saw me step up and suddenly jumped up on my mom's lap, reached out toward me and started calling out loudly. It set me off my guard as I worried about him being too loud. Before I knew it the piano was playing two notes before my cue and I didn't even have time to take a proper breath. I was just glad I came in at the right spot, with the right words, caught by surprise like that. Afterward I slipped back into my unassuming spot in the choir, glad it was over.

Last night went much better. I wasn't nervous leading up at all. I stepped up in time, took a good breath, and belted out my lines, smiling and full of cheer. I hit the notes perfectly. As I stepped back into the choir, my stomach erupted in nervous shock. That made me smile, because I knew that meant I had done well. You see, whenever I used to perform on stage (acting), I never had the jitters before the show, never experienced stage fright. I was always cool as a cucumber, until after I stepped off stage at the end of the show. Then my stomach would turn over incessantly and my hands would shake with fright. I was thankful for the familiar reaction, knowing it meant a performance well done.

Okay. I know some people must be thinking I'm crazy, writing so much detail about such a small thing. But it was a really big thing for me to do this. I'm glad I did, however, and I hope it will be one more small step to singing more performances. I really do love to sing, and have always wanted to have the confidence and competency to sing solos from the beautiful collection of music I have.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Calebites

"Mom, I'll be Yoda and you be Wacka-nabba-nobi." (Obi-Wan-Kanobi)

***

Today Caleb and I built spaceships out of the Crazy Fort sticks and balls. I built a shuttle with a door, two wings, a nose, a control panel and a stick shift. Upon seeing it, Caleb pronounced:
"Now, we will switch ships. I built a ship for you and you built a ship for me."

My ship was three separate sticks.

Caleb climbed into his ship, then narrated the story for me:
"I'm flying my ship, and my ship is much bigger than yours. Now I bump into you and your small ship explodes into pieces."

I didn't hold it against him. I was marveling at his imagination, as he came up with a story about enemies coming near, needing to go to "red alert" when his ship was damaged, crawling through a small space to find a launch button, my small ship coming to the rescue, a quick and dirty repair job, and then us teaming up to vanquish the enemy.

***

Caleb seems to have adopted a southern drawl. It is most obvious when he says "yeah," his he pronounces in a long, drawn out "yay-yah." He likes to draw out most of his vowals in short words, like "day" (day-yah) and "home" (ho-ohm.) For the longest time we wondered where on earth he had picked it up. Then I noticed a couple of words in my own speech had a bit of a southern twang in them (like "I can get that for you" - "I cay-yan get that for you")! I have no idea where I picked it up; perhaps it is a result of needing to speak so much during the day and yet keep what I'm saying comprehensive to a three year old. Whatever the origin, it sure adds a little southern sunshine on these cold, dark winter days!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Seeing time in a different way

My day today:

6:00 am - wake up with Caleb (James already gone for work)
9:30 am - rush three kids out the door
10:15 am - arrive at the train station in Mississauga
10:45 - 11:15 am - ride the train down one station and then back again
11:30 am - 12:15 pm - lunch at my sister-in-law's, leave Caleb to have a nap
12:15 pm - drive to hospital in Toronto
2:00 pm - arrive at hospital
2:30 pm - appointment at hospital (on time!)
2:50 pm - leave hospital (20 minutes - a first!)
4:00 pm - arrive at sister-in-law's to pick up Caleb (who slept all but 15 minutes we were gone!)
4:05 pm - leave quickly to try and beat rush hours
5:30 pm - have only driven the equivalent of 15 minutes after an hour and a half on the road
5:31 pm - pull off for dinner and to calm crying, hungry children
6:00 pm - back on the road
7:00 pm - arrive home


A careful study of this schedule will reveal we didn't actually get much done today, other than spend 6 and a half hours traveling. Aside from the two 5 minutes train rides (an experience I promised the boys) and the 20 minute appointment (that was less than necessary) the rest of the day was spent driving.

But as a mother I have discovered that it is necessary to see time in a different way than most people. If you judge the productiveness of a day based on how many things you check off of a to-do list, then nearly every day will seem like a failure. But if you look at the productiveness of a day as quality time passed with your children, than every day is a resounding success.

Here's another look at the day, through Colin's eyes:

He got to:
- skip a day of school ("That means I'll be "n'est pas la" today!)
- watch movies in the car
- punch a train ticket
- ride on a real train twice (this has been a promised event for over a year)
- have lunch at his Aunt's apartment
- eat lunch on her couch instead of at the table
- have a huge glass of chocolate milk with lunch
- go on a hunt for Auntie Julia's cats
- drive to Toronto and see the CN Tower and Ontario place (from the van window)
- park underground "in the cave" (he begged me to, instead of parking on the street)
- play with kids at the hospital
- figure out he has a button to open the window
- open and close the window repetitively the whole ride home, because he "needed a little bit of fresh air in here"
- eat at Wendy's
- have a whole bottle of orange juice to himself, with a straw
- get a half of a big donut rather than a timbit
- watch a brand new movie on the way home
- play for 20 whole minutes once he got home, even though it was bedtime


To Colin, this day rocked his world. There were so many new and interesting things he did, and other special treats he only gets once in a while. Colin will likely remember this day for many weeks to come. In the past, after having been out of the house for nearly 10 hours, I would have expected my to-do list to have been decimated, or would have felt exhausted and dejected from having wasted a day accomplishing nothing. Now, I realize that my kids simply want to be with me, spend time with me, share experiences with me. So even a day like this is a success in their eyes, and in my books.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Colin's birthday party

Oh boy, I don't know if I'll ever do it again.

Colin had his birthday party this past Saturday. We planned a "Polar Express" party, based on the beloved book and movie. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and certainly Colin and all his guests were in awe. But two and a half hours of 10 boys running around our main floor, plus days of preparation and decoration was just too much. I think in the future we'll have a family dinner for the boys' actual birthdays, and then have one big summer bash with all their friends. I'm thinking 30 boys, one big sports game (baseball, soccer, etc) and a barbecue. Yeah, it seems big now, but it would be one party instead of three that fall 3 weeks apart and all in the Christmas season.

But for posterity's sake, here are some photos of our wildly successful (and very wild!) Polar Express party:

I cut out a ton of paper snowflakes and hung them from the ceiling, to give the impression of snowing in the living room. This was probably my favourite part of all the decorating. We've left it all up for the Christmas season.


The "Staff" - my sister Jennifer, my mom and I all were waiters, while James played the conductor. The kids' faces were priceless when we served hot chocolate and "candies with nougat centres white as snow," with that scene from the movie playing in the background. Probably the kids' favourite part of the party.We decorated cookies for one of the activities. The boys literally piled about 2 inches of sprinkles on top of the cookies, and were so proud of their creations. We also played a relay game of unwrapping presents - to see which team could unwrap a pile of gifts the fastest. There are no photos of that one, as you can imagine the craziness of it!

Our group of 10 boys, all in pajamas and housecoats, just like in the movie. They all received a gold ticket in their party invitation to bring to the party and get punched by the conductor.The birthday cake - which looks so fancy and was really so easy! A box of cake mix and a jar of icing, a little blue food colouring and a plastic baggie to draw with. The shape of the train was made from two loaf pans (the train cars) and a square pan (the train engine.) I cut a few pieces out of the square and added Oreo cookies for wheels and voila - instant train cake! Colin was over the moon for it.

So that was that. We weren't completely cleaned up until the next day, and I think the boys are still in recovery mode. But Colin thought it was so amazing, and apparently all his friends are still talking about it. By all accounts, a total success!

Monday, 6 December 2010

A little sunshine in the wintertime

Okay, it will be a WHOLE LOTTA SUNSHINE in the wintertime - on my cruise! I just finished booking a winter vacation for James and I this coming January.

This is a big deal for me on many fronts.

First of all, going away, period. During the summer my parents offered to stay and watch the boys for a week in January if James and I wanted to get away. Done deal, right? Wrong. Benjamin will barely be a year old, and I just wasn't sure I could leave him. Plus I really wanted to continue nursing, which might be difficult after a week away. And even if he still wants to nurse, the added "feminine" benefit of nursing will likely end as a result of being away for that long. So what changed? Well, Benjamin is still nursing at 8pm, 11pm, 1am, 3am, 5am, and 8am, and then throughout the day. The daytime I don't mind so much. The nighttime is killing me. I haven't slept more than 2 hours in a row in almost 2 years, and even then I only had a couple months of sleep between my pregnancy with Benjamin and having gone through all this with Caleb. All told, it's been 4 years since I really had a run of good sleep. I need some time away.

Second, I hate booking vacations. Strange, I know, since most people get really excited about it. But I get online and start surfing around and am inundated with a billion websites and cruise ships and ports and locations and prices and flights and hotels and...and...and... after 30 minutes I generally throw my hands up in the air and declare "I'm not going!" An all-inclusive vacation is slightly easier, because at least it's a one-stop shop. Getting the best deal on a cruise involves booking everything separately, which only causes more stress. Right up until last night I had simply told James "You research and book it, just hand me a ticket and tell me when to pack my bags." Thankfully, a good friend with plenty of experience pointed us in a couple directions which made the decisions obvious and easy. Once we were able to narrow things down, the vacation came together amazingly.

Third, I've never been on a cruise. I've traveled lots, and have no problem hopping on a plane and landing in a foreign country with little pre-planning. I like to go with the flow on vacation. But having never cruised before, I felt like I couldn't make the best decisions for myself relying solely on the experience of others. My preferred level of activity, interest in daily excursions and size of my wallet are all vastly different than those friends and family who have "gone before" on a cruise. So this involved a huge leap of faith for such a large amount of money.

In the end, it all worked out. We even scored free flights using points James collected, which cut the cost of the trip by 1/3, and gave us the ability to fly out of Toronto instead of Buffalo (usually cheaper) and fly direct instead of making connections (and worrying about getting to the port on time!). So, come January, we'll be off to the seas of the Caribbean!

Friday, 3 December 2010

Santa: the great debate

I had an interesting conversation with a group of women (mothers) yesterday at a bible study. We all discussed our take on whether or not Santa was a part of our Christmas growing up, and whether or not we then instituted him as a part of Christmas within our own families now.

I was amazed that in 8 women, there were 8 completely different answers.

On the "no Santa" side, the reasons were both about the issue of lying and the attempt to keep the focus on the birth of Jesus. One woman said her mother had felt so betrayed by her own mother at being lied to for so long, that they were very emphatic about telling the truth, including about the myth of Santa Claus. Another woman said that she didn't want to confuse her children between the fact that while Santa is made up, Jesus is real. She mentioned that children often stop believing in both God and Santa around the same time. Because you don't see either of them, kids can find it tough to understand why one is real and one is made up. A third woman said that she found it too difficult to balance the secular and the religious aspects, and she felt Santa would win out every time, so all the presents under the tree were from family instead of Saint Nick.

On the "yes Santa" side, most people either mentioned the magic of the season or roots of family. One woman talked about the glitter and decorations and the happy glow that comes along with the holiday side of Christmas. Another said that her family weren't Christians and so they wanted to balance both aspects so they didn't alienate their family relationships, which they felt were just as important to nourish.

One woman in the group caught my attention. She just gave birth to her first baby, a beautiful little girl, about two months ago. I could see her taking in the conversation, her eyes focused and her mind trying to capture all the positions. You see, it is at this exact moment in life when you really start to ask yourself what position you are going to take on different issues. Before children, there really is only one person at play - you. Flip-flopping on things is no big deal, because you can handle it and it doesn't affect anyone else. Once there is a child in the mix, all of a sudden you realize you have to take a stand on all these issues. Santa or no Santa? Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy? What about Halloween - will you celebrate or not? Let your kids go out? Until what age? Even things around the home like how much TV to watch, what sorts of movies, or will you have a video game system? Although you can change the rules once the kids are around, it's much easier to examine the issue and decide where you stand before the kids are old enough to know any better.

Going back to the great Santa debate, I just thought it was so interesting that among eight women there were eight different stands taken, and for eight completely different reasons. While there was a minuscule amount of tension present (everyone wants to think that they have the right answer, and that everyone else should see things in the same light!), I just loved to see that everyone had thought about the issue, considered the different routes to take, and then had consciously and firmly taken a stand. That is what parenting is all about.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Colin's report day

Report cards came in last week for Colin. As I opened it up, I was surprised at how little weight I was mentally prepared to give the report. Having grown up in an house that put a huge emphasis on schooling, and having worked hard and excelled at school myself, I always figured I would encourage my own children to work hard and excel at school. And yet I felt very nonplussed about this report card. And it's not just that he's only in kindergarten. It is more that my views on formal schooling have been completely overhauled in light of a lot of the reading I've done. While knowledge, wisdom and education are of the utmost importance in my eyes, I just don't equate those goals with getting A's at school. There are not one and the same to me.

Back to Colin's report. He has been catching on quickly, considering he was already a year behind the other children in the French language. All the comments were positive. The only thing he needs to work on is jumping into conversations, which will come as his comprehension of the language increases.

My favourite part of the parent/teacher interview about the report card was in regards to Colin as a person. "The girls all love Colin," the teacher said with a smile. "It's because he is so gentle. Gentle and kind and polite. The girls really like those qualities in him." When I asked about the boys in the class, the teacher replied "Well, the other boys are older and bigger and tougher. Colin often plays with them at recess, but other times he just stays with the girls."

Those comments made me just beam. In my estimation, a child who is kind and gentle and polite is much farther ahead than a "straight A" student who is mean or a bully or rude. From my point of view, Colin is growing just as I hope he would.

The other comment was from the gym teacher, that Colin needs work on using a ball (kicking, throwing, catching, dribbling.) I laughed when I read that. First of all, those are all skills that come between the ages of 4 and 6, so Colin is in no way behind. And besides, Colin can hit with a baseball bat any ball you pitch in the strike zone, and he can self-pitch a ball by tossing it in the air with one hand and then hitting it with the bat when it comes down. I know adults who can't do that.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Circles of Organization

I am not a naturally tidy person. Not that I don't love everything neat and tidy, it's just that it takes work for me to do it. My Nana and mother-in-law are both naturally tidy. They immediately see disorder and almost subconsciously clean as they go. I do give myself a bit of slack giving that I have three young children, but I always wondered why it was such a struggle for me to have everything in its place.

A new book provided some much needed insight for me. The author wrote of "Circles of Organization". You see, everything we do creates disorder, but we need to complete the circle by bringing things back into order. For example, when it is mealtime, we need to pull out food, dirty pots and pans, and use dishes. So often we consider mealtime over once we have eaten the food when in fact we are only part way through the job. Instead of designating the clean up as a separate job, which leave you open to leaving the clean up for another time, think of loading the dishwasher, putting away leftovers, wiping the table and doing the dishes as part of mealtime. Mealtime is not over until all that is done.

In her own wise words:

"As I observed women who seemed to be more organized, I discovered they move around their organization circles from order to disorder back to order again without getting stuck at the bottom of the circle. They make a mess as they fix lunch, bu then they stay until their kitchen is ordered again...

In other words, we may be juggling multiple circles of organization, but we shouldn't stay at the bottom of any one circle and let inertia trap us there in a place of disorder. We need to learn to finish. If we don't leave the dishes undone after breakfast, or clean the clothes unfolded on the couch, or an ongoing creative project on the table when we leave to pick up the kids from school, we will always be traveling toward the top of our organization circle (order).

This simple habit of finishing what we start will enable us to have more order in our lives. It allows us the freedom to have some messes out, but not have the whole house be a mess."

Isn't that brilliant? It will be, to any people out there who struggle, as I do, with restoring the home to order. It is simply a matter of finishing what I start.

My biggest problems occur in these areas:

- Diaper changing - too often I change a diaper and just leave the dirty one tucked away under the living room table rather than taking it immediately to the garbage.
- I rarely do a full clean-up in the kitchen after a meal, opting instead to get to the dishes after bedtime. Then I find myself exhausted from the day and grumpy at having to do the clean-up or simply leaving it to the morning. And there is little worse than a messy kitchen when you wake up.
- Laundry. Laundry, laundry, laundry, you are the bane of my existence! I always manage to get it into the washer and dryer, but the folding and, even worse, the putting away can sometimes linger on for days after.
- Coming in the from car. This always seems like such a chore, getting three kids in and out of coats and boots and lugging in bags and toys and food. I usually get the kids in the door, leaving a collection of items at the front door and a whole host of stuff still in the car.

At least now that I know my weaknesses, I can consciously try and finish those circles of organization more often. And I can tell you, it seems to be working! Even with the three boys running around, it isn't taking much more time to completely finish what I have started.

Granted, oftentimes multi-tasking is a necessity. The important thing to remember is not to start more projects/tasks than I can handle at one time. The author recommends starting with only two or three, and seeing how you manage. It will soon become second nature to understand how many things you can do at once and still bring them all back to order. My biggest problem is starting something I want to do because I want to do it right now. Just the other day I was in the middle of doing the laundry. Obviously I don't need to sit idle while the wash and dry cycles are going. But this particular day I wanted to do a little baking for my own purposes. Just as I was about to pull out the ingredients, I heard the dryer beep indicating the cycle was finished. I held the tantalizing recipe for gingerbread cake in my hand and paused in the kitchen. I considered getting the cake mixed and into the oven before folding the laundry, since I would have 45 minutes while the cake baked. But the more I thought about it, I realized that as soon as the cake was out we were leaving to pick Colin up from school and then heading out of town overnight. There was a good possibility that Benjamin might start to fuss or Caleb would wake up grumpy or I would remember something I forgot to pack...and the laundry would be left in the dryer. So I put the recipe back down and went to empty the dryer. I quickly folded the load, put it away, and then to my delight realized I still had just enough time to bake the cake. Once the cake was in the oven, I did the dishes and put on a light load in the dishwasher so that I would come home to an ordered home after our trip.

So that is a summary of my organization revelation this week. The book (called "Project: Organization") is full of great ideas to help get you organized around the home and in your life. Although many of them I simply don't have time to get to right now (each project takes 20 to 50 minutes, but with young children, it's often impossible to even find an extra 5 minutes!), I'm so glad to have learned this new finishing-things-off technique. Even James noted the other day how things seem to be a little less chaotic around the home. Success!

Calebites

Mom: Why did you wear your clothes to bed last night instead of pajamas?
Caleb: Because when I wear pajamas, I can't feel my bones. I like to feel my bones.

??????????

Monday, 29 November 2010

For Careylee

There will likely be over 400 people this morning attending a funeral service for our friend Careylee. Loving mother to three beautiful young girls and long time best friend to her husband, she will be missed by all those who were touched by her loving spirit.

Both James and I had hoped to attend, but a last minute scramble at work and all our friends also trying to get to the service meant that we had no one local to babysit. I was about to get on the phone and call around to some acquaintances when a thought passed through my mind. Although I have known Careylee for three years, we were not intimate friends. It occurred to me that perhaps the best way I could show my love for her friendship was to watch the children of the other young moms who have known Careylee much longer. And so this morning I am watching the daughter of Careylee's best friend so that she may attend the funeral with her husband. Having never experienced the loss of someone so close, I can't imagine the exact feelings she is overwhelmed with. But I do understand that in such tragic circumstances the desire to have your husband standing at your side, holding your hand, holding you up.

Pondering on life when it ends always leads my thoughts toward the great plan God has created for us. Knowledge of who we are, where we came from, where we are going, where loved ones are who have already left this earth...there is great comfort in this knowledge, for which I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Soloist in training

It's no surprise to anyone who knows us that we love music. James sings, I play a variety of instruments, and music is a part of every day here at the Gawthroupe home.

A couple of weeks back Colin sang his very first solo in church. All the children (60 or so) from the church put on the Primary presentation. This is a yearly event that takes the place of traditional talks/sermons. The children have short readings and talks and scripture passages, and sing about ten songs they have learned over the year. Every child has their moment at the pulpit microphone to speak something. Colin had a short reading, but was also asked to sing a song and share his enthusiasm he shows each week during music time at church.

I wasn't sure how Colin would react once he was standing in front of the congregation of 150 people, so I suggested James stand alongside Colin and sing with him. We practiced a bit at home, but Colin already knew the song from singing it week to week at church. During the first rehearsal, Colin took his place in front of the microphone, and James stood just behind and to the side. Colin started loud and clear: "I wonder when He comes again, will herald angels sing?" As James started to chime in on the second line, Colin (without missing a beat) sharply brought up his hand to cut James off. I, at the piano, did all I could to stifle my laughter. In the end, Colin sang his little heart out, hitting every line, if not every note.

The day of the presentation went off without a hitch. Colin even sang the second verse with the rest of the children singing in the background. This is a proud mama moment: he was the star of the show. His confidence and smile and memorization wowed everyone and made me beam and my heart burst with pride.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Welcome Dominic

I am an auntie again! My sister Krystal gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Dominic John, on Tuesday. As Krystal spent the day here waiting for her labour to progress enough to go to the hospital, I was amazed at how much like Benjamin's labour it was. I was able to predict the time she would go to the hospital, and the time of birth within an hour! I have always thought that you must have to be mother of at least 8 children to be counted an expert, since kids and associative issues are so diverse as to eliminate the ability to rely on experience with only a couple children. But as I watched my sister give birth to her second baby, and as my sister-in-law and my brother-in-law's girlfriend are both expecting later this year, I feel a surge of knowledge within. I suppose I do have a small collection of wisdom. While not all of it will be applicable, certainly sharing my experiences might have some value to those just starting to walk the path of parenthood.

And so, I am an auntie again! The name Dominic is simply a name Krystal and Jesse liked, however John is for both my grandfathers. It is wonderful to celebrate the beginning of this tiny life.

The joy was tempered the next day, however, as I received a phone call letting me know of the passing of a friend. While I never had the chance to get to know Careylee really well, there is still a feeling of absence within me. She fought a courageous battle against cancer over the past year, but has now gone on to live with our Father in Heaven. She will watch over her three young daughters from there. Within 24 hours I experienced the true circle of life. I am grateful for the knowledge of life before earth and life afterward. It helps me to remember that the time we spend here is but a moment in eternity, that my family were together before we came here and will be together again once we leave.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Benjaminuggets

When Benjamin has been apart from me for a length of time, even as short as 10 or 15 minutes, he loves to get back into my arms. As soon as he is passed to me or I pick him up, he gets this grin on his face, and then slaps his hands against me repeatedly, one against my chest and the other against my back, as if to say "This is my mother. This is my mother."

Colinism

I love that Colin uses adverbs properly, when the vast majority of the population doesn't. It's so cute to hear a four year old say "I want that very badly."

***

(overheard from the kitchen, Colin talking to Caleb)

"Just hold still for a minute...I just need to drill into your ear...."

***

The conversation at dinner tonight (James was at work late) warmed my heart. Colin and Caleb were discussing just how much they loved me. "I love Mommy 100." "I love Mommy 101." "I love Mommy to the moon." "I love Mommy right up into outer space." I love Mommy a thousand." "I love Mommy after a thousand." "I love Mommy above everything." Yes, that is a game I like to play!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bored with cooking

I am bored with cooking.

I haven't been grocery shopping in three weeks. Other than picking up milk at Wal-Mart, we've basically been living off the fridge, freezer and food storage. We've been super busy and I haven't really had much time to go, but since my grocery store is open 24 hours, I supposed that's not really an excuse. Really, I think it's just that I'm bored with cooking.

The passion to meal plan, the desire to create new and exciting meals or whip up an old favourite is gone. I hope the rut is temporary, because sooner or later I'm going to have to get myself in gear for the good and nutrition of my family, and I'd much rather want to do it than do it out of obligation only.

I was reading over at the "Heavenly Homemakers" blog tonight, which I haven't been able to do lately. Laura is the one who inspired me on my current food journey of healthy homemade foods in the first place; perhaps she can inject some life into my kitchen once again. She actually meal plans every meal for the entire week. Maybe I'll just copy her menu for a couple weeks and see where I get. Her food always looks so yummy.

So I must beat the blahs, banish them away! Winter isn't even here yet, so I've still got 6 months of cold and snow to get through. I can't be gotten down so early in the season.

Hmmm. Interestingly enough, I think the flame was lit in just writing about this. Yes, there is definitely a spark of interest. I wonder what will be on the menu for dinner tomorrow...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Finding the gems amid the rubble

The following quote describes exactly how I feel about all those books out there, and why I tend to stick to reading "the classics:"

Emerson said, "There are 850,000 volumes in the Imperial Library in Paris. If a man were to read industriously from dawn to dark for sixty years, he would die in the first alcove. Would that some charitable soul, after losing a great deal of time among the false books and alighting upon a few true ones, which made him happy and wise, would name those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities, into palaces and temples."

(Harvard Classics Reading Guide, p. 11)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Christmas traditions

Traditions are such an important part of family, and there is no easier time of year than Christmas to establish and hold to traditions. This year we started something new, that was so much fun.

In the past, and even growing up, decorating for Christmas was always a family event. And while putting up the Christmas tree is always something kids love, decorating the rest of the home always lost my interest. I found the same thing with my boys: once the tree is done, the party is over and mom is left getting everything else out.

A friend told me how she loves to decorate for any holiday she can. She hits the dollar store and spends about $10, then decorates at night after the kids have gone to bed. She loves to see their faces when they come down in the morning and discover a wonderland of colour in the reds and whites of Valentines Day or the green of St. Patricks or the pastels of easter or the fall colours of autumn.

So this year I thought I'd try it her way. While the boys were napping, I got everything out and decorated the house, including some new things the boys hadn't seen yet. Their faces when they came down were priceless. The look of awe and wonder glowing in their eyes as they bounded around the home, discovering each new thing will forever be imprinted on my mind. Then, altogether, we put up the Christmas tree, then waited for James to get home from work to decorate it. After the lighting of the tree, we all went out for Christmas dinner at Swiss Chalet. My hope is actually to make a big homemade Christmas turkey dinner to kick off the season, but the whole idea occurred to me too late in the day to get that together. But that's my hope for next year.

Today and tomorrow

This is a great reminder for all of us moms with young children, caught in the daily throes of toddler drama and personality quirks and discipline debacles. I can remember when Colin was about two and his little "stubborn" personality was emerging, and I made very sure to always call him "strong-willed" rather than stubborn. Stubborn has a negative connotation to it, whereas strong-willed insinuates something positive.

The following is a list from "The Power of Moms" online contributor Chantal Sego. As she reflected on her own three year old daughter and the challenges she faced while raising her, she challenged herself to adjust her perspective. She wrote down all the personality traits her daughter displayed today, and then pondered on what those traits might develop into in the future, and how they might become useful skills. I think it is important to remember that our little ones are just that...little, new to the world, raw materials full of passion and not yet in control of themselves. As mothers, it is our job to help them reach their full potential, embracing their individuality and developing it as they grow.

Today she is...... Tomorrow she will be...

An instigator......... A leader
Stubborn................Determined
Strong-willed.........Confident
Argumentative...... Articulate
Opinionated..........Charismatic
Messy.....................Creative
Loud.......................Vocal
Energetic...............Outgoing
Independent..........Self-reliant

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Calebites

"Mom, I see the moon! Well, sometimes I call it the moon, and sometimes I call it "Dreamworks." On the moon is where they make movies."

***

"Mom, look, the clouds are moving! They move because of the snow. The snowflakes are inside the clouds and they push the clouds along."

***

"I was trying to get my school bag off, but it was fighting with my coat. They had a big fight, but eventually my coat won and I got my bag off."

Monday, 15 November 2010

Stay-at-home-mom

A good friend gave a talk (sermon) during our church Sacrament meeting this past Sunday on motherhood and raising the bar on raising our children. It was very inspirational. She spoke about intentional parenting, about the need to have goals and plans in raising our kids. It was a great reminder about something I feel is really important.

I read a study once in which university students from Harvard were interviewed on whether or not they had a written plan on what they hoped to achieve in their careers. Only about 7% had written their goals down. When interviewed some years later, 97% of those who had written down their goals had achieved that which they planned. How incredible is that!

Back to my friend's talk. She made a very poignant confession: that although she is a stay-at-home-parent, many days she feels she is the "stay-at-home" part but not so much the "parenting" part. How easily I identify with this! So many days I am at home with my kids, and I scurry around trying to tidy and cook and clean, and what little parenting I do is reacitve rather than purposeful.

But with a plan...what could be accomplished with a plan! There is a great commercial on television right now that has altered the lyrics to the "Wizard of Oz" song "If I only had a brain" to "If I only had a plan." A married couple sing about all the financial things they could do, like save for tomorrow, pay for college, go on vacation, if they only had a plan. Enter a financial planner, who offers to help them create and write down a financial plan that will help them achieve all their goals and dreams. The ad is a little on the cheesy side, but it has stuck with me because it rings true. If you aim for nothing, you are sure to hit it.

James and I are preparing for our first official sit down parenting planning meeting. Over dinner next week, we plan on coming together and sharing our ideas for specifically over the next year, and generally over the next five and ten years. Once we share our ideas, we'll come up with a plan that will include goals we'd like our kids to reach, as well as personal and family goals, and the steps we might need to take to reach them. Then I'll write it all down and have it somewhere private, and yet visible for James and I to see a daily reminder about the plan.

It will be exciting to do this again next year, and also to evaluate how the year past went. Hopefully some, if not all, of the goals will have been realized. And if we fell short in some areas, at least we will have lived more purposeful lives. I think that even if specific goals are not accomplished, when you are living day to day in working toward something, there will be progress of some sort no matter what, even if it isn't in the direction you had planned.

Friday, 12 November 2010

When God grants me peace

I just got back from the hospital again. Colin developed a bit of an infection in his eye post-surgery, which meant a trip back to the eye clinic to have it checked out (and anti-biotics prescribed.)

As I was driving down, I found my mental state was calm. Calm and peace is all I have felt throughout the past few days concerning this surgery. I didn't realize how strange this was until I was speaking with friends, my mom, my grandmother and my husband about the whole ordeal. Every one I spoke to told me how nervous and tense they have been, or would have been, in this situation. My mom reminded me about a surgery I had just before I was one year old, and she was a basketcase. My grandmother said her anxiety would have started just with the drive down into the city. James said he didn't sleep at all the night before. Most people have mentioned how brave I was to take Colin down there on my own the day of the surgery. (That wasn't planned, but a last minute cancellation of our babysitter meant James had to stay back with the other boys.)

And through it all, I didn't blink once. As I think back on it, it seemed to me nothing more than another appointment to go to. I drove down just as if I was driving to school. We stood in line patiently to register as if I was signing him up for soccer. We laughed and joked and discussed the things we saw around us, just as we would on any other day. He went off to surgery and I went to the waiting room, as if I was sending him off to his Primary (church) class and I was going off to Sunday School. I waited in the parent's lounge, reading a parenting book and making notes on some plans I have for our family direction. When it was all over, I sat at Colin's side and told him "Mario and Luigi" stories like I do at bed time. Then we got in the car and drove home.

This morning, when his eye was red and puffy and closing up, I pulled out the phone and called the hospital, just like I would make any other phone call. They asked how long it would take me to drive to the hospital - when I said "an hour and a half" and they booked me for an appointment in exactly an hour and a half, there was no panic inside, no worry for the immediacy of the appointment. I just gathered up a book, a movie and my wallet and off we went.

Even now I have no "after-hours" anxiety, now that it's all done. It was as though it was just another ordinary day.

But I know that I have been blessed with the gift of peace from my Father in Heaven. Even my laid-back style of mothering would usually have cracked under such circumstances. And yet there is peace. I am reminded of this beautiful scripture:

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled , neither let it be afraid." (John 14:27)

This week I have been granted that peace. Not just for a moment, or a day, only to be done with the ordeal and be suddenly overwhelmed with pent-up anxiety and worry. This week I was granted peace in its entirety. What a wonderful gift.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

An early day at the hospital

Today we finally had Colin's eye surgery. Nearly two years after being referred, we had our appointment at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto.

What a day. It began at 4:30 am, since we had to arrive at the hospital by 6 am. Although I was bleary-eyed at 4:30, I found that by 5 am I was doing okay. I thought I would just carry Colin to the car where he would sleep again, but he was up and chipper as ever. We had a typical car ride, filled with questions from Colin's inquiring mind. We chatted about the string of green lights on Broadway (the main street in town) and why they were all green (the early hour of day). We talked about the lighted skyline of the GTA and distance and perspective. We talked about the different dividers used on highways, and their various functions. You know - typical 4 3/4 year old chatter. (He told everyone who asked him today that he is 4 and 3/4 years old.)

Once we arrived (right on time!) at the hospital things moved along nicely. We went to one desk to sign in, then to the next floor for Colin to change into hospital clothing, then to another room to wait to see the surgeon. There wasn't even time to open up a movie or a book; once Colin took in his new surroundings we were whisked onto the next place. My favourite part of the day was right when they had to take Colin off in one direction as they ushered me to the parents' waiting area. There was a little section of the room that had about 6 of those "Step 2" brand ride 'em cars that you push along with your feet, a la "Fred Flinstone", and Colin got to choose one to "drive" to the operating room! It was such a great idea, and it put a smile on my face, erasing any moment I might have had to feel anxiety as they led him away.

The parents' waiting room was full, even at that early hour (it was now about 8 am.) A few of us chatted about our children, and I felt so blessed by our situation. While surgery of any kind is always a big deal, so many of the parents I met were dealing with issues that are so huge, life-altering situations, some of which these parents will continue to deal with their entire lives. One father was their with his nine year old son - the boy's twin was at home that day, but the family had visited Sick Kids over 75 different times. Both twins have a severe form of autism and a whole host of other problems since birth. I was in absolutely awe of this father as he displayed a formidable force of patience trying to calm his anxious son, as the boy had no other way to express his anxiety than by throwing himself around and yelling. I spoke at length with a mother whose life was turned upsidedown when her daughter was born. The mother and father had been living in Sudan helping displaced refugees. The mother came home just to give birth, with the intention of returning immediately afterward. But the health issues of the baby made it impossible, since the baby would need constant hospital visits for the rest of her life.

The courage of these parents is beyond measure.

So there we all were, in the lounge. There was a huge display screen, very much like at an airport announcing the flight departures and arrivals, that had the initials of all the children in surgery, and their status (waiting, O.R, recovery.) Over a hundred eyes nervously glanced up and down from the screen, waiting for the little teddy bear to appear next to their child's name, indicating that we could be escorted to our child's side. I barely had time to grab a hot smoothee and read a bit of my book before it was my turn to head out from the waiting room and into recovery to see Colin.

Colin was such a trooper. The nurses were astonished at how "obedient" he was (their word, not mine.) He didn't pull at his I.V. or try and rip off his bandage. He sat up and lied down when asked. By the time I could come in, he was already awake from the anesthetic. He lied in the bed so quietly I worried a little. The other children around him were either crying and thrashing or sitting up and chatting. But my little Colin was just lying quietly. We only spent another 20 minutes or so before we were discharged. And just like that, it was all over, before lunch had even come.

One other notable thing: we have a portable DVD player that is perfect for things like this. I asked Colin what movie he would like to watch, and he chose "Dumbo." What is interesting is that he hasn't chosen Dumbo to watch in many months, maybe even over a year. But when he had his last surgery, two years ago, "Dumbo" is what he watched in the hospital then. Colin has very strong associative tendencies. I gave him a salami sandwich the first day of school last year, and that's all he wants every day for school, going on a year and a half now. So I'm not surprised that, consciously or sub-consciously, he chose the same movie to watch at the hospital this go around.

Now he's home and in recovery. We will have to go back in a few weeks for a post-op, and then again in a few months to have the tube removed that is forming the new tear duct. But all in all, a resounding success. It is strange to think that this block tear duct, that has been a part of who Colin is since he was born, will all be clear now.

Here is a photo of our little trooper:

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Happy Birthday Caleb!

Today Caleb turns three years old. There is something about 3 that suddenly seems like a little boy; to me, it's the age that my baby isn't my baby anymore. Although we still have lots of cuddles all around in this family, three is a reminder that they won't be little for long.

Caleb started his celebrations today by...sleeping in! That's right, he didn't wake until 6:30 am! It threw the whole morning off, because James had to be out early for work, but of course we had to do a big pancake breakfast and presents.

Caleb, Colin and I all waited at the top of the stairs while James readied the video camera. I remember my parents always made us wait on Christmas morning, and that extra 2 or 3 minutes were absolutely tortuous! James and I had decorated the kitchen last night so as to surprise Caleb this morning. As we sat waiting on the stairs, we only had a view of the living room (undecorated). As the living room came into view, Caleb stopped, and said sadly "There are no birthday decorations! Why are there no birthday decorations?" "Do you wish you had some decorations for today?" I inquired. "Yes," Caleb replied. "Maybe we can go to the store and get some later."

Cue the camera, and set Caleb off downstairs...you should have seen the look of wonder when he walked into the decorated kitchen. Streamers, banners, balloons, and a big stack of presents on the kitchen table. It was priceless.

The stack of presents was from James and I. A trip to the toy store the other day didn't yield any tips on what Caleb might like for his birthday gift. Mostly his interests are whatever Colin is doing. But one thing Caleb loves is dressing up in costumes (Score! His birthday is right after Halloween!) So I picked up a pile of superhero costumes for him. Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, and a pirate. There was pure happiness written all over his face as he tore open each package.

We got a webcam call from my parents in Australia. How cool is it that at the click of a button we can see them "face to face," and chat as if they were in the room? They sang "Happy Birthday" to Caleb. I'm pretty sure the singing of the birthday song is Caleb's favourite part of the celebrations.

Later tonight we are having hot dogs, french fries and chocolate cake (at the birthday boy's request.) Caleb's birthday kicks off a 6 week birthday extravaganza in our house, with all three boys' birthday in the next 6 weeks (as well as my nephew and arriving-any-day-new-nephew!) I guess, in our house, we sort of do have a holiday between Halloween and Christmas!

Here are some of my favourite things about Caleb:

I love his compassion. He is so attune to other people's emotions, and immediately wants to do what he can to help.
I love his grin. Still never really captured on camera, I may just have to hold this one in my memory. His eyes light up and his smile stretches from ear to ear. It warms my heart.
I love how he has embraced his role as big brother. He is always watching out for Benjamin, finding him a soother or a toy, trying to sing or clap to cheer Benjamin up when he's crying, asking him if he is okay or if he needs anything, or letting me know when Benjamin might be in trouble.
I love his train of thought. He has definite ideas he wants to express, even if there are a few detours to get there.
I love that he loves to pray. He always asks each of us what we are thankful for and what we would like to ask God for. Then he scrunches his eyes shut and does his very best to remember each and every detail.
I love that he loves to sing. He doesn't always remember all the words, but he makes something pretty good up for the lapses of memory. His favourite music selections are "Thriller" by Michael Jackson and anything by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I love when he tries to say "Mormon Tabernacle Choir." He usually gets the "choir" part, and rolls over the rest. It comes out different every time.
I love his cuddles. He loves to sit on my lap when I read to him. (He always finds a good book for Benjamin to read so that Benjamin will be happy on the floor instead of on my lap.) When Caleb is tired, he loves to hop on my lap and cuddle into my arms.
I love how he lights up when you walk in the door. James gets this every day. I get to experience it much less, but when I do get to walk in after a short absence, there is nothing like being greeted by Caleb charging at the door, eyes shining, smile shining, and then having him leap up into your arms, throw his arms around your neck and bury himself in you. This is what being a mother is all about.

I love you, kiddo.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Up and running again

The flu seems to have passed. I was so glad to wake up this morning and feel normal again, without even a hint of the "day after recovery" tiredness that usually accompanies illness. Nope, just right up and into the saddle again.

The biggest blessing was that I didn't have three days to catch up on. My wonderful, fantastic husband jumped right in where I left off. After arranging to get off early from work, he picked up Colin from school, made dinner, did dishes, cleaned up, and even threw in not one, but four loads of laundry, when he noticed the boys were out of pajamas. In the midst of that, he also planned a potluck dinner for our church tonight, along with a presentation on missionary work that he is in charge of. My husband rocks! I am so blessed.

My favourite part of when James takes over is when he dresses the boys. He always chooses orange-coloured clothing for them to wear - his favourite colour. It makes me smile when I come down to see all of them dressed, decked out in orange.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Managing the candy

Halloween night last only an hour or so, but the reprecutions can last for weeks.

Our neighbourhood is great for trick-or-treating (in my opinion, as a mother). The houses are spread far apart, and we actually only have houses on one side of the street. So by the time the kids are tired, they have really only hit 20 homes or so. Which translates into about 30 pieces (thanks to the homes who like to dole out more than one piece to cute children.)

I have always been on the side of allowing my boys one piece of candy a day. That way I can somewhat manage the sugar-highs and rotting of the teeth. But here are two other ideas shared by friends this week, both of which I think are good options.

1) Apparently, dentists say that having a lot of candy for a short period of time is better than long, drawn out exposure. The suggestion here is to allow your kids as much candy as they want for a week, and then toss whatever is leftover. What about the sugar overload affecting their behaviour? Well, you will have that to contend with, but at least it is only for a week. My friend suggests getting your kids outside to wear off the energy, or even running around the house. They made a game of it in their home: my friend would give them fun tasks to do, like running upstairs and finding something red and bringing it down, then going back up for something blue, etc.

2) The trade-in method actually might be my favourite. This idea eliminates all the extra candy that your kids don't really like but they will eat anyway, simply because it is there. (You know, all those little sugary bites, or the caramel toffee, or the candy cones. I can't believe I used to eat those!) Let your kids pick 10 pieces of candy they really like, then have them "trade-in" the rest for a small amount of money to hit the dollar store with. Truly, my kids would be happy with a dollar and a small toy, and they wouldn't even miss all that extra candy.

I love trading ideas with other moms. I was completely convinced that the one candy a day was the best (and only) way to manage Halloween candy. Now I've got three tricks in my bag. Do you have any other ideas or tips?

Nasty flu

Nasty flu.

Go away.

You are not welcome here.

***

Caleb, Benjamin and I have all had the flu this week. Caleb had it first, and it only presented on him as a faint body rash. Benjamin had it next, but it was just a high fever. Now I've got it, but it is just severe body aches. Funny how the same virus can affect all of us in completely different ways. Just a reminder that we are all unique.

***

On the other hand, flu,

I am grateful you have not brought copious amounts of vomit.

Thank you.

From,
Trying to see the positive spin.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Writing away

Have I ever caught the writing bug! I've always been a writer at heart, scribbling stories and scripts and poetry and journals, and, more lately, blogs. I haven't written much in the past 5 years or so. Sure, I've been busy with pregnancies and babies, but it hasn't even been that. I always found it much harder to write in periods of life when I'm content. There is something about angst and unsettled feelings that lend themselves to writing. Writing is cathartic, I suppose.

At any rate, with two Christmas programs to write, I was starting to psych myself up into writing mode again. Then, a new opportunity presented itself to write a short film script for a church production. I accepted the assignment without hesitation. It wasn't until I got home that I started to worry a little. Did I still have it in me to write something like this? Penning my own life experiences on a blog is one thing - that is simply recording what happens day to day, and what thoughts are swirling in my head. But this - this was something that could potentially evolve into paid work!

As I sat down last night to start the research and reading and maybe even writing, I accidentally happened across an opportunity to submit an essay on motherhood, for consideration for publication in a book! I was excited just thinking about it! Inspiration started flashing through my mind. My fingers were itching to get typing to express the ideas overflowing. I looked for the submission deadline - two weeks away! My heart sank. That would never be enough time.

I started to push it from my mind, but then reconsidered. I had a few hours in the evening to spare. I would just start writing and see what happened.

I wrote for a couple of hours, and found that I easily met the 2500 word quota. Words tumbled into sentences as thoughts formed on the page. When I came to the end, I reread it once, then attached it to an email and sent it off. Just like that! I knew that I didn't have time to mull it over and make revisions. If I did that, I might forget and let the deadline slip by. No, this was the way to do it. If the editors liked it, I'm sure they would let me make a few revisions, if they felt it necessary.

In the hours after I sent it, of course I had more ideas, other lead-ins, different stories, more concise ways to express myself. But it was done. My hope now is that, should it be the direction they want to take, the editors will see something in the natural manner in which I wrote.

Then, this morning, I pulled out the research again for the short film, and in less than an hour I had the script written. Many artists will talk about true inspiration as being simply expressing something that is already there. For example, a music composer will say they simply heard the song first and were just putting it on paper. Or, a sculptor will say that the statue was already there, hidden in the marble, and they simply had to chip away the parts that didn't belong to reveal the work of art beneath. That is how it was for me this morning - the film was already playing in my mind, and I just had to get it down into script format.

What a rush! I feel exhilarated! Now I've got those two Christmas programs to pull together. But after that, perhaps there are a few more things swirling in my mind waiting to be written...

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Halloween

Another Halloween come and gone.

As Halloween fell on a Sunday this year, we chose not to trick-or-treat on October 31st. However, we had a plethora of other activities in which to take part and wear our costumes (a total of 5 for each of the older boys!)

From school parties to birthday parties to the town's Broadway street trick-or-treat to dropping in a good friend to the yearly "trunk-or-treat" event, the boys had a blast. Caleb wore a different costume for each of his parties. Colin wore his "Mr. Incredible" to everything except the final event, the trunk-or-treat.

Here is what the three boys went as to that main event (the trunk-or-treat):


Alvin, Simon and Theodore, otherwise known as the Chipmunks!

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Christmas season has begun!

I'm so glad that Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, because that means once Halloween is past and November 1 arrives, I can break out all things Christmas and people won't think I'm too crazy.

So, fair warning, as of today, November 1st, this blog may contain Christmas references, ideas, plans, and joy.

I've got my plate full this season, but somehow planning Christmas concerts never seem overwhelming to me. If there is music involved, it soothes my soul rather than ruffles it.

I've got 5 concerts with our community band.
I've got 3 shows with the Nativity pageant I'm directing for the city of Brampton.
I've got 2 concerts with our church stake choir.
I've got 1 Christmas program (stories and music) to write and produce for our ward Christmas party.
I've got 1 Christmas program (readings and music) to write and produce for our ward Christmas service.

In the next couple of weeks I will pull down all the fall decorations and put up the Christmas ones. Okay, not the tree yet, but I will spread a little Christmas cheer around the house. It's so much easier and more conducive to creating these Christmas programs if I have a joyous Christmas atmosphere. And now I can also blast some Christmas tunes (I admit we've had a few days already of playing holiday songs, but we've kept the volume low.)

The Christmas season has begun!