Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Another Lesson Learned

I learned yet another mommy lesson yesterday.  For a while now, I've been saving room in my purse by leaving spare wipes and diapers in the car when we're out and about.  This works great ... except I didn't think about the fact that the temperature is now dropping below freezing. 

Yesterday, just as we were getting out of the car at the mall, I caught a whiff of Chloe's diaper (which, it should be noted, had already been changed right before we left home).  No problem, I think.  I've done quick changes in the back of the car before.  We can do this and still be on time to see Santa.  Until I tried to pull a wipe out of the package.  Frozen solid.  Some serious tugging finally pulled one loose.  Then I had to defrost it between the palms of my hands until it was usable.  Usable, but still not that warm.  Let's just say Chloe was not impressed. 

I'll be keeping wipes in my purse again for the rest of the winter.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas Kitchen: A Bonus Day!

NOTE: Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining. It's also a lot of work. It's easy to let things get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. This week I shared 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays. I had so much fun with it, that I thought I'd put together one more post with some more ideas.

Some of these ideas involve pre-prepared foods. I'm all for taking a few shortcuts at Christmas time so that you can concentrate your time and effort on the things that you really love. For instance, in my family there's no point slaving away over gingerbread from scratch because I'm pretty much the only one that eats it and even then it's not my favourite. It makes sense for me to partner with Mr. Pillsbury.  On the other hand, I'll spend hours making our favourite almond lemon heart cookies from scratch. For me, it's about trying to balance the workload during a busy time of year, and having fun in the kitchen.


Pillsbury Ginger snap cookies
Buy a tube of Pillsbury's gingerbread cookie dough.  Instead of the time-consuming rolling out and using cookie cutters, just separate the dough into chunks and roll each piece into a ball. Roll the ball in white sugar, then place onto a cookie sheet, and press it lightly with the heel of your hand to flatten it slightly.  Bake according to directions on the package (may take slightly longer than the rolled cookies, as they're a little thicker). This is something quick and fun to do with the kids, or to whip together at the last moment when you're having company over.

Lynn's Peppermint Bark
Click here and scroll to the bottom of the post for the recipe from Lynn at Diary of a Turtlehead.
I tried this yesterday with Maya, and it was fun to make and delicious to eat.  If you want to save time (or don't have little hands to help you), you can buy crushed candy canes at Bulk Barn.

Bruschetta Chicken Bake
 I love this recipe from Kraft. It's easy to make, tastes good, the kids will eat it, and it reheats really well. Perfect for a night when you want a simple meal together, or for a day when the family members are busy and eating at different times.  Feel free to play around with the recipe.  We like it with a bit of extra cheese, and I add some oregano as well as basil to give it a bit more flavour.

Easy Potluck contribution:  Slow cooker meatballs
The holidays often mean potlucks, and it can be a lot of work to bring a main course.  This one is easy peasy.  You'll need a box of frozen, pre-cooked meatballs (I like the PC Blue Menu Italian meat balls, but M&M also makes some nice ones) and one or two jars of Diana Sauce depending on how many meatballs you're going to cook. I like the Original Diana Sauce but there's a honey maple one that works well too.   Dump the frozen meatballs into the slow cooker.  Pour the sauce on top, until the meat balls are coated.  Turn the slow cooker on and you're all set!  Since they're pre-cooked, they just need to get hot, so it doesn't actually take that long. About an hour on high is probably enough, or longer on a lower setting.  If you're in a rush, you can defrost the meatballs in the microwave (directions should be on the package, it should be about 5 minutes) and then just put them in the slow cooker on low or "keep warm".


Do you have any great, simple ideas of your own?  Please share!  I'd love to add some new things to my repertoire.

Friday, 16 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas Kitchen: Day 5

NOTE: Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining. It's also a lot of work. It's easing to let thing get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. This week I'm sharing 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays.


Pizzaburger

Today's recipe can be used to make a lunch (or a quick dinner) that the kids will love, or some delicious appetizers. I find one recipe makes enough for 2 meals.  I often make a double recipe and freeze the extras for future lunches or for when I need an easy-to-make (but not store bought) appetizer.

Ingredients:
1 can of ham (Prem, Spam, or Klik)   --> I prefer the Klik Light, as it's lower in fat
1/2 lb (about 250 g) of grated mozzarella cheese (grate it yourself or save time and use shredded cheese)
8 oz (about 175mL) can of tomato sauce*
1 Tbsp grated onion
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted  (if you're calorie conscious, you can use less)

* I've used a can of pizza sauce and omitted the pepper, garlic and oregano and it turned out ok.

Directions:

In a medium-sized bowl, mash the Klik well with a fork. Add all of the other ingredients and blend well. Chill in the fridge for a few hours.

For a lunch, spread on English muffins, hamburger buns, or French bread (we prefer English muffins).  For an appetizer, spread on melba toast rounds or slices of baguette.

Place them on a baking sheet and broil in the oven  until the top is brown and bubbly.

Hot out of the oven

The mixture keep well in the fridge for about a week.  It also freezes really well.

Wordless ... Friday?

Ok, not Wednesday and not quite wordless, but ... I just have to share this photo with you:


She was touching the tree and the ornaments oh-so-gently and with such admiration, I just had to grab my camera.  This was the best of the shots (she's a wiggly little thing, and I was trying to capture it without the flash).  Apart from the expression on her face, I love the little dimples on her elbow. They make me want to eat her up!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas Kitchen: Day 4

NOTE: Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining. It's also a lot of work. It's easy to let things get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. This week I'm sharing 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays.


Homemade Nuts & Bolts

Christmas shouldn't be all about the sweet ... I believe there's room for some salty and savoury foods too.  You can usually find a snack mix recipe of some kind on a Shreddies box, and that's probably where my Grandma found hers originally.  In fact, my Grandma had two different recipes.  The directions here are for the adaptation popular with my family.

Ingredients:

4 cups Shreddies
2 cups Cheerios
2 cups straight pretzels, broken up a little into smaller pieces
OPTIONAL: 1 lb salted, unroasted peanuts

1/2 cup margarine or butter
1tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
salt to taste
OPTIONAL: 1 tsp Tobasco  (we like the kick this adds, but you can leave it out or use only 1/2 tsp depending on your family's tastes.  My husband likes it spicy, and would love me to add more!)

[The measurements of cereal are approximate, and you can play around with the proportions according to your family's tastes.  Growing up, we always added peanuts but in recent years I've left them out.  I usually make about a triple batch at one time, just tossing the cereals into the pans and then estimating whether I need to double or triple the sauce part.]


Mix the cereal, broken up pretzels and nuts (if desired) in a large, shallow baking pan. 


In a microwavable bowl, melt the margarine, add the spices, and mix well.  Drizzle over the cereal mixture and toss until evenly coated. 

Bake at 300F for 25 minutes, stirring several times until well toasted. Then cool and salt to taste.

If you're easily distracted in the kitchen (like me) you can also bake them at 250F, stirring every 15 minutes, but it will take longer (one to two hours) until they are all roasted.  I go back and forth between the two baking methods from one year to the next, depending on what else I have going on at the time. I've never burnt them at the lower temperature, but it does take a lot longer.

Cool and salt to taste.

Sadly, I have no pictures of the finished product yet, because it turns out I'm out of Worcestershire sauce, so we're stalled until at least after nap time.  I'll add pictures when I have some.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas Kitchen: Day 3

NOTE: Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining. It's also a lot of work. It's easy to let things get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. This week I'm sharing 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays.

Chocolate-dipped Apricots

These are super easy to make, and they look beautiful mixed in a plate or bowl of assorted Christmas cookies and treats.

Ingredients:
dried apricots
merckens chocolate wafers (dark or light, according to your preference -- I prefer dark in this instance as they have a but more punch to the flavour and I like the darker colour.)

Instructions:

Melt the chocolate wafers in a small jar placed in a pan of hot water. You don't want to overheat the chocolate, just met it until it's smooth, with no lumps remaining. [You could also use a microwavable mug and melt them in the microwave ... but I like to use a jam jar and do it this way because my mom always did, and because I have a history or burning chocolate in the microwave].

Chocolate wafers in a small mason jar,
warming in a water bath.



Dipping the apricots



Using a pair of tongs, pick up a dried apricot by one end and dip it into the chocolate until it is about half to two-thirds of the way submerged. 





Finished apricots drying

Then place it on a sheet of waxed paper to cool and dry.  I sometimes dip them a little unevenly, so the back side (the side that will lie on the waxed paper) is a little more covered in chocolate than the front.






Allow the chocolates to set. I'd probably allow about 15 minutes before removing them from the waxed paper.  You can speed this up by popping them into the freezer for a few minutes if you're in a hurry.  If you want, you can use the little paper candy cups (you know, the ones that look like tiny muffin wrappers) to present them, but I usually just tuck them into mixed plates of cookies au naturel.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas Kitchen: Day 2

NOTE: Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining. It's also a lot of work. It's easy to let things get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. This week I'm sharing 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays.

White Chocolate Cranberry Drops

I don't remember where I got the idea for these, but I tried them out a few years ago and we really enjoy them.  Total time to make them (not including letting them set): about 10 minutes with no children underfoot. 

Ingredients:

white chocolate squares (about 12 squares)
dried cranberries (about 3 cups)

[The measurements are guess-timates, and you can use more or less, depending on how many of the cranberry drops you want to make.  I melt the chocolate, and then add dried craberries until they are coated well.  I usually drop a spoonful as a test, and if it's too runny, I add more cranberries]

Instructions:

Place the white chocolate squares in a microwave safe bowl or measuring cup (it should hold about 3 to 4 cups).  Melt them in the microwave for 1 minute at 50%.  Give them a stir.  If this isn't enough to melt them, return them to the microwave for 30 second intervals at 50% until the chocolate is just melted.

Add the dried cranberries to the white chocolate and stir until they are evenly coated.


Spoon the chocolate coated cranberries onto a wax paper lined tray.  I do some that are about a teaspoon in size and some that are smaller, to give me some variety.  If you find it's too runny, add a few more cranberries to the mixture.  I also find the bottom of the bowl is always a little more chocolately, so I sometimes add another small handful of cranberries at the end.



Set the trays aside to allow the chocolate to cool.  If you're in a hurry, set the trays in the freezer for about 20 minutes.  Once the chocolates have set, peel them off and pop them into a container for storage. I usually keep mine in the freezer to prevent use from gobbling them up too fast!


Ready to eat!
[ETA:  My mother-in-law commented to me that you coudl also add your favourite type of shredded coconut to these.  I also remembered that I saw dried cherries at Bulk Barn this week, and I think they'd be nice to try instead of the cranberries]

Monday, 12 December 2011

KISSing in the Christmas kitchen: Day 1

Christmas is a busy season: it's full of special events, visits with friends and family, and lots of entertaining.  It's also a lot of work.  It's easy to let thing get out of hand, which is why I have a few strategies for KISSing (Keep it Simple, Silly) in the kitchen at Christmas time. Don't get me wrong ... I'll still be spending time this holiday season on my family's labour-intensive Swiss Christmas cookie favourites, and learning to make my mother-in-law's Christmas cake.  But I also have some delicious standbys that are super easy to put together. And (lucky you!), this week I'm sharing 5 of my quick-and-easy kitchen ideas for the holidays.


Microwave Chocolate Fudge

This recipe comes from a cookbook from my old middle school, put together as a fundraiser. 

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups icing sugar (you can sift it if you like, I don't usually bother)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions:
In a large microwavable bowl (I use my 8 cup glass measuring cup) stir together the icing sugar, cocoa, salt, milk and vanilla.  Top it with the 1/2 cup of margarine. 
Before putting it in the microwave
Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes ( longer, if the butter isn't melted yet, it will depend on your microwave). 
After 2 minutes in the microwave and a little stir. 
I put it back in for 30 seconds, as some of the margarine was still firm.
Stir until smooth.  (This part takes a minute or two, I find, in order to get a nice texture.) Blend in the nuts, if desired.  Pour it into a wax-lined 8" x 8" pan.  Chill in the fridge for a few hours, then cut into squares.

Before chilling.
This recipe makes a soft fudge, and is best stored in the fridge or freezer until serving.  You can add a little bit of extra icing sugar to firm it up if you prefer it that way.  If your icing sugar had some lumps, and you chose not to sift it, you may have some small white lumps in your fudge.  Personally, I don't mind them.

You can also try out some variations of this fudge, adding peppermint extract to give it a minty flavour, sprinkling nuts on top instead of mixing them in, etc.  It's all up to you!

Do you have a great idea of your own for KISSing in the kitchen at Christmas?  Please share!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Back in the saddle

The short break I planned to take after posting (almost) every day in November has turned out to be *ahem* longer than I planned.  But I'm back, and I have some interesting ideas in mind for sharing with you over the next little while.

First, a quick reflection on NaBloPoMo.  I found it was good to have motivation to post every day and to prevent me from procrastinating.  But I did find that by the end of the month some of the joy had gone out of it and it had become a bit of a chore that I had to do before I could go to bed at night.  There's also the usual quantity vs quality argument to be made.  Still, I think it was a worthwhile endeavour and I'd be willing to give it a try again next year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday: School Picture

I love the tight cropping of this pose from her school
pictures because it really enhances her beautiful hazel eyes.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Belly Laugh

Tonight, as I was getting Maya out of the bath and into her pyjamas, Jeff and Chloe came upstairs and joined us, hanging out in the hallway too. Maya was dragging her feet about brushing her teeth and so Jeff sprawled himself across the doorway and created a "gate" of sorts for her to crawl through to get into the bathroom ... but it had to be quick, the gate was shrinking down.  Apparently, this turned teeth brushing into fun and Maya went right along, cheerfully. Chloe saw an opportunity to crawl all over Daddy and play. 
I picked up the wet towel and tried to step over my husband and into the bathroom to hang up the towel, which was when Jeff grabbed my ankle and wouldn't let me pass. For a moment, I thought something was wrong, until I saw the twinkle in his eye and realised he was in a playful mood. Thus began the wrestling match, with me trying to free my ankle through the use of such tactics as sticking my finger into his belly button (he's not ticklish, but this move always makes him squirm) and Jeff grinning and steadfastly refusing to let me pass. It ended with us sprawled on the floor, laughing. Maya was delighted, and Chloe thought we were crazy. It was silly and fun, and felt good.  We've been so busy being parents lately, we haven't been spending enough time just being Marianne and Jeff.  It was a wonderful moment and the perfect way to blow off the grump I'd been in most of the day due to the damp and gloomy weather.

In case you're wondering, the damp towel is still sitting on the bathroom floor.

Monday, 28 November 2011

5 Things I like about my home

Because I've been feeling blah lately, I thought I'd stop and look around me this evening and be appreciative of my home.
  1. The island in my kitchen.  I enjoy having this island as a workspace and a delineation between the working and eating areas of the kitchen.
  2. The main floor powder room.  It was one of the first spaces we made over after moving into the house, and I still like the green paint colour (despite the name "reptilian") and the framed mirror we chose.
  3. The guest bedroom.  I love, love, love the blue colour in there so much I almost wish we had it in the master bedroom (though it wouldn't suit the space of our room nearly as well). I also like the high, arched window of the guest bedroom.  It's the room with the most direct sunlight in the whole house and also the best view out onto the street.  It's simply furnished, with just a bed, night table and one chair, but I like that it's always clean and uncluttered.
  4. The reading nook in the hallway at the top of the stairs. Right now, it holds a bookcase and a rocking chair, perfect for reading bedtime stories (or middle of the day stories) with our girls.  As the girls learn to read on their own, I can see us swapping out the rocking chair for a couple of bean bag chairs instead.
  5. The double garage.  It is a blessing to be able to park both cars in the garage during the winter months.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Advent

While the first of December is still a few days away, Advent officially gets started today with the first Sunday of Advent.  In the Church, Advent is a time of preparing for the birth of Jesus, though it's more secularly known just as the countdown to Christmas.  Last year, my mom gave Maya an advent calendar with a lovely scene from the Christmas nativity and a door to open each day,  Maya remembers the calendar, and has been telling us for weeks that soon it will be time for her "Baby Jesus picture" as she calls it.  (Good thing we saved it ... Jeff wanted to recycle it at the end of the season last year).

I'm not really into advent calendars with chocolates or gifts each day ... I think Christmas is commercial enough already.  Which is why I love the tradition Andrea from A Peek Inside the Fishbowl has for the 25 Days of Christmas. In her words:

"Instead of buying a chocolate advent calendar I decided to surprise the girls with one Christmas-related activity everyday throughout the month of December; a fun task, seasonal event, or craft. No chocolate, no shopping, and no cheap gifts — just family time."

I love this idea, and I"m going to give it a try this year. I'm undecided about whether I'll do the whole 25 days, or start a little alter, maybe on St. Nicholas Day.  It all depends on how many activities I can come up with!  I think I'm planning to use envelopes for the activities this year, but if we enjoy it I'll look into making some kind of calendar with pockets for future years.

ETA:  Lynn at Turtlehead has just posted about the (gorgeous) advent calendar she's created for her family's advent activities. She also lists the activities they'll be doing, so if you're looking for inspiration, click on over!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

When do they get quiet?

(Note: this is back-posted.  I tried to use the scheduled post feature to have this come up on Saturday, but I messed up and it didn't post, so I'm correcting it today).

From parents of older children ... is there a tage at which I can expect my children will develop some kind of volume control?  It's been crazy noisy around here lately.  Maya was a pretty quiet child until about a year ago, aroudn age three.  Since turning four, it seems she's ratcheted up the volume again. Menawhile, Chloe has to compete with her older sister, so she's much more vocal than Maya was at this age.  Sometimes we can barely hear ourselves think, with all the chatter and singing and shrieking that goes on. (Yes, Maya has entered the stage of little-girl-excited shrieky-ness.  Yikes!)  It's compounded by the fact that Maya almost alwyas declines to play in the basement or upstairs in her bedroom.

Please tell me there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Another Incident.

This evening I was watching TV while Chloe was happily playing roaming around the family room and playing by herself.  Then she walked right up to me with her hand out and handed me something with a big smile and a coo of delight.  I took from her what appeared to be a tiny (half the size of a pea) piece of brown playdoh.  Except we have no brown playdoh.  Uh oh. Flashback to last week.  Complete the same flip-her-over-and-check-the-diaper move.  Yup.  Poo.

Guess who is sentenced to wearing onesies for the foreseeable future to avoid anymore hands-in-the-pants incidents?

(**Footnote:  There was no other mess this time.  She somehow managed to get just that tiny little piece without getting anything else dirty, including her hands.  In fact, at first I thought it had to be something else, even with the evidence of the dirty diaper, but I didn't find anything else around that she could have gotten into.)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Chloe becomes communicative

In the past week and a half, Chloe's communication skills have really blossomed.  She's been able to say dadadadada and mamamamama and a variety of other sound combinations for awhile, but she didn't appear to be using them meaningfully as words.  Last week, she started to clearly use dada and mama sounds for Daddy and Mommy.  I also figured out that the "ah-ya" sound she makes is her name for Maya.  It is very sweet. 

At the same time, she has learned to shake her head for "no" and to sign "all done", which have started to make things a little easier at meal times.  Though it should be noted that signing "all done" can often more correctly be interpreted as "No more of that food mommy, please give me something different now". We can also no infer "yes" from a lack of a head shake, or her emitting a random excited sound when asked if she wants food or water or to nurse. 

It's a relief to have these first words appear.  Chloe has had quite a few meltdowns lately, where she's clearly been upset about something but we haven't been able to figure out what it was she wanted.  Her little needs and wants have gotten more complex as she develops, such as wanting specific foods, or to be read a particular book but by Daddy not Mommy, but we're often left guessing as to what combination of things she wants at a particular moment. I know we have a long journey until she will really be able to express herself in detail (heck, Maya's 4 and we still have breakdowns in communication at least once a day) but at least we're on the path.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Five things that make me happy

1.  Chocolate (pretty much any kind)

2.  Kisses from my daughters

3.  A warm cup of tea and a good book

4.  Snuggling into bed and warming my feet on my husband

5.  Getting a letter in the mail

Monday, 21 November 2011

Maya falls for her first ad.

We've been asking Maya lately what she plans to ask Santa to bring her for Christmas.  She's been sticking with her love of animals and steadily requesting an elephant and a hippo.  Until yesterday, when she added another wish to her list:  "Hungry Hungry Hippos that are hungrier than ever".  Yup, directly from the commercial that airs at the start of her (current) favourite episode of Team Umizoomi.  Our baby has fallen for her first advertisement.  I'm not even sure she really knows what the game is about, except that it has hippos and the announcer makes it sound exciting. 

Jeff and I have no intention of allowing Santa to bring her Hungry Hungry Hippos.  While I loved the game as a child, I'm well aware that my sister and I didn't so much play the game as pound wildly on the little levers, creating a cacophony of sound and causing marbles to fly in all directions. I remember my Mom yelling at us pretty much anytime we played the game, and now that I'm a mom myself I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND.  The game would drive me nuts.  To say nothing of how tempted Chloe would be by the little white choking hazards marbles. Nope, Jeff and I were rapidly in agreement that this was not a good idea.

We were, however, at a bit of a loss as to how to let Maya know that Santa might not bring her this coveted toy.  She was oblivious to hints that maybe Santa wouldn't bring everything she wished for. We tried telling her that maybe Santa wouldn't know where to get Hungry Hungry Hippos. "Don't worry, he'll just make it in his toy shop", Maya reassured us.  Thankfully, I finally had a brainwave.  I told her I looked the game up on the computer and the computer told me that the game was only for older children, and Santa would know this and wouldn't be able to bring her Hungry Hungry Hippos this year, but maybe another year when she was old enough, if she still wanted it she could ask again.  Amazingly, she accepted this without complaint.  "Maybe when I am 9, that will be old enough." 

Phew.  Crisis averted.

Now to start planning some media awareness discussions before she falls for the next toy ad ...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Head, meet table

Maya had an encounter with the corner of the coffee table today, and the coffee table won.  Apparently, she was pretending to be a ghost and fell into the table (I was out at the time ... I arrived home in time to find Maya huddled on the couch while Jeff held an ice pack to her head).  It was a small but quite deep cut to the right side of her forehead, more of  a puncture wound in fact. It had stopped bleeding by the time I saw it, although there was still quite a bit of swelling around it.  A few millimetres wider and I think we'd have been spending a few hours at the hospital waiting for stitches or glue. I'm pretty sure she's going to have a little bit of a scar there. Luckily it's fairly close to the hair line, and hopefully it won't be too visible.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Blueberry yumminess

I've been engaged in a fit of domesticity this week, cleaning and cooking and stocking my freezer with spaghetti sauce and my grandma's pizzaburger topping mixture (a post for another day). Today I turned my energy to finally making the blueberry jam that's been on my agenda for .. ahem ... months. 

Jam is actually pretty easy peasy to make.  The not-so-easy-peasy part is that you have to stay with it and keep wtaching/stirring during the process so it doesn't burn, thus making it hard to do with small children underfoot.  I did my best to ensure some uninterrupted time by prepping as much as I could while the kids ate lunch, then I whisked Chloe off to bed for her nap, popped a DVD in for Maya and got to work. 

I made two batches: one regular, and one low-sugar.  I now have 14 jars of lovely purplish blueberry jam sitting on my counter, waiting to be labelled and stored away in my jam cupboard tomorrow.  Mmmm mmm, yummy blueberry jam all winter!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Movember


Maya and her JK classmates were all sporting mustaches at pick-up time today.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Incident (or: How I ended up nursing my daughter in the shower this morning)

The day started really well.  Chloe woke early and cheerful, so all four of us had breakfast together this morning.  Maya got dressed and ready with a minimum of fuss, and Jeff took her cheerfully off to school.  I settled Chloe in to play in the family room while I got busy tidying the kitchen, starting the ground beef for some spaghetti sauce simmering, and doing some other cooking. (I'm feeling domestic this week, and stocking our freezer).  I was applauding myself for doing such a good job and getting ready to sit down with a cup of coffee when Chloe started crying. 

I figured she was ready for some attention, so I scooped her up.  She continued crying even when I was cuddling her, so I headed for the couch planning to nurse her.  As I was sitting down with her on my lap, I noticed the front of her shirt and pants were covered in oatmeal from breakfast.  Then I remembered she didn't eat oatmeal at breakfast today.  At which point I noticed her hands were also brown.  The light was beginning to dawn, and I flipped her over only to have my suspicions confirmed:  after 4 years of parenting, I had my first hands-in-the-poop-that-had-exploded-out-of-the-diaper incident.  We quickly stood back up, and I tried to hold her away from my body in order to carry her upstairs, but she renewed her crying with increased vigour, and started desperately clawing at me, trying to get closer.  Resigned to the inevitable, I held her to my chest and dashed up the stairs.

Upstairs, I started the water in the tub and then headed for the nursery to strip her naked on the change pad.  At this point I was able to ascertain that there wasn't actually all that much poop, it had just managed to travel quite a bit.  It look like, having gotten her hands dirty, she did her best to try and wipe them clean on her clothes.  I returned to the bathroom with a naked and still screaming baby.  After checking the water, I managed to pry her out of my arms and set her down in the tub, with the shower hose attachment at the ready.  But Chloe was still refusing to be pried from my arms, and now I had a near-hysterical little baby clutching me with still-poopy hands. I had already realised that my clothes would be going into the wash, but now realised her hands were clutching at my naked arms below my short sleeved shirt and I realised that I might as well shower myself too.  So out she came from the tub and it was my turn to strip naked.  Together we stepped into the shower. 

Normally, Chloe loves the shower.  Today, she didn't seem enthralled.  Her cries subsided, but she continued to grumble and clutch tightly to Mommy.  I finally sat down with her in the bottom of the tub and she immediately threw herself sideways into my lap and latched on to nurse.  She gave one last sob, closed her eyes, and with a great big sigh relaxed into me.  And that's where we stayed for the next 20 minutes, until we were ready to emerge from our warm refuge and try re-starting our day.

I think it'll be awhile before the next time I get lazy and grab a disposable from the change table instead of walking down the stairs to get the clean cloth diapers from the laundry room. My cloth diapers are much more effective at containing messes.  I think I got away lightly this time ... Chloe hadn't wandered, and there was only a small trace of poop on the carpet. I never did get my morning cup of coffee, though.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work he goes

Jeff headed back to work today, after spending the past nine weeks at home with us on parental leave.  This morning, Maya suggested to Daddy that because we will miss him, maybe he could just go to work for some of the day and then come home at lunch time. Lacking her older sister's advanced logic, Chloe just chose to cry her little heart out when Daddy went out the door to work.  Luckily, we had a busy day planned so the girls didn't have too much of a chance to feel Dad's absence today, but they were both ecstatic to see him when he got home.  Hopefully we all adjust quickly to the new routines.

Santa Claus Parade

(Note: this should have been yesterday's post, but it didn't happen)

On Saturday morning, we dressed the kids warmly and headed out to the Kanata Santa Claus Parade.  This was my very first Santa Claus Parade ever, but Jeff took Maya last year (while I stayed home with Chloe, who was only a few weeks old), and Maya was very excited about returning this year.

We had about a half hour wait for the parade to arrive at our section of the parade route. Maya endured the wait very cheerfully, but Chloe not so much.  I feared I might have to forgo the parade and take Chloe on a walk through the nighbourhood instead but to my surprise, once the head of the parade arrived, Chloe was actually quite interested in watching the parade go by and I think she enjoyed it almost as much as Maya. 

Waiting for the parade. Chloe was screaming for
Mommy to stop photographing and start cuddling.

The highlight for Maya was definitely the final float, featuring Santa riding high atop a fire engine.  Maya explained to us that Rudolph wasn't in the parade because he is at the North Pole exercising and resting to get lots of energy for pulling Santa's sleigh at Christmas.

Santa and the firetruck.

It was a great family activity, and I think it may become an annual tradition for our family.



Saturday, 12 November 2011

Things I learned about Maya today

Maya has a homework project this month that invovles working with the parents to create a display all about herself on a piece of paper, using pictures, etc.  So today we sat down to talk about what things she'd like to share about herself.  I found out the following:
  • Team Umizoomi is her favourite TV show (she in fact listed a specific episode)
  • Her favourite foods are Fig Newtons and corn on the cob  (I had no idea)
  • Her favourite toy is the Fisher Price telephone Chloe just received for her birthday. I was impressed that Maya specified to me that it is Chloe's toy.  (Maya currently has a fascination with all of Chloe's toys.  It's creating a little bit of friction at times.)
  • I asked her to tell me some things that were special to her.  Without pausing, she said "Chloe".  (This made my heart melt!). 
  • I pressed her to tell me something else that is special to her and she told me Rudolph.  Because he is her very bestest reindeer and she loves him.  (This one was not a surprise.  She has been enthralled with Rudolph since last Christmas.  The infatuation just started waning in October, but the new Christmas season has brought it to the fore already.)

Friday, 11 November 2011

I Remember

My Grandfather, James Mitchell, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.  After some time serving as a flight instructor in the Canadian prairies he was sent overseas in November 1942 to fly Lancaster bombers over Europe. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) and the Bar to the DFC during his wartime service.  I remember him telling me that the night before D-Day he was flying a bombing mission over Europe, and that upon returning over the English Channel in early morning they saw hordes of aircraft flying in the opposite direction and knew then that the invasion was on.  Happily, he came safely home in 1945.  After the war, he continued his career in the Air Force until his retirement.
I remember.
Jim Mitchell (left) outside Buckingham Palace after receiving the DFC

Sacrifices were made and service rendered on the home front too.  My Grandmother, May Mitchell, married my Grandfather on November 14th, 1942.   The wedding was originally scheduled for the end of the month, until my Grandmother received a brief telegram advising her to move the wedding date ahead by two weeks.  Unspoken in the telegram, it was understood it could mean only one thing:  my Grandfather was being sent overseas.  Indeed, they moved the wedding ahead and were able to spend a week-long honeymoon together before he left for Europe.  It would be several years until they would be together again.  As men were sent overseas, women stepped in across Canada to do men's jobs, while they waited for husbands, brothers and fathers to return home .. or not.  In 1945, my Grandmother and a friend went to a farm in Cutknife Saskatchewan to help stook wheat. 
I remember.
May Mitchell in Cutknife, Saskatchewan, 1945

My Grandfather's boyhood chum, Albert Glendenning, also joined the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, though he was a navigator instead of a pilot.  Sadly, he did not come home. He died on June 13, 1944 at the age of 30 years and is buried in the Canada Cemetery at Tilloy-les-Cambrai in France.  (See his headstone). He was survived by his parents, James and Olive Glendenning of Islington, Ontario. In 1947, my Grandparents named their firstborn child Glenn Albert.
I remember.

Mr. & Mrs. Glendenning holding
Glenn Albert Mitchell, 1947 
Albert in civilian clothes,
wearing Jim Mitchell's cap, 1941

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Book Lover

A few days ago I moved a small book case into Chloe's bedroom and set it up beside the rocking chair to hold some of her board books.  Chloe is already interested in reading (and eating) books, but she sometimes has to battle Maya for the right to have them to herself, so I thought it was time to put at least the ones that rightfully belong to Chloe in a spot where she'd reliably be able to find them. 

Chloe reads with Grampy during his recent visit
The very next time I took Chloe upstairs for her nap she eyed the bookshelf very carefully as soon as we sat down in her rocking chair together.  She was delighted when I read her a book before her nap.  At bedtime, she started reaching for the books as soon as we sat in the chair.  We're now three days in and she not only refuses to nurse in the chair at nap time and bedtime until after she has at least one book read to her, but she's also started clamouring for a book after every diaper change.  

Yup, she sure is my kid.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Thankful

5 things I'm thankful for today:
  1. The shower Chloe had with me this morning. For a long time she just sat in my lap under the warm spray and leaned in to my chest and hugged me. It was very peaceful.
  2. That we can afford for me to take this time out of the workplace.  I have been very conscious recently that my year of maternity leave expired with my daughter's first birthday, and I'm thankful I'm able to be home with and for my girls.
  3. The delicious peach smoothie Jeff made me this evening.
  4.  Maya made a request of me this evening, in a nice voice and using a complete sentence including the word please. Unprompted.  (This is something we have really been working on.  She's gotten in a bad habit of making point-form demands, often in the voice of the baby animal of her choice).
  5. The box of household treasures and box of books that are packed up and waiting to leave the house to eventually (I hope) give joy to others as they find new homes at the church bazaar.

Monday, 7 November 2011

New counter

My beloved husband worked like crazy today to install a counter top above our washer and dryer in the laundry room/mudroom.  He bought all of the materials AND completed all of the work today.  This included driving to my parents' place to borrow their truck to buy the counter top, then returning to their house to use my dad's tools and my dad's expertise to get the counter top cut to fit the space, driving the counter top home to install it and eventually, after the kids were in bed, returning the truck to my parents again. My hubby rocks! I am so happy that we now have a space to put keys and purses, not to mention laundry baskets, without stuff falling constantly falling down behind the washer and dryer.    Here it is:

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Best Laid Plans

This afternoon we took the kids to the wave pool.  Between the swimming and it being the first day after the time change we knew they'd be starving as soon as we got home. So we planned a roast beef dinner and set the oven timer to come on while we were out.  I crushed garlic and rubbed it over the roast.  I was excited by our domesticity.  We'd be able to walk in the door to the scent of a nice home cooked meal and sit down and eat right away: a nice Sunday dinner to top off a nice afternoon activity with the family.

It was a great plan.

But.

We, um ... skipped the step where you put the roast in the oven. 

We were at the pool when Jeff turned and me and said something along the lines of "you did put the roast into the oven, right?"  My witty reply was along the lines of "No, didn't you put it in the oven?" At which point we both understood that our oven was at that moment heating thin air while the roast sat on the counter.

We fed the girls snacks for supper and Jeff and I ate late.* 

Next time we go swimming, maybe we'll just plan to pick up pizza.


(*The roast was delicious.)

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Unwanted Halloween Candy

Maya's strategy for getting rid of her unwanted Halloween candies (the ones she deems "yucky") is to offer them to her parents or other adults who come to visit.  You have to be wary of accepting these gifts, however.  To date, her offerings have included the following:

Nibs -- after she spent the better part of half an hour playing with them and sending them to vacation in "Florida", a.k.a the top of her feet. 

Oh Henry bar -- not the whole thing, just the chewy toffee and peanut centre.  She had already licked off the chocolate.

Sour Patch Kids --  covered in lint. 

Sour Patch Kids (take 2) -- soaking wet.  No, she hadn't licked it ... she'd washed it in the sink to clean off the sour sugar (and probably some lint) for Daddy.

Some of her offerings have been fine, but if you come to visit in the next little while, consider yourself forewarned.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Start of the vehicle search

Our older car is a 2000 Chevy Cavalier.  It has very low mileage, but is starting to show its age and if a large repair pops up the car will be toast.  So we're starting to plan what we'll be replacing it with.  Our newer car is a Pontiac Vibe, which we enjoy driving and is good for everyday use but a little on the small side once you throw in a stroller (though we only have about a year left of regular stroller usage) or for camping or road trips with the family.  So our next vehicle needs to be larger, and for some time we'd assumed our next purchase would be a van, since you can get tons of space for not too much money. I've been becoming resigned to being a suburban mom driving a giant van.

We took advantage of my in-laws recent visit to pop out one morning on our own and check out the Dodge Grand Caravan.  We wanted to see how it felt to drive, and also take it home and find out if it would fit into our garage.  As I drove it off the lot I was surprised at how nicely it drove.  It had good visibility, nice suspension and felt comfortable, not at all like I was driving a behemoth.  Then I drove into the empty corner of our grocery store's parking lot and tried parking it.  Uh oh.  Several tries later, I had clipped several imaginary cars in the spaces beside me.  And we won't talk about what happened as I tried to back it up.  Jeff was sitting beside me, and I could tell he was refraining from commenting on his wife's poor driving skills.  Then it was his turn. More carnage amongst the imaginary vehicles. This was not looking good.  At home, we discovered that the van does juuust fit into the garage, if parked on a slight angle so as to avoid the railing of the stairs into the laundry room entrance.  It was possible to park it indoors, but would be annoying to do so and would require removing a set of shelves on the side of the garage to be able to get the kids in and out on that side.

I think we had both hoped to find that the van fit well into the garage, and that we would love to drive it.  But we both feel unsure about driving something that would require quite a few hours of parking practice and would probably still leave us both fighting to drive the older and smaller family car. We haven't completely said no to the van, but we think it's possible we're just not van people.  Our next step is to research some of the crossover type vehicles that are like an SUV or station wagon with third row fold-down seats, such as the Mazda 5 or Dodge Journey.  If you think there's a vehicle in that class that we should consider, let me know because we're not really sure where to start.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Always my baby

My older daughter turned 4 last week.  Now, 4 isn't exactly grown up yet, but it's nevertheless pretty far from her beginnings as a tiny, 4lb 12oz bundle of joy.  She is smart and funny.  She has strong opinions of her own and can be fiercely independent.  She is loving and gentle, but also mischievous and not lacking in a certain amount of naughtiness either.  I've spent a bit of time over the past week thinking back on her babyhood and remembering the sweet little baby who used to snuggle into my chest and sleep there oh so peacefully. Nowadays it seems she never stops moving, talking, singing. But yesterday, the fever that she's suffered with since the weekend gave me a little gift.  She had hurt herself while playing and got quite upset, to she came to join me in the La-z-Boy rocking chair for comfort.  We snuggled under a quilt, and I rocked and soothed her.  She curled into a ball and fell asleep, snoring gently.  And I held my big girl, who is still my baby, and I loved the feel of her snuggled in my arms.  She is still a bundle of joy at four years old.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Peeking Through the Window at Grampy
(Alternately titled "Why Mommy Should Own Shares in Windex")


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Halloween

Sunday, as previously mentioned, was the joint birthday party for the girls.  Maya was on the subdued side and when she declined to finish her birthday cake, I knew something was up.  Turns out she was developing a bit of a fever. She was up multiple times overnight, feverish and unhappy (it didn't help that Daddy gave only a half dose of Ibuprofen at bedtime, which wasn't enough to keep the fever at bay and let her sleep through the night).  We kept her home from school, and she was chipper enough int he morning but by early afternoon the fever was returning and she was refusing to take any medication, so it looked like this would be her Halloween:
Watching TV with a barf bowl ... just in case
She eventually did swallow down the dreaded medicine and shortly thereafter fell asleep on the couch.  After an hour long nap, she was feeling well enough that we decided to allow her out for trick or treating.  I'm not sure it's great parenting to allow your sick kid to dress up and wander the neighbourhood after dark, but we couldn't bring ourselves to keep her home and tell her she'd have to wait another 366 days (2012 is a leap year) until her next opportunity to trick or treat.  Here she is in her giraffe costume:

Halloween 2011

 The discerning among you may notice a certain familiarity about the costume.  It is, in fact, the third year in a row for it.  Last year I was being thrifty and she didn't really know the difference, so we used the costume that had been large on her the year before.  She insisted this year that she wanted to be a giraffe again, despite the fact that I assured her she could choose something else. I was sure the old costume would be too small and I actually spent quite a bit of time searching online and in second hand shops to find either another giraffe costume or something else that she'd fall in love with and accept as a replacement.  I finally allowed her to try on the old costume hoping to prove to her that it did not, in fact, fit and she'd have to choose something else.  Mommy was the one on the receiving end of the "I told you so's" when it actually fit after all.
Here are the photos of the earlier years:

Halloween 2010
Halloween 2009


She may have grown a lot, but she's still one heck of a cute giraffe. 

Last year at Halloween I was sitting at home handing out candy and anxiously waiting for our baby girl to make her appearance the next day.  This year, Chloe dressed up in her spider onesie and helped Daddy hand out candy to the trick-or-treaters at the door.  (Okay, in actuality she cried at all the strangers in weird costumes.) Here she is:

My little spider-baby

NaBloPoMo

It's NaBloPoMo, a mouthful of letters that stands for National Blog Posting Month.  I'm taking up the challenge to post something daily on my blog for the month of November.  I'm excited to take this journey and see where it leads me.

I hope you'll stop by often and comment so I know you're reading.  If you're playing along and blogging all month too, let me know so I can follow along with you too.

Monday, 31 October 2011

A Full House and Full Hearts

We've enjoyed having my Mother- Father- and Sister-in-Law visiting from Vancouver for the past 10 days.  I am blessed with amazing in-laws, a gift for which I am often thankful.  It has been so nice to have the house full of people, all enjoying each others company over the past week.  Jeff dropped them off at the airport early this morning, and the house seems suddenly empty in their absence.

We had a great time hanging out together over the past week. We had a fairly leisurely pace, but still did a lot. A few trips were made to Stony Swamp to feed the birds ... this time to the trail beside the Wild Bird Hospital.  There were a number of walks around the neighbourhood, some with Maya riding her bike.  Jeff, SIL and I went out to Saunders Farm for their haunted activities one night.  My parents came for dinner one night, and we ordered in Chinese on another night (I'm embarrassed to say we were finally checking out our local Chinese Take-out after 3 1/2 years in the neighbourhood!) My MIL helped me sew together the curtain panels we'd purchased for Maya's room. In the midst were the usual routines of school and swimming lessons, of course.  And the culminating point, yesterday, was the joint birthday party for the girls; Maya turned 4 on Thursday and Chloe turns 1 tomorrow, so we had the whole extended family over for a birthday lunch complete with hot dogs and 2 birthday cakes.

It is a joy to watch my children with their Grandparents.  My father-in-law in particular absolutely loves babies and small children.  His mission on this trip, following Chloe's first steps last week, was to teach her to walk. Within the first 24 hours he had her taking 2 or 3 steps at a time from the coffee table to his arms and back.  By last night she was regularly taking up to 5 or 6 steps at a time, sometimes un-coached and we can truly say she is now walking. My MIL is so gentle with my children, and they both clearly love her.  Did I mention how blessed we are?

The girls have loved having so many adults available to play with and entertain them and I foresee some Grandparent withdrawal over the next few days.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Feeding the birds -- Jack Pine Trail

One of the best things about the community in which we live is its proximity to the Stony Swamp area.  Part of the National Capital Greenbelt, this protected area is full of walking trails where you can experience different flora and fauna as well as geology and sometimes a little bit of history.  You can check out a map of the various trails (and parking locations) here.

Our favourite is the Jack Pine Trail.  There are lots of birds and small animals such as chipmunks and squirrels to be seen in the forested areas, and the boardwalks across the several beaver ponds often have ducks or turtles and even on occasion a muskrat to see, depending on the time of year and the water level. The chickadees will eat bird seed right from your hand and the ducks are always happy to have you toss them some bird seed or stale bread. 

Monday afternoon the sun broke through the fall dampness and we decided it was a perfect time to head out for some fresh air and family time. We parked at P9, loaded Chloe into the backpack carrier and headed out on the trail.  We had barely left the parking lot behind when I noticed the chickadees flitting up to perch on nearby branches and watching us intently -- clearly they were interested in whether or not we had food for them.  They're a little more skittish in summer when food is plentiful, but this time of year when they're storing up for winter they are eager to feed from the hands of visitors -- even small and wiggly children.  We had lots of fun standing still, cupping birdseed in our outstretched hands and waiting to see which birds would choose to come land on our hands, and which would wait for us to give up and leave a little pile of seed on the ground for them as we continued on our way. I was impressed by Maya's patience and captivated by the delight and wonder on her face as birds came to land on her outstretched hands. 



Chloe loved watching the birds Daddy tried to feed, but they gave her a wider berth as she was a bit too noisy and wiggly for most of them. 



There were many ducks at the first boardwalk pond, enough to quarrel over the seeds we tossed them. (I forgot to take pictures ... oops.) After that, the trail took us through more forest where Maya looked for chipmunks and squirrels, and pointed out all the birch trees she saw, and then eventually to two marshier boardwalks.  Maya was disappointed she couldn't see any frogs, but the usual frog spot was largely obscured by cat tails this time. 

We recommend you check out this walking trail if you're in the area.  Maya is able to walk the approximately 3 Km loop herself (she's just about to turn 4), but you could make it shorter by just walking in from the parking lot as far as the first boardwalk and then returning back out the same way.  (There is a shorter loop you can do in the trail, but it misses the duck pond boardwalk.)  The trail is also navigable with a jogging-style stroller.  If you want a longer walk, the Jack Pine trail connects to trail #26, which adds a long loop over to P11 on West Hunt Club road and then back again.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Long-distance walk

My in-laws live in Vancouver. (For some people, having their in-laws thousands of miles away would be a blessing. As it turns out, my in-laws are wonderful and loving people whom I'd love to have living a lot closer.) My husband is very close to his parents and I know he regrets that his move to Ottawa following university took him so far away from them. To bridge the distance, we spend a lot of time talking on the telephone, e-mailing photos and videos, and videoconferencing.

My mom emigrated to Canada from Europe all by herself as a young adult. She hadn't planned to stay permanently but she met and married my dad and more than 40 years later she's still here. Growing up, I remember her writing a letter to her parents every week, full of the details of our lives. On very special occasions, there would be an expensive long distance call. I remember my mom's excitement about these calls, but also that she always seemed a little sad when the call was over. I know she wishes we could have had closer ties to her family while growing up.

This week, 11 month old Chloe took her first steps.  Chloe and Jeff were playing in the living room and videoconferencing with Grampy using our little netbook.  Chloe was standing with Daddy when Grampy held out his arms to her on the screen and encouraged her to walk to him.  And Chloe took 2 little steps from our living room straight to her Grampy, thousands of miles away.

Chloe hasn't taken any more steps since then.  Maybe walking to Vancouver was a little exhausting.

Chloe stands, but isn't ready to take any steps on her own yet.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Eye surgery

I haven't forgotten about blogging, just been busy recovering from laser eye surgery to correct my vision.  I've had it planned since last winter, and the date finally arrived last week.  It has had mixed results.  Everything went smoothly with the right eye and my distance vision is already much improved, even though I'm still in the midst of the healing process.  Sadly, there was a complication with the left eye.  When they cut the flap in the cornea it was too thin, meaning they couldn't lift it to proceed with the actual laser correction part for fear of tearing the cornea and leaving a hole in the centre.  There's no damage done, and it will heal normally.  In 3 months I will be able to have the vision corrected in that eye using a different technique -- one that doesn't require cutting the cornea, but which will involve a much longer healing time.  I was remarkably calm about it all at the time, due to the sedative I'd taken just before the surgery to calm my nervousness about the process.  And by the time the sedative was well worn off the following day I'd already had a chance to process the initial disappointment.  So all in all I've taken it pretty well (I think Jeff was much more upset about it) but it still sucks.  In the meantime, reading is still difficult, especially on the computer screen and will likely continue to be challenging for at least a week, so it is likely to be quiet around here for the next little while.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Book Recommendation: Stellaluna

Preface:  I love storybooks.  Not exactly a shocker given my calling as an elementary teacher.  I'm a sucker for a good story and/or great illustrations (the two don't always go together).  I frequently get asked to recommend good books to parents.  So every so often I'll share one of my favourites, as well as some ideas for things to think and talk about when you engage in the book with (or without!)your child.


One of my favourite storybooks is Janelle Cannon's Stellaluna. In Stellaluna a baby fruit bat is separated from her mother following an owl attack and is adopted by a family of baby birds.  The book follows Stellaluna as she struggles to fit in with her new bird family and ultimately learns some lessons about friendship and about being yourself.


The illustrations in the book are beautiful and very realistic with only the lightest anthropomorphic touch. Although the book is a fictional story it includes lots of information about the habits and habitat of fruit bats and it has an afterword which provides a little more background.  The language of the book is rich, right from the opening "In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby."

I started reading this book to my daughter when she was about 3 years old, and she enjoyed the story but it was a little long for her attention span, so I'd really say it's probably for 4 years and up if you're reading it to them and about a grade 2 or 3 reading level if they're going to read it on their own. 

Some things to think about as you read Stellaluna together:
  • Before you read, talk about what you already know about bats and how you feel about them. (ie. are they spooky? cute?)  Read the story, then see if you still feel the same way.
  • What other stories does Stellaluna remind you of? How are they similar? (Hint: for me, The Ugly Duckling immediately springs to mind.  But kids often find all sorts of connections, including to TV shows or computer games).
  • Talk about fiction and non-fiction, then try to decide together which category this story belongs in and why you feel that way.
  • Hop on the Internet and search for some photos of fruit bats.  Look at how they compare to the illustrations in the book.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Job Jar

Jeff is taking 9 weeks of parental leave this fall, so for 2 months both of us are home with the girls.  We have a long list of jobs we've been saving to get done while he isn't working, and after only 2 weeks we've already plowed through most of it.  (I say "we" when really Jeff has done most of the work, while I've kept the kids occupied).  Jobs done so far include: Garage wall crack fixed, basement ceiling tiles replaced, rotten window frames fixed, furnace ducts sealed, yard cleaned up, and dryer venting replaced.  We also had the furnace replaced and have booked an appointment to have more insulation added to the attic. 
All this while we've also had lots of time to spend with the kids, either as a whole family or with Jeff and I taking turns so the other one gets a break.  Despite the fast pace of work getting done around the house, it still feels like we're getting our batteries recharged, which we've desperately needed as it's been an adjustment getting used to having 2 kids this past year.
Jobs remaining on our list include landscaping the yard, painting the windows and hopefully stripping and restaining the deck.
What items are in your job jar?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Surprise Guests

We had unannounced (and uninvited) guests in our home the other day.

Around 4pm, my husband was watching tv when we heard a snuffling and scratching at the open window behind him.  Lo and behold, there was a raccoon perched on the window ledge trying to come in the window!  He started calling for Older Daughter and I to come and take a look before it could leave.  But as I approached the family room via the kitchen, I noticed there was another furry visitor IN THE KITCHEN! As Husband scrambled to get older daughter out of the bathroom and down the hall to see this, and I scrambled for the camera, I saw the tip of another furry tail around the corner of the island.  Yes, folks, this made raccoon number THREE.

At this point, Husband shooed them out of the kitchen back through the (torn open) sliding screen door. And they did need shooing.  We had not exactly been quiet or calm so far in this little adventure and 10-month-old Younger Daughter, who is terrified of cats, clearly felt that raccoons belong to the same category of scary creatures and had been screaming herself horse.  (Since they were slightly larger than she is and have teeth and claws, I can't say that I blame her.)  Once out of the house and on the back deck the raccoons didn't seem in any hurry to depart.  Eventually Husband shooed them again quite loudly, and they moseyed on over to the neighbours yards, checking out other backdoors and compost bins in the hope of finding something to eat.

But it didn't stop there.  No sirree.  About 8pm that night when Older Daughter was already in bed asleep they made a return.  I guess we were naive, but we had re-opened the sliding screen door to get some fresh evening air in the house, having no expectation that they might return.  Younger Daughter, enjoying a snack of cheerios in her high chair, sounded the alarm by crying at the top of her lungs.  I admit I wasn't too speedy to respond, figuring she was just telling me she was done her snack and wanted out, but as her vocalizations reached panic levels I turned to the kitchen in time to see the third bandit raccoon scramble through the broken screen.  Two of them were snuffling around as though tracking down the food my children had let fall from the table and the third was headed in the direction of the garbage can under the sink. 

Once again they were shooed outside, but this time with the glass door shut, they continued to sit outside the door and paw at it, trying to get back in again.  They weren't bothered at all by us banging on the glass or gesturing for them to go away, so Husband eventually threw open the door and emerged roaring and gesticulating at them in such a way that the lights of several neighbours flicked on, to see what was happening in the yard.  He got the water hose ready to give them a good blast, but this time they had wandered off into the dark.

We haven't seen them back in the few days since then, but apparently our experience wasn't uncommon.  Our next door neighbour has since told us that the day before they had pushed open their sliding door and made a meal fo the cat food.  Needless to say, we're now keeping the door shut!

Friday, 16 September 2011

First Week of School

My baby started school this week.  It seems like just the other day I held my tiny girl for the very first time, but somehow nearly 4 years have flown by.  Naturally, we've been preparing her for kinder all summer, talking about what to expect and I had really hoped that the drop-off in the supervised kinder play area would go well, but when it actually DID go smoothly (she barely glanced at us as we walked away), it turns out I was the one unprepared.  I definitely had to fight back some tears as I watched her proudly walk off with her teacher.  She had a fabulous first day, and has looked forward to returning every day this week.  She thinks her French teacher is hysterically funny and she enjoys playing with kids her age every day, although she already says recess is her favourite time!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

First post

Breaking the ice here with a quick message to test things out. So far, I've been a blog follower, not a writer.  But it's hard to feel completely connected among the blogs I regularly follow when the communication is mostly one-sided. I've had the kernel of an idea for my own blog in mind for quite a while.  Today is the day to do something about it.  I'm not exactly sure how it will take shape over the next little while, but I see it touching on my life as a mom and teacher, hence Teachable Moments.

Oddly nervous, but ... pressing "publish"!