Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaBloPoMo Victory!!!

I did it! This is my 30th post in 30 days! I really can't believe how fast this month flew by. And writing every day really wasn't that difficult. I actually began to look forward to it. I found myself laying in bed at night thinking of what I was going to write the next day. Or driving in my car dreaming up my next post. I'm really quite proud of myself. Last year this time I struggled to manage three posts a month, let alone 30!

This month has been a great time to find new blogs and get to know some new bloggers. I even managed to inspire a few wannabe-bloggers to join me, and I'm happy to say that they were successful, too! Every day I looked forward to seeing what all my cyber-friends had to say. I will still be popping in to check out their blogs, but I'm a little bit sad that I won't have the assurance that there will be something new for me to read every day. Oh well, now that I have so many new friends to follow, surely I'll be able to find something new to inspire me daily. But I may not be so tied to my computer following everyone as I have been lately.

I really want to thank everyone who has faithfully followed my blog, checking out the view from my window, as I've been travelling this journey. Those of you who have commented on the blog, or even emailed me your comments, have been so encouraging. It is so much harder to procrastinate when I know there are people waiting to see what I have to say!

So I may not blog tomorrow. But then again, I might! I've learned that coming up with something to say really isn't that difficult. It's just a matter of sitting back and allowing inspiration to take hold. And I'm sure there will be plenty of inspiration available in December!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving in Indy

Living a single day's drive from our friends, Peter and Ellen Moore, and their three awesome daughters, Mallory, Julia and Shorey, has been one of the greatest perks of living in Southwestern Ontario. This past weekend was our third visit with them since moving here. We shared the Fourth of July celebrations with them there; they came here for Labour Day weekend; we celebrated American Thanksgiving with them. It has become a bit of a pattern, and one that I am happy to see emerging. Before we left the discussion had already begun about when they would be coming to London next. Long weekends are a necessity, since it is a six to seven (plus, if you don't pay attention) hour drive. Looks like we'll see them again sometime between February and April. I can hardly wait!

Shorey (not a good representation of her always beautiful
smiling face!), Mallory, Janelle, Julia and Connor.

This weekend included so much it has to be a list:
  • Thanksgiving morning started at 4:30 a.m., when I got up to get in line at a department store with Peter and Ellen to check the most important items off their "to buy" list.
  • We returned home at 7:30 to sleep.
  • Thanksgiving turkey dinner.
  • After-turkey nap in preparation for marathon shopping beginning at 10 p.m.
  • Ellen and I left the house at 9:00 Thursday night to go in search of "shopper-sustaining" coffee and head to Toys R Us. When we arrived and saw the line of at least 1000 people we decided there was nothing in that store that was worth standing in line for. We headed home for warmer clothes and a game of cards with our husbands.
  • We headed out again at 11:00, and stayed out until 5:30 a.m., with a break for "lunch" in the middle. It was definitely like nothing I had ever seen! Line-ups galore, some great deals, and some crazy people. An education. Not my favourite way to shop, though.
  • Friday, Ellen and I slept while Chris and Peter took the kids to the Indianapolis Children's Museum.
  • That evening, we met them in downtown Indianapolis for the lighting of Monument Circle. Sandi Patti sang to open the evening, which was a treat for me, and a trip down memory lane.
  • Saturday we didn't have to do anything! But Ellen and I headed back to Kohl's to shop without a thousand other people. A much more enjoyable experience! And I am nearly finished my Christmas shopping.
And now to finish my "cliff-hanger" from yesterday. We left the Moore's home at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, and I drove the first leg of the journey, stopping at 1:00 p.m. an hour inside Michigan at McDonald's. We were pretty happy with our progress, figuring we were halfway home, not counting the inevitable line-up at the border. We let the kids play in the play place for a while, and then we got gas and were on the road, this time with Chris behind the wheel. Our children were happily occupied with movies in the back seat and I started the People magazine crossword puzzle. We had unplugged the GPS in favour of charging Chris's cell phone, but were sure we wouldn't need it since I-69 goes all the way from Indiana to the border at Port Huron/Sarnia. Neither Chris or I were paying much attention to the road signs, and he was helping me with my puzzle as we travelled. However, about an hour into our drive Chris said "Leanne, I don't see any signs that say I-69 anymore". Sure enough, I dug out the GPS and plugged it in. We were in Grand Rapids, Michegan, about 45 minutes from where I-96 branches off from I-69. It added about 1.5 hours to our trip, and the border added another 1.5 hours. We arrived home just after 8 p.m., where we all fell happily into our beds after a LONG day of family togetherness.

So it was on another trip to Peter and Ellen's, on the way home this time, at Thanksgiving, this time in November, with our long-ago-named children in the backseat, that we learned that history does repeat itself. I assured Chris that he'll laugh about it someday, but I've decided that today is a good day to start!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened...

Thanksgiving 1997 — Chris and I were driving to Halifax to spend Thanksgiving with Peter and Ellen. We had gotten deep into a conversation, I believe about what we were going to name our children, when we discovered to our dismay that we were in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, about 45 minutes past the turn-off we were supposed to take to get to Halifax.

Flash forward 13 years — You'll never guess what happened to us today....

To be continued...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Merry-Lynne!

Today is a very special day for a very special friend, and although I can't celebrate her birthday with her this year, I do want to honour her by dedicating this blog post to her.

Merry-Lynne and I met at my bridal shower at the church that would become my own after my wedding. She was there because she was in charge of the games. I knew who she was because I had heard her sing many times in the praise team when I attended FWC during university. We will both always remember that night because we bonded over laughter. We didn't know it, but those laughs were the first of many we would share together.

Merry-Lynne and I would share much of the good and the bad over the years. We sang in the choir and the praise team together, which was our main connection in the early years of our friendship. We experienced miscarriages at the same time — TWICE! We never did manage to stay pregnant at the same time. We decorated the church nursery together. She became Connor's other mom when I went back to work full time when he was a year old. We both loved each other's children like our own, and still do. When I needed to hire another teacher to work with me in the preschool, there was no question who it would be. We had a blast with all those adorable kiddies! We spent many precious hours studying the Bible and praying together. And we celebrated many birthdays together, making our dreary Novembers so much brighter.

I hope you're having a wonderful day, my dear friend! If you haven't already gotten your card, it's on its way, and Yvonne has a treat for you from me. I wish I could deliver your birthday hug in person! Tell those sweet kids of yours to give you an extra one for me. I love you!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday!

Ellen is leading me out on my first experience with Black Friday shopping today. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm a little bit afraid. I'm a little bit sleepy (bring on the Starbucks!). I'm a lot excited!

You see, I am Marilyn's daughter, and my mother loves the thrill of the hunt, and the exhilaration of finding a great deal. Growing up, I was not the prodigy shopper that my sister was, but some of my mother's talent for sniffing out a deal does come out in me, especially when cross-border shopping. The pure joy of coming away with an awesome find is alive and well in me. And today is the day of all days for shopping in the USA. Or so I have heard.

And I have Ellen to guide me. She is quite the champion shopper, too. Hopefully by the time she and I head back to our beds today (around noon I expect) most of my Christmas shopping will be done.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Over the River and Through the Woods...

I'm celebrating American Thanksgiving today, and I am so thankful for the very special friends with whom we are sharing it. This is my silly version of a celebratory song that I taught the kids in the car yesterday:

Over the border and through Michigan,
To Pete and Ellen's house we drive;
GPS knows the way
To pilot the van
Down highway 69.

Over the border to Indiana—
The kids can hardly wait!
To see their friends
And stay a while,
Thanksgiving in USA!

Adapted from the poem by L. Maria Child.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Today's ToDo!

The problem with NaBloPoMo is that I am spending way too much time on the computer these days! I'm writing every day, but I'm also getting addicting to reading blogs of other participants! Today, I've read a couple, but I've had to stop myself. I know these posts will still be here when I get home from Indiana, but I am leaving in 2.5 hours, and I have a lot of work to do. I guess it's list time!
  • Finish blog post
  • Fold and put away laundry
  • Pack suitcases
  • Get dressed, hair and make-up ready
  • Go to bank and get American money
  • Unload/reload dishwasher and tidy kitchen
  • Apply one last (fingers crossed) coat of varnish to the TV cabinet doors
  • Pack snacks
  • Call my mom!
  • Pack the van
  • Eat lunch
  • Pick up the kids from school early
  • Drive to Indiana!
With Denise's help, I figured out how to write my blog posts ahead of time and schedule their posting, so I have posts ready for the next three days. I haven't done Sunday yet, though. That will have to wait until we get home Sunday night. Hopefully we won't be spending hours at the border!

Happy Second Thanksgiving! And I'm off....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dancing Dreams

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a "Dancing With the Stars" junkie. In fact, I am posting this blog late on Tuesday night because I had my usual crazy Tuesday and didn't have time to blog earlier, and I just had to watch the final results show after I got back from Connor's basketball practice.

I think the reason I love it so much is because it gives me hope. I would love to be able to glide gracefully across the dance floor, in perfect time to the music, turning in and out of my partner's arms as if it were the easiest thing in the world. The thing is, they take people who actually couldn't dance, and in just a few weeks they turn them into dancers! Okay, so most of them have some entertainment or athletic experience, and I'm sure that gives them a leg up. But clearly many people with entertainment and even musical ability do not have any dancing ability (did anyone see Michael Bolton dance this season?) And as much as I doubt that Bristol Palin deserved to be in the final based on her dancing ability, I do appreciate that someone with no previous experience whatsoever was able to make a very observable improvement and could actually keep up to the other competitors by the end. (No comment as to whether she qualified as a "star" to suit the title of the show.) Jennifer Grey won this season, which seemed perfectly justified to me, considering the iconic character she played in "Dirty Dancing". Nobody put Baby in a corner this time! (Sorry — I couldn't resist!) And I have never seen a 50-year-old who looked better.

Maybe it makes me a geek, but I just love to watch the dancing and dream that I could actually do that someday. It is a little bit of escapism once a week (okay, twice a week), and I can't wait until it starts again in the spring. My DVR will be programmed and ready. Now onto "Skating with the Stars" — Nah, I don't think so. I'll stick with "Battle of the Blades", thanks! I'd much rather watch hockey players try to figure skate than famous comedians and reality stars who have never had a pair of skates on their feet. That is just too painful to watch!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Productive Day

I have been in a funk lately. I have a million things I could be doing every day. If you could see my house you would agree with me! But I just haven't been able to make myself get off my butt and get things done. I have no problem settling in with a good book, or watching something on TV, but cleaning out my mudroom, working on the cabinet (grrrr), or scrubbing my floors just don't seem to get crossed off the "todo list". I had a bit of a breakdown about it over the weekend (okay, so maybe a couple of breakdowns), and this morning I woke up determined to make a change.

I woke up on time. Woohoo! First thing crossed off the list! I kicked Chris out of bed on time. Victory number 2! Everyone had breakfast and I had their lunches made in plenty of time to get them out the door, into the pouring rain. Since it is so rainy today, it is warmer than usual for this time of year, so a perfect time to get some work done on the cabinet that has become the bane of my existence. If I had a nickel for every time I told Chris this weekend never to let me sign up for a project like this again, I would be a rich woman. But today, I was determined. I think I am nearly done. Two small shelves need one more coat of varnish on one side, and the large front doors need two coats on each side. As long as I don't make any more mistakes, it should be finished before we leave for Indiana, ready for Chris to put together and move into the house when we get back.

In between applying coats of varnish I ran out to the grocery store and to run a few other errands. When I got back I did a bit more work on the cabinet before I got a roast ready to put in the crock pot. I promised that I would bring sweets to home group tonight, so I made brownies and chocolate chip cookies. I don't remember the last time the kids came home from school to find warm cookies on the counter. I used to do that all the time! The house smells great, and I feel like I accomplished something.

Sure, my mudroom still needs to be organized before winter is fully upon us, and my floors still need to be scrubbed, but I have not been idle today. I feel like I've been productive. And since I've been struggling in that area lately, that is a great feeling.

The kids will be home in 15 minutes, welcomed by the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies. I think I have time to slap one more coat of varnish on those shelves!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let the Season Begin!

We usually begin our celebration of the Christmas season by attending the Santa Claus Parade in Fredericton. Needless to say, we'll be missing that this year, but we also missed the parade in London last weekend, and found out about St. Thomas's version too late yesterday evening. However, I had heard that Toronto's Santa Claus Parade was going to be broadcast this afternoon, and I thought it would be fun to make an event of it at our house.

I checked the listings and discovered that the coverage would begin at 4:30. I spent much of the afternoon working on that wretched cabinet (see yesterday's post), but at 4:00 I got ready and headed out to pick up a few things to make our "Welcome Christmas" celebration special. I got home just as the parade was starting and set to work making a batch of natchos to have for supper while we watched the largest Christmas parade in the world. The kids loved it, and so did the mom and dad, and even though we weren't freezing on a sidewalk, we were making a memory.

In three days we'll be off to Indiana to celebrate American Thanksgiving with the Moores, which I know is the official beginning of the Christmas season south of the border. But I've decided that at our house it has already started! Welcome Christmas! Come and stay for awhile!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Just Not Me!

I know many people enjoy woodworking. Many find it relaxing and deeply gratifying. I've heard some even find it is a stress reliever. I am not one of those people.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my latest project. At that point it was coming along quite smoothly, and I was even enjoying the time I was spending working on it and the progress I was making. Now, not so much. I've encountered a few problems that have required sanding right back to the fresh wood and restaining and varnishing again. We may even have to buy some stripper to erase my mistakes. I find that so frustrating! Now every minute that I am working on that despicable cabinet is frought with stress. Every stroke I make I am afraid I am making a mistake that is going to cause me even more work. I am not enjoying it. Quite the opposite. I am resenting it!

Someday, hopefully not too far down the road, I will have a new entertainment cabinet sitting in my family room. I am sure it will be much more pleasing to the eye than what sits there now. But I'm afraid all I will see are the imperfections, and I think my joy in it has been significantly decreased by being part of bringing this project to fruition. So much for the satisfaction of a job well done.

Next time, I hope I'll remember that a new, fully finished piece of furniture is well worth the money! Woodworking is just not for me!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Post by Janelle

Janelle has decided she is taking over my blog for today. She has told me to write exactly what she says. Here goes:

"Janelle and Connor cannot wait for Christmas. They can't wait to see all their toys and presents. Janelle thinks Christmas is a lucky day. Janelle really wants an EZ Bake Oven. Connor wants everything on his Christmas wish list. Today Connor said that Daddy was not going to a meeting, he was going to a fun hockey game. Connor and Janelle and Mommy are going to the new Toys R Us. After that we're going to look at a fabulous book about Santa and Christmas. It has Mrs. Claus in it, too."

Do you see a bit of a Christmas fixation emerging in our household? Perhaps tomorrow I should write a post discussing the evils of commercialism at Christmas. For now, the kids and I are off to the new Toys R Us that has opened about two minutes from our house, while Daddy enjoys an evening at the hockey game. I think I'll be stopping at Starbucks on the way! I do look forward to snuggling under the covers with my kiddies and some newly unearthed Christmas books, brought up from the basement today.

So it begins...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Good Way to Start the Day

I overslept today. I don't know why. I heard the alarm. I heard Chris's alarm. We both pressed the snooze button a number of times. I woke up at 8:17, and I flew out of bed and started frantically getting the kids moving so they could get to school on time. They were both up already, of course. They were downstairs watching something on TV, probably just counting their lucky stars that Mom hadn't kicked them in the butt yet. It was a frenzied morning, but they made it to school on time, along with the other two kids that I was driving this morning. Chris did not get to work on time, which made him a bit of a grouch, and in turn made me a bit snappy. All in all, it was not a good way to start the day.

I am not a morning person, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had to get up early on a regular basis many times in my life. When Connor was a baby and I was teaching full-time and we only had one car, I had to get Chris to work, Connor to a sitter, and myself to work across the city by 7:45. My alarm went off at 5:45 then, and I don't think I used my snooze button. When Janelle was a baby, my friend Heidi and I would meet at 6:00 a.m. for a daily predawn trek across Marysville. I loved that! We got our exercise and a good visit, and were both ready for our day by the time we were done. I don't know why we ever stopped. When I had the preschool, I got up at 6:30, so I could get all of us up, dressed and out of the house by 7:45.

I think the fact that the kids don't have to be at school until 9:00 a.m. has contributed to my lack of urgency when it comes to getting up in the morning. But I'd like to change that. I'd really like to start getting up before the kids again, so I can have early morning devotional time, maybe get myself cleaned up before I drive the kids to school, and actually feel like I'm ready to start my day after they are off to school. Maybe I should think about going for an early morning walk again, although I always found that works best when I have a partner with whom I can be accountable. I want to be able to set my alarm and get up, even at 7:00 a.m., and give us all a better start in the morning.

That is what wide-awake, mid-morning Leanne says. Unfortunately, she isn't anywhere to be found when the alarm goes off in the morning. The Leanne that is repeatedly pressing the snooze button in a stupor knows that she doesn't need to be up that early. She craves every bit of sleep she can get! But tomorrow I'm going to give it a try. I'm going to try to overpower sleepy Leanne with rational awake Leanne, and see if we can all have better morning. I let you know how it goes....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maybe it's Time to Get a Job

My husband started this morning by casually mentioning that maybe it's time for me to start looking for a job. Hmmm... What a way to start the day! The idea of getting a job here is frought with a myriad of emotions: fear, stress, longing, helplessness. It's not that I don't want a job — I think having a place to go every day to gainfully contribute to society would be good for me. I would meet people, build a social network, feel like my days have purpose. Not to mention, it would really help out with our finances. The problem is, jobs that are tailor made for my situation just don't seem to be available.

I love teaching, and I look forward to the day when I can get back into the classroom again. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be an option here, since the school district is not even hiring for the supply list. I have checked into retail at a few places. I would be happy to spend a few hours each day while my kids are in school working in a bookstore or something similar. A number of stores are actively hiring, but only for evenings and weekends, which Chris and I agree would not be good for our family. I am well qualified for tutoring or working at a learning center, but that poses the same problem as the retail industry. I loved my job teaching preschool, but since junior kindergarten is public in Ontario, that isn't really an option either, and I cringe at the idea of working in a daycare again. Finding a job opportunity where I could work from home would be ideal, but would eliminate the social benefits of having a job.

I spent an hour searching on-line this morning, and didn't come up with any good options. Okay, so maybe I'm too picky, but any mom's job really does have to be able to support the family dynamic. I think it is time to start actively praying about it and seeing what God may have for me here. I am sure it is not a problem I can solve on my own, and I'm looking forward to seeing what He has in store. The last time I felt like this was just before I came up with the idea for the preschool, so I know there is something around the corner. I love being a stay-at-home-mom, but staying home all the time isn't really for me. I need an outlet. I wonder what it will be?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You're Only as Old as You Feel!

One of the more pleasant things that occurred on my rather disjointed journey to Toronto Friday happened as I was purchasing my bus ticket. I pleasantly relived it and recounted it several times over the course of the weekend. As I was taking out my wallet to pay the price that the agent had quoted to Chris, $36, the young man behind the desk said "That'll be $29. I mean - oh - are you a student?" He thought I was a student! I laughed and said "You're kidding, right?" "No, you look about that age to me." When I told him I was a student twenty years ago he laughed, too and said "Wow, I was way off!"

Ahhhhhh, what better compliment than mistaking a woman for half her age! I basked in the warmth of it for much of the weekend, my confidence bolstered enough to live on for a good three days. I bragged to my friends about it, never honestly believing that the young man thought I was really 21, but just happy that it could even be joked about. On my way home, however, when I was settling into a conversation with Sydney, the young lady I sat with on the train, I casually mentioned my children, as I usually do to anyone who will listen. She said "Oh, are your kids in high school?" And the balloon deflated. Now I know I'm more than old enough to have kids in high school. Many of my friends have kids in high school. But I was still floating around on my little cloud where I look like I'm 21! I told her that no, my kids are 10 and 7 (and I made sure NOT to follow it up by saying that I didn't have any kids until I was 30!)

I love being mistaken for being younger than I am. Forty-one still sounds so much older than I feel! But I think that old saying "You're only as old as you feel" really is true. I feel like a young mom, who isn't really older than most of my kids' friends' parents. I always said that my little brother, who was born when my parents were in their late 30s, kept Mom and Dad young. I think my kids do that for me. So if I really am only as old as I feel, I'm probably around 32 or 33, and I'm pretty happy with that.

And that student ticket is still quite a compliment!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Take a Number

I sat on the train yesterday with a sweet young woman named Sydney, and we had a lovely time chatting all the way from Toronto to London. She is a 21 year old native Londoner in her last year at Western University, and is looking forward to moving to "the city" when she is finished. I laughed to myself at her youthful enthusiasm when she talked about leaving "the country" (London — our city of 360 000 people) and settling in for a few fun years working in Toronto. She is studying something that I can't even remember the word for, but it relates to the insurance industry and is basically really hard Math. I couldn't help chuckling when she told me about her love for anything that involves Math, and I thought to myself "Good for her! The world needs more Math girls!" I am clearly not one of them. But maybe my daughter will be. Although it would be quite a miracle with me for a Mom!

The whole exchange about the joys and evils of Mathematics reminded me of this lovely little poem by Mary O'Neill, one that makes even me appreciate the numbers in our world. This is for you, Sydney!

Take a Number

Imagine a world
Without mathematics:
No rulers or scales,
No inches or feet,
No dates or numbers
On house or street,
No prices or weights,
No determining heights,
No hours running through
Days or nights.
No zero, no birthdays,
No way to subtract
All of the guesswork
Surrounding the fact.
No sizes for shoes,
Or suit or hat....
Wouldn't it be awful
To live like that?

Mary O'Neill

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wicked Weekend

I had a wickedly wonderful weekend! Everything ran smoothly except for a couple of false starts. The train I planned to take was sold out, so after a few moments of panic and plans to go buy a new GPS ASAP so I could drive to Toronto, I went down the street and bought a bus ticket. The bus wasn't leaving for half an hour, so I went into the attached Subway to have a sandwich with Chris and the kids before I left. I came out 15 minutes later to find that the bus had already left! Apparently, the practice is, fill the bus and leave as soon as it is full. I must have missed the announcement, so I had to wait an hour for the next bus. I kissed Chris and the kids goodbye and settled in with my book to wait. I would arrive a couple of hours late, but my relaxing weekend had already begun!

Friday night included visiting and fine dining, followed by relaxing in our room and introducing Denise to a new TV experience: What Not to Wear. On Saturday we replicated the show ourselves at the Eaton Centre and The Bay. I had been to The Bay before, but not to The Bay, Toronto's eight story flagship store. Julie led the way, having clearly been called home to her mothership! When four o'clock arrived, Julie probably could have continued her shopping marathon, but Denise and I were beat. We returned to the hotel to rest, regroup and eat before we headed out to the main event, Wicked.

The play was truly wonderful. I hated the book, and I may skim through the rest, but to be honest, the best parts of the play have nothing to do with the book. The music was incredible, the actors were excellent, the sets were breathtaking. I cannot recommend this play highly enough.

What a wonderful way to connect with old friends. We decided we really do need to make this an annual event. Our Wicked Weekend was Wonderful!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plane, (Almost) Train and Automobile

In my endlessly long autobiographical birthday post I mentioned the fun I had during my first year of university. One of the reasons I enjoyed that year so much was the three girlfriends with whom I shared much of my time. We took classes together, travelled together, ate lunch together, studied together, laughed together and despaired together. We ate countless chocolate chip muffins, listened to each other's music, stayed up talking late into the night, nursed each other's heartbreak, and got each other through that exciting first year of adulthood. I knew then that we would be friends forever, and more than twenty years later we still are. We don't see each other much, but this weekend three of us are making a new memory together.

Julie and Shari and I became friends of the first day of Grade 9, and stuck together through high school and university. We were in each other's weddings, and kept in touch afterward as much as our busy lives would allow. Shari is married to Craig, whom we found for her that first year of university (okay, Shari, I'll let you take some of the credit), and they have two great kids, Morgan and Matthew. Unfortunately, Shari won't be joining us this weekend, but we did have a great visit in Summer 2009 when Julie hosted a joint 40th birthday party for the four of us. Although at one time I would have said Shari and I were the closest, we now keep in touch the least. She is a full-time working mom, and let's face it, keeping up with faraway friends isn't easy, even with today's technology. She is a very important part of a lot of memories that I will always treasure though. Wish you could be here with us this weekend, Shari!

Julie is the best at keeping in touch. She faithfully phones me on a regular basis, and she has taken responsibility for making most of the arrangements for our getaway weekend. She bought the tickets to Wicked, which we saw tonight — it was amazing, as expected. She made the hotel and restaurant reservations. She's the official organizer! She is a very busy girl, making sure her family's construction company runs smoothly, keeping active at the gym, and serving on the boards of various associations. But Julie has always made keeping friendships current a high priority and I appreciate that. She is a faithful reader of my blog, which I also truly appreciate! Thanks for making this weekend happen, Jules!

Denise and I were in the same homeroom throughout three years of high school. But we never met until Frosh Week at UNBSJ. That's what happens when you go to a huge high school! That week we discovered that we were both Arts students, planning to be English Majors. We took at least half of our classes together for four years. We had so much in common, but were in many ways complete opposites. She was my right arm throughout university, and I'm so glad we've been able to keep in touch so well in the years since. We used to write old-fashioned letters on paper (remember those?), and every time I got one in the mail I would hurry to a quiet corner to devour it. Since then, we have evolved. We rely mostly on Facebook and our blogs to stay in touch, and the occasional email. One of my favourite things about NaBloPoMo is that I get to read a new post from Denise every day. She lives on a farm in Eastern Ontario with her husband, Andrew, and their three adorable kids, Erik, Anna and Grace. She writes, of course, and she is an editor and a college professor, and life on her farm seems just idyllic. I love being able to read about it every day. And this weekend I can hear about it in person.

So here we are, in Toronto, eating and shopping and talking and going to the theatre and eating some more and shopping some more and talking some more. Julie flew in yesterday, I planned to take the train from London but ended up on a bus (long story — will fill you in later), and Denise drove down with her kids, whom she dropped off with her father in the suburbs. I've been looking forward to this weekend for about six months, and it's flying by way too fast. Denise and I have just stopped in the business center to update our blogs (and keep our NaBloPoMo commitments). Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be home, ready to write all about my weekend away.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Parent-Teacher Interviews

Several years ago, when I was still teaching full-time, I gave a CBC Radio interview about Parent-Teacher Interviews. The purpose of the discussion was to prepare parents for meetings with their children's teachers. I remember encouraging parents to know what they want to discuss ahead of time, bring report cards with them, and get right to the point since time is of the essence in a 15 minute interview slot. I recall saying "Don't be nervous! The teacher is just as nervous about meeting with you."

I wish I had a tape of that interview now. I'm on the other side of the table. And it is a bit nerve-wracking. Both of my kids are amazing. They are kind, smart, funny, courteous — I am proud of them for so many reasons. But both of them have issues with staying on task. They struggle with getting work started right away, and with getting it finished on time. Incentives often work for Connor. If he knows he'll get something out of it, he'll get right to work and do a great job. But if there is any distraction or social stimulation to take his mind away from the task at hand, he completely forgets what he's doing. Janelle, on the other hand, just lives in her own little world. Her kindergarten teacher nicknamed her "Poky Little Puppy". Her grade one teacher in Fredericton affectionately refered to her as "Turtle". Janelle doesn't need an outside influence to distract her. There are plenty of distractions already living in her imagination, ready to lure her mind away from whatever assignment she is supposed to be completing. And despite many conversations with her teacher about it, I am at a loss to find a remedy for her lack of "self-motivation".

In Fredericton, it seemed that all my interactions with my children's teachers were positive. They found them charming and intelligent. Even when Connor was struggling with reading, his teachers were very encouraging, explaining that this was only temporary and one day it would all "click" for him. Janelle's teachers, while they did express frustration with her "pokiness", always said she was delightful and a joy to have in the class. I am hopeful that our meetings with the teachers this morning will be equally positive. But I am nervous. This side of the table is frought with far more emotion than I knew when I was a teacher who was not yet also a parent of a school-aged child. I wish I had my own encouraging radio interview to listen to as I prepare to meet with the teachers today. I think someday this experience will make me a much more sensitive and empathic teacher on Parent-Teacher Interview day. I can't wait until it's over!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering Remembrance Day

I dropped my kids off at school this morning, for the first time on a November 11th. I can't get over the feeling that it is just wrong to be going about our daily business on a day like today. How is it that Queen Victoria's birthday is a statutory holiday here, but the day that we honour our fallen soldiers and encourage the ones currently serving does not merit that recognition?

I grew up in New Brunswick, and Remembrance Day was not a statutory holiday there until about five years ago, but it was a government holiday and many businesses observed the day by closing. I never attended school on Remembrance Day growing up or as a teacher, and neither have my children. There was always an assembly the day before to honour the day. I remember making wreaths with my class, memorizing "In Flanders Fields" and seeing the veterans parade into the gymnasium. I only remember one Remembrance Day that either Chris or I was expected to work. Since it became a statutory holiday, and since our children have been old enough to understand what we were doing, we made it a point to attend the service at the cenotaph in Marysville, along with most of our neighbours, to hear the trumpet play the Last Post, and observe our two minutes of silence, and see the wreaths laid in memory of loved ones who gave their lives for our freedom. I never wanted this day to be just another holiday. I always wanted it to mean something to my children, and it meant something to me that we observed the importance of this day as a family.

Six provinces and three territories in Canada have declared Remembrance Day a statutory holiday. In Nova Scotia it is not, although employers are required to give either November 11 or an alternate day off. In Manitoba it is considered an "Official Day of Observance", although not a statutory holiday. In Ontario and Quebec it is not a statutory holiday. I am very proud that nine out of thirteen governments in my country have decided that this day is worthy of being observed as a holiday. I am saddened that I live in one of the two that have not given this day the honour that it is due. I wonder why Family Day in February is a statutory holiday, and the civic holiday in August, Labour Day in September and Boxing Day in December? Why do they merit statutory holiday status, but not this day that is so significant in the history of our country?

My children will attend a Remembrance Day ceremony at their school this morning. Janelle's choir will be singing, and I am welcome to attend as well. Unfortunately, we have a window that won't close in our living room. It's getting a bit too cold to have an open window all the time, and today is the only day that the window company could make a service call. I have to be at home to wait for them between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. I guess I'll be tuning in to a service on TV. Chris has meetings at work all day today, so he isn't free to attend a memorial service either.

I understand that many of the people who do have today off will not take the opportunity to share in the Remembrance Day service in their communities. However, many of the people who would like to commemorate the day in this way don't have the option. I am sad to see the end of something that has become a family tradition for us.

I first saw the following video when it was played at my church during a Remembrance Day service a few years ago. I think it very aptly sums up the way I am feeling about taking the time, and allowing others the opportunity to take the time, to honour our veterans and our soldiers now serving to protect our freedom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Time Change

"Spring ahead, Fall back". We've done it every year of our lives, but it never gets any easier. I always think of spring as the hard one — I hate losing that hour of sleep, and feeling for the next week like I'm getting up so much earlier than is natural for one of my species. This past spring it was a bit easier. We moved to Ontario just few days before Daylight Saving Time began, so we actually just switched back to Atlantic Time, which our bodies hadn't adjusted away from yet anyway. In the fall we get an extra hour of sleep! Bonus! So why do I feel so exhausted?

Yesterday I moved around in slow motion, feeling (and I'm sure looking) like a zombie, for most of the day. I just couldn't seem to summon the energy for anything substantial. I tried to work on the armoire, but I needed a new tack cloth and so I blamed my lack of progress on that. I went to a mall near my home to do some Christmas shopping, and I did pick up a few things at Zellers, but as I walked past all the other stores it just felt like too much work to go in and actually look for anything. The headache started just before the kids came home from school, and as the Tuesday routine wound up into full swing, it only intensified. The large English Toffee cappuccino I picked up at Tim Hortons, while very yummy, did little to increase my energy state. By the time I brought Janelle home from the church and put her to bed, I was ready to fall into bed, too. But there was laundry to do, so I stayed up to finish it. When Chris and Connor got home from basketball an hour later, I was flaked out on the couch watching a new episode of Glee.

I know I should have gone to bed then. But it was 9:00, and how do we get used to the time change if we just go to be early? Chris and I hadn't seen each other all day, so I wanted to stay up and visit with him a bit. Laying sprawled out on separate couches flicking channels isn't exactly quality time, though. I came up to bed at 11:00, and by then I had gotten a bit of a second wind, so I settled in with a good book, and was still reading when Chris came up an hour later. I was sending a message to my body: "Fine, if you want me to stay up later, I'll stay up later. And I'll get up later, too!"

The problem is, that doesn't work. I blame it on the kids. My children could stay up until midnight and still get up at 7:00 a.m., like clockwork. That makes it very hard for their bodies to adjust to the time change. I almost look forward to the days when I will have to drag their sleep-lovin' teenage bodies out of bed (but I'm starting to think that's a myth!) Neither Chris nor I are morning people (far from it!) so I don't know why our kids are so insistent on daily rising with the sun. Monday morning I heard Connor starting his day at 6:15. To be fair, I had forgotten to set his clock back, so he thought it was 7:15. Since they don't leave for school until 8:45, I encourage them to stay in their beds at least until 7:00. But once he was up, there was no going back to sleep. And once his sister heard him up, she was right there with him. And of course, hearing all this, I wasn't going back to sleep any time soon. So we were all exhausted. Both Monday and Tuesday we have all neared our breaking point right around homework time after school. Connor claimed he was "too tired" to figure out his homework, and Janelle was "too tired" to go through her whole piano practice. And I was "too tired" to fight about it!

I am determined that today will be more productive. I have a list, in my head, but I may actually write it down. This blog post was first on the list. I haven't even had breakfast yet. That's next on the list. I am going to move through the day, and no matter how tired I am, I'm just going to keep moving. This time change is playing havoc with my body, but I will WIN! And hopefully by next week we will all be functioning normally in Eastern Standard Time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Peanut Butter and Cranberry Juice

My mind is on a long list of to-do items today (it's Tuesday, right?), so I've been a bit scattered when it comes to landing an idea for a blog post. I considered a number of different subjects, and cast them aside because I knew my brain can only handle so much this morning while I contemplate all I have to do.

I could write about the progress I made on my armoire yesterday, and casually mention the BIG MISTAKE I made that will require sanding down the edges of the upper doors and restaining and varnishing them (ugh -- makes me sick to think about it).

I could talk about how I'm starting to panic because Christmas is just over 6 weeks away, which means the kids have only 5 weeks left of school, and I've barely started Christmas shopping.

I could share my packing list for my getaway weekend in Toronto. I still have to find that pair of shoes hiding somewhere in my closet, and I don't have a clue what I'm going to wear to dinner Friday night...

I could comment on the challenge of motivating a child to practice piano on a daily basis. She loves practicing, but she wants to practice what she wants to play, not necessarily what her teacher has suggested. And I can't seem to remember to remind her to practice anyway!

I could choose a random memory or friend to honour today, which I think is a very nice idea, but I just don't have the time today to give that kind of post the thought and respect it deserves.

So I'm filing those ideas away for another day. Today I am just going to share something that made me smile this morning as I was rushing around getting everyone ready to get out the door. Chris used to jot down cute things that the kids said in his Palm Pilot. There's another blog post -- I need to find that list and use it! I thought Janelle's comment this morning was worth recording for posterity.

I had just made her breakfast of peanut butter on half a bagel and a glass of cranberry juice. She sat down and took one bite and a drink of her juice. Janelle can be extremely expressive when she wants to be, but she isn't usually quite so impressed by her breakfast as she was today. Her eyes immediately closed and she said "Mmmmmm, Mommy! That is sooooooo yummy!!! The peanut butter really sucks up the flavour of the cranberry juice! Sooooooo deeeeeee-licious!" The peanut butter sucks up the flavour of the cranberry juice? I guess I never thought of that. She does have a way with words. Maybe she'll be the writer in the family. Or maybe the chef, who recognizes when one food "sucks up the flavour" of another one. She's going to be something anyway.

Maybe you had to be there, but I just thought it was cute enough to make my blog today. Now I'm off to work on the armoire and maybe do some Christmas shopping and find those shoes to pack and decide what to wear Friday night, before I come home and make Janelle practice her piano lesson. And I'm going to think about my blog post for tomorrow.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My Latest Project

I'm in the middle of finishing my latest project. No time to write.

We bought this entertainment armoire unfinished about a month ago. I stained it a few weeks ago, and finally got Chris to help me finish staining the feet on Saturday. Yesterday I put the first coat of varnish on it, and today I need to sand it and apply the second coat.

I really need to get to work on it, because my garage is becoming a very COLD work space! So this is my blog post for the day.

Told you they wouldn't all be that interesting!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Makes me so MAD!!!

We were robbed Friday night -- or sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. Not only do I feel kind of violated and creepy, but I'm just so MAD, both at myself for allowing it to happen and at the jerk who felt he had the right to steal my property.

I am usually very careful about making sure the van is locked at all times. When we go somewhere together, I'm the one always reminding Chris to lock the van. When I pull into our driveway and get out of the car I automatically hit the lock button on my keychain, sometimes more than once. But Friday night, I messed up.

Janelle has started going to get the mail for me from the mailbox up at the corner of our street. She loves to do it, and it saves me the trouble of doing it myself. On Friday, I had actually checked the mail already while I was out running errands, but it hadn't come yet. I had left the mail key in the van, thinking I'd just check again next time I went somewhere. So, when Janelle asked if she could get the mail, I unlocked the van from inside the house so she could get the mail key. I didn't remind her to lock it back up again. And I forgot to hit the darn button myself. It would have taken half a second. But I forgot.

I didn't need to get in the van again until yesterday afternoon. I opened the driver's side door and found a couple of CD cases and other miscellaneous items on the driver's seat. I knew what that meant. Someone had been going through my stuff. I immediately checked the opening in the console where we keep the GPS — one of my most prized possesssions since we've moved to this unfamiliar city. Sure enough, it was gone. So were all my favourite CDs that I keep in easy access right between the front seats. The DVDs and CDs kept over the passenger side sunshade were there. So were both CD wallets that we store in the compartment under the passenger seat. Only my favourite CDs were gone. I was concerned about the car because we don't have automatic locks on it, so Chris rarely thinks to lock it when he comes home. I checked, and could tell that they had been in it because the driver's side door was not fully closed, but nothing was taken.

I'm really mad about losing the GPS. Chris's dad gave it to us for Christmas last year, and we really loved having it, and obviously used it often since we've moved. We're heading to Indiana in a couple of weeks. Are we going to have to use (gasp!) a map? I'm mad about losing the CDs, a few of which I can't replace. But mostly I'm mad at myself. I learned a lesson. I just wish this lesson didn't have to be quite so expensive!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fun Mom

Chris and Connor planned my birthday dinner the other night. I knew we were going out somewhere, but I didn't know where. Connor told me after school that only he and Dad knew where we were going, and that I wasn't going to find out until we got there. Chris's only comment to me was that dinner was going to be "experiential, not fancy". I had an idea then where we were going, but I made sure to play along until the surprise was revealed. Connor was so excited, and so proud that he had been part of coming up with the idea. We went bowling, big ball bowling, for the first time ever.

There is a bowling alley about five minutes from our home called Palasad, that is attached to an arcade and a fairly nice restaurant, at least when you consider what I would expect from a bowling alley restaurant. Pizza and hot dogs was the menu I expected, and I did have pizza, but it was gourmet chicken pizza, and Chris had some sort of chili pasta dish that was the special that evening. When the waiter found out it was my birthday, he told Chris to ask the waiter in the bowling alley to bring me a piece of cheesecake, on the house (my second of the day!), to enjoy while we had our game.

Our first experience with big ball bowling was hilarious! We had them raise the bumpers for the kids, but not for Chris and I. That was a mistake! My first turn up I got double zero, and the rest of the game wasn't much better. The ball was sooooo heavy! After my first time up I traded mine in for one the same weight as the kids had. Still, it was pretty heavy, and so awkward. It is definitely a whole different kind of game than we were used to. My shoulder and arm were still feeling it yesterday. My final score was tied for last with Janelle. Chris did a bit better than us, but Connor beat Chris by more than 30 points! We did have fun, and of course my favourite part was watching the kids enjoy this new experience we were having together. We made a memory.

I tell this story, not just to give the account of how I spent my birthday, but because of something Chris said afterward. He told me I shouldn't broadcast where they took me for my birthday because bowling doesn't sound like much of a birthday treat for a mom. But he said he didn't hesitate to do it because he knew that I'm the kind of mom who cares more about having fun with her kids than having a fancy meal.  We had considered getting a babysitter that night and going out on a date to celebrate, our first in months. But I couldn't imagine depriving the kids of being part of my special day. Our meal was very nice, but honestly, if it had been hot dogs and potato chips I wouldn't have cared. I won't ever forget our first game of big ball bowling together. And I consider Chris's comment about the kind of mom I am a huge compliment. I always want to be the fun mom, not the fancy mom. My kids had a blast on my birthday. And so did I.

And tonight, while my kiddos are home with a babysitter, I'll be out having a different kind of dinner with my husband. And I'm going to love that, too.

Sounds in the Night

Yesterday's post was way too long, and I wrote it way too late at night. I was still thinking about it when I woke up at 5 a.m., so I started a new one in my head as I tried to fall back to sleep. These are the sounds I was hearing in the wee hours of this morning.

The wind howling outside my window.

Wind chimes dancing in time to the wind.

My husband's deep and even breathing beside me in the dark.

My daughter's gentle snoring in the bedroom next door.

My own thoughts swirling inside my head.

No wonder it took so long to get back to sleep. I think it's time for a nap...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It's All About Me

Isn't that just the most narcissistic blog post title you've ever read? Well, as most of my friends will tell you, I love my birthday, and have always felt that it really is all about me. The only day of the year that I can just bask in the love of all my family and friends. Well, not the only day, but the only one that is really all about me. Do I sound like a 12-year-old? Yeah, I agree.

Unfortunately, my birthday comes with a counter that I'm not that crazy about anymore. I'm 41 today. I'm not sure why I shared that, since I've spent the past week trying to impress upon my son that it is rude to announce my age loudly in public places and to anyone who will listen. I remember being so excited about turning 16, and then 21, even 25. I'm pretty sure it was all downhill from there. Except that looking back on my life, all the best times have been since then. So why do we hate birthdays if life just keeps getting better and better?

I decided that my birthday was a good day to share a little bit about myself on my blog, for those of you who may not know me as well as others. For those of you who do know me as well as I know myself, feel free to point out mistakes, exaggerations, or omissions. This is just a brief overview after all. So here goes: it's all about me!

I was born on November 4, 1969, in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. I was blessed with absolutely the best parents on the planet. They loved me and supported and continue to do so. Even more importantly they loved each other and modeled to me what real love means. I'm the oldest of three, and my sister is definitely my oldest friend. She is 2 1/2 years younger than me, and is in many ways my polar opposite, and we therefore often drive each other crazy. But she knows me like no one else does, and I don't know what I'd do without her. She was there for all of it, and aside from my parents she's the only one who was. My brother didn't come on the scene until I was 9, and I adored him from the moment I saw him, if not before. I clearly remember thinking many times during his childhood "Is he really the cutest kid in the world, or is it just because we love him so much that we think he is?" Looking back, I think it was a little bit of both. I still feel that way about him, even though I don't talk to him nearly as much as I would like to. I'd still do just about anything for him.

We moved three times after I started school. From Moncton we went to St. Stephen, NB, then from there to Summerside, PEI, and then finally to Rothesay, NB, just outside Saint John, which became home. These places can be divided into milestones. Life began in Moncton. My brother was born in St. Stephen. My sixth grade teacher in PEI told me that I could write. That's why you are reading this blog. And Saint John is where I grew up.

Despite my talkative nature I was a pretty shy kid and I hated starting at a new school where I didn't know anyone. I love PEI to this day, but those were not good years for me socially. At least for the last year or two there I was bullied pretty badly. I remember crying my heart out when Mom and Dad told us we were moving to Saint John, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. The day I started at Rothesay Junior High, my mother took me to school and when we got out of the car my head automatically went down. Even now I can hear my mother saying "Pick your head up and stand up straight!" I never forgot that, and still when I'm walking into a new social situation and I'm tempted to duck my head and disappear I hear her voice. Just one of those lessons that stick with you. I made friends that day who are still my friends today. Getting away from the bullying situation in PEI was the first step in building up some confidence that had been shattered over the past couple of years.

My parents had always instilled the importance of faith within me. I had gone to Sunday School since infancy, and was shocked the first time I heard that some people don't believe in God. It was in my teen years that my faith began to become my own, though, and I began to really understand what a personal relationship with God meant, and how it could and would shape my life. From that point on I don't think that faith has ever really faltered. There have been very difficult times, but I have always understood that my heavenly Father wasn't causing those rough patches, but carrying me through them.

I wasn't one of the really popular kids in high school, but I had good friends — many of whom I still call friends today. I liked high school — I enjoyed the atmosphere and the school spirit. I loved English and I hated Math and Science. Reading and writing were always my passion where academics were concerned. I guess that's why it's not surprising that I studied English in university. I always knew I wanted to write and teach, but I didn't have the grades to get into a B.Ed. program right after high school, so I headed into a four year B.A. at UNBSJ.

I liked high school, but I loved university! I was so happy there. I made some wonderful friends my first year, and had a lot of fun. My grades attested to the fact that I was having a lot of fun, but I still did moderately well. I had begun to come into my own and was gaining confidence in who I was and who I wanted to be, and I was studying things that meant something to me.

I didn't have a serious boyfriend until after my second year of university. We dated nearly two years, and I always knew it was going to end, and probably end badly. He didn't share my strong faith, which was and is the guiding force in my life, and I knew I didn't want to enter a forever relationship with someone who didn't value the same things that I did. I was a mess after we broke up, for a long time. I think the time it took for me to get over that break-up was more a reflection of how I was feeling about myself at the time than it was of the person I had been dating. I will always encourage my kids not to date someone they wouldn't consider marrying. Not that I want them heading into serious relationships very young. I just want to spare them some inevitable heartache that I could have saved myself if I had been more intentional about who I dated at that time.

After university I did a lot of things. I went on a mission trip to Honduras that changed my perspective forever. I was a nanny. I was a tutor. I was a youth leader. I was a childcare worker. I bought a car. I spent a lot of time with friends. I made new friends. I said goodbye to friends who moved away to start their careers. I dated a bit. I watched a lot of friends get married. I had a lot of fun. I learned what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And then I went back to university.

My husband and I don't remember meeting each other. We lived in different cities, but had some friends in common. We had attended youth groups at different Wesleyan churches, and had probably met at youth rallies. But one day it just occurred to me that he had always been around. He was interested before I was. We went on one date, and I really wasn't interested in another one. He continued to ask me out until one day he asked if I was ever going to say yes. I said no. I changed my mind a few months later, and I'm lucky he gave me another chance. I still didn't treat him very well. I was terrified of getting into a serious relationship again, but this time I knew that it had a chance of lasting forever. I was afraid of letting him have my heart for a long time, but when I finally did, I was done. I knew I'd marry him long before he knew. He is an amazing man and a gift I treasure every day... even if I sometimes don't show it as I should.

We got married two years later, a week before I graduated from the B.Ed. program at UNB. I thought I wanted to have kids right away, because I had always wanted to be a mother more than anything. Chris wanted to wait two years, and I agreed. It ended up being nearly four years before, after two heartbreaking miscarriages, we finally had our son. As painful as that period in our lives was, I am truly grateful for those four carefree years that we had together, just as a couple, before the responsibility of parenting became the major focus of our lives. I love being a mom, but I think our marriage is better because we invested a lot of time just in each other before we had to invest so much of ourselves in our kids.

Except for a year spent in Kingston when Connor was two, we have raised our two awesome kids in Fredericton, in the company of a bunch of other great and godly families who were raising their kids right along with us. I am eternally grateful for the foundation those friendships gave us, and the support they give us even now, although we're far away. Yesterday I received a loving care package in the mail from a few of the best girlfriends I could ask for. I am loved, and I feel loved, even from a distance.

At forty-one I am many things. I am Chris's wife, Connor and Janelle's mom, Stan and Marilyn's daughter, Tracy and Brad's sister, an aunt to a bunch of precious kiddos, a teacher without a classroom, a neighbour, a parent volunteer, and a friend. I know beyond a doubt that I am a precious child of God. And I'm a blogger. This post has a lot of holes in it, but it holds the essence of me. If you didn't know me before, I think you have a pretty good handle now on who I really am. If you already know me, perhaps even you have learned something. I think maybe even I have.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Awesome Lasagna

Finding new and interesting meals to feed my family that we all actually enjoy is always a challenge. Finding new and interesting meals that are also easy to have ready for our crazy Tuesday schedule is nearly impossible. My kids are both somewhat picky, as I think most kids are. Connor will eat a lot of things as long as he can cover them with ketchup, but won't touch fish and usually complains about anything with too much tomato sauce (a ketchup fiend, go figure). Janelle will most likely become a vegetarian someday, since she loves most veggies, but must be forced to eat the meat on her plate. Chris would say that I am picky, too, and I really can't deny it. He claims that he is extremely easy to please. I would counter that he is fairly easy to feed, meaning he will eat almost anything, but not always easy to impress.

We have our old faithfuls, as every family has. Stir-fry is a biggie for us, because both of my kids love it and so do Chris and I. I try to do the traditional meat-and-potatoes meal once a week, and spaghetti or some other form of pasta meal usually makes it onto the weekly list. Rice with meatball or wings is an easy crock pot meal that often makes an appearance on our dinner table. Tuesday nights (remember the Tuesday treadmill?) I usually resort to breadmaker pizza, or something I've dug out of the freezer. The last two weeks I've been determined to break that mold and come up with something different and unpredictable for Tuesdays. It has to be something that I can get onto the table quickly, and preferably something that I can transport easily to Chris to eat at Connor's basketball practice. Crock pot beef stew was a roaring success last week (except with Janelle the vegetarian, who begged for a peanut butter sandwich instead), and this week I made it my own challenge to come up with something else to surprise my family with. Something all four of us would love.

I used to make lasagna fairly often. I use a recipe that evolved from my mother's recipe, with a little tweaking here and there. Chris calls it my "awesome lasagna", because once early in our marriage I announced to our dinner guest that "my lasagna is awesome". I was actually refering to my mother's lasagna, since at that point I really hadn't claimed any of my cooking as my own yet. Everything I made was someone else's recipe, someone talented and experienced in the area of cooking, which I clearly was not. I have to say, that lasagna was pretty amazing, though. And now it's even better. But until yesterday, I don't think I had made it in years. I even had to play around with the recipe when I couldn't find a 19 oz can of tomatoes at the grocery story. Oh, well, 28 oz — more is always better, right? This is one meal that I'm not afraid to experiment with. I was convinced that no matter what I did, it would come out "awesome".

I had serious doubts as to whether on not my kids would accept this very foreign food to our dinner table. I'm pretty sure the last time I tried to serve it to them they both turned up their noses. This time I was determined to prove to them that "my lasagna is awesome". I was prepared for the whining, and had my "You only have to eat 5 bites and if you still hate it..." practiced and ready. When I first put it in the oven before I took Janelle to piano lessons, Connor made a quiet, skeptical comment: "You're making lasagna for supper?" When I came home from taking Janelle to her lesson, I walked into my glorious smelling house and said "Oh, that lasagna smells SOOOOOO GOOOOOOOOD!" Connor kind of hesitated before replying, "Yeah, Mom, it really does." Woohoo! I started to get my hopes up! When we arrived home after Janelle's piano lesson, the smell had changed a bit. I could tell that I had left it cooking too long. When I opened the oven door my heart sank. The cheese was brown, and the edges were nearly black. But I sucked back my disappointment and declared "Oh, you lucky kids are going to have the most delicious dinner!"

Connor actually smiled and made yummy noises when I set his plate on the table. He dug in with gusto. I guess he didn't care that it was slightly overdone. Janelle, on the other hand, said "Mommy, why did you make something I don't like for dinner?" I replied, "But how do you know you don't like it, Honey?" "Well, it sure doesn't look like something I like." It took some encouragement, but after the first frowny bite, she ate it pretty happily. When I sent her back to the table to finish her dinner (which I basically have to do every night, since my little scatterbrain inevitably finds something else she just has to do or check on in the middle of dinner), she ran back to the table and said "But Mommy, my plate is empty!" Hallelujah! Success!

When Chris came home from basketball practice I asked how he liked the lasagna and he gave me a half-hearted "Good". "Good?", I shot back at him. "Whattayamean, good?" "Well, that's no way to eat lasagna. Lukewarm, out of plastic, standing up in a gym." Okay, I had to give him that. Then I watched him pull the dish of lasagna out of the fridge and heat up two more pieces. I secretly smiled as he devoured them. I think I found another new Tuesday dinner.

Today I haven't thought about what we'll have for supper. But I know what I'm having for lunch. My lasagna is awesome!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too Many Books, Too Little Time!

I love reading. Have I mentioned this? Only one, two hundred times? I love really good books. I love getting to know the characters, feeling a part of an exciting story, falling under the spell of words that a really great author can cast. A couple of weeks ago I finished reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a book that had been on my reading list for years, and I finally took the time to read it for my book club. At nearly 1000 pages it was like a mountain to me that I was determined to climb. I'm not a fast reader, but I am a voracious reader. When I find a book that I love, I can't get enough of it. This was one of those books. I spent as much of my time reading it as I could, and when I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it. It was like a rich tapestry, one that only a really gifted author could weave. I couldn't wait to get through it, but when I did, I was so sad. I missed the characters, I missed the atmosphere, I missed the feeling I had reading it. So I started a new book.

My friends, Julie and Denise (my NaBloPoMo buddy), and I are meeting in Toronto this month for a girls weekend together. The catalyst for this planned getaway was the Tony award winning Broadway show Wicked, which is playing in Toronto for just a few weeks. We made our plans last spring and got tickets the week they went on sale. We've all heard wonderful things about this play, which is about the life of the Wicked Witch of the West, basically a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. Julie had read the book by Gregory Maguire and suggested that Denise and I read it before we see the play, so I picked it up a couple of months ago, but just got a chance to fit it into my reading list last week. When I finished Pillars, I decided to dive into Wicked. I was looking forward to it. I love The Wizard of Oz, and I usually love fairy tale type stories, so I expected this to be right up my alley. Julie warned me, however, that this was not going to be an easy read. One of the ladies in my book club had told me that her father, who loves the play and has seen it multiple times, hated the book. They were both right. After 50 pages, I still wasn't drawn into the story, I didn't care about the characters. Not a good sign. After 100 pages I was getting frustrated. I still didn't feel any connection to the story. After 200 pages, despite tremendous feelings of guilt, I decided to quit.

My dear friend and fellow book-lover, Joy and I have always had a saying: "Too many books, too little time". It is so true! There are a million books out there that I want to read — I don't have time to waste on books I'm not enjoying! I'm not in university anymore, where I had to read three or four books a week that were someone else's choice. Now I get to choose, and there is really nothing compelling me to continue a book that I am not enjoying. I decided a few months ago, after finishing a book that left me feeling like I had just wasted a great chunk of my time, that from now on I am not going to read books that I don't like. Not even for my book club. I'll give them a try — I think 200 pages is a really good try! — but if after even 50 pages there is nothing there to make me want to keep reading, I'm closing the book and moving on. I even told my kids about this decision last week — to which Connor responded that he had given up on a book at school that very day! I'm not sure he quite got the message I was trying to convey. Oh, well, he knows a good book when he reads it. He still loves reading Harry Potter with me!

Despite this revelatory decision, I still feel guilty about giving up on Wicked. I think the problem is that I'm not quite sure how to articulate exactly what it was that I didn't like about the book. And in the back of my mind I do think I'll come back to it after I see the play. I'm just not good at being a quitter! At least not where books are concerned.

But I have moved on. I started reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, which my book club read last year before I was a part of it, and which has been on my shelf waiting to be read for over a year. It had been highly recommended by a number of friends, and I decided that it was time I found out what all the fuss is about. I've read about 60 pages, and I am enraptured. It is wonderful! I already love everything about it. The voice of the narrator is just endearing, and I already find myself carried away on her journey. So quitting Wicked was worth it. I don't feel like going back at all.

At least not for a couple of weeks...

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween on Westwick Walk

Our first Halloween in our new neighbourhood has come and gone, and we've all survived, and stocked up on enough sugar to keep the four of us on a high until Christmas. I had no idea how many "spooks" to prepare for here. My neighbour said that since this is a new street, the number increases every year. So I bought candy --- LOTS of candy. And we really didn't have that many trick-or-treaters at the door. Not nearly as many as we had on Crocket Street, anyway. I'm not someone who counts each bag I plop a candy into, but I would estimate we had around 80 kids at our door this year. Unfortunately, that means lots of candy left for me to munch on. And if it is made of chocolate, I am helpless to resist it!

Usually Connor and Janelle both know what they are going to be for Halloween long before the actual day arrives. Connor loves to get a costume and then make it even "cooler" with stuff he finds around the house. This year he had decided he wanted to be a werewolf. I almost gave in to actually making him a werewolf costume, but gave up after I couldn't find the right faux fur and realized it would really be quite a lot of work. I looked everywhere for a werewolf costume for him, but didn't find one until this week at the party store, where we found the perfect werewolf costume advertised -- for way more than I was willing to pay. Connor begged and pleaded and offered to pitch in half from his allowance, so I gave in — only to find that the "perfect werewolf costume" was sold out. We considered buying a mask and gloves and making the rest, but even that was so expensive I couldn't justify it unless Connor would be perfectly happy, and he didn't think he would be. So he resorted to an orange prisoners' jumpsuit. Much more economical. And as we found out Saturday afternoon when the zipper broke, CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP! Between Chris and I, we managed to fix the zipper temporarily — meaning until about five minutes before the trick-or-treating train was leaving. So out came the safety pins, which surprisingly, Connor was okay with. Needless to say, this is not a costume I'll be selling on Kijiji!

Janelle, on the other hand, knew what she was going to be for Halloween last Christmas. Aunt Tracy gave her a sweet Hannah Montana costume, which she used for dress up all year, but until a couple of weeks ago, still planned to wear on Halloween night. That's when Camryn from down the street arrived with a purple princess dress that she thought Janelle might like to wear for Halloween. First Janelle thought she might combine the two and be "Princess Hannah", but by Saturday she had decided that the Hannah wig had gotten way too messy to wear, and she really wanted curls in her hair. So yesterday around 4:30 we got out the curling iron and the hairspray and started attempting to curl my daughter's pin-straight hair. It took a lot of patience and bobby pins, but by 5:00 it looked adorable, and by 6:30 when they were ready to leave, a few of the curls were still in their places. Princess Janelle was happy anyway, and really, what else matters?

Chris and I divided up Halloween duty this year. He took our princess and escaped prisoner north up to the end of our subdivision and back to our house while I handed out candy, and then I took them south as far as the three of us could manage. I actually enjoy the fun part of Halloween. I hate the gruesome costumes and decorations, the horror movies on tv, and the desire to scare the living crap out of people. That isn't a holiday I want to celebrate with my kids. But carving pumpkins, fun costumes and some community commaraderie -- that's the part I can get into. I really enjoyed going door-to-door with the kids, visiting with my neighbours, and seeing what familiar faces from school live in which houses. I actually ended up travelling most of the way with my neighbour from across the street, who was dressed to the nines as a witch: green face, green hair, tall black hat, black dress, striped stockings and heels, while she pushed her baby in the stroller and followed her six-year-old Avatar from door-to-door. I had put on Janelle's Halloween headband with two orange and black pigtails, so we made quite a pair. My biggest struggle was getting Connor to wait for Janelle. He would have happily run around the whole neighbourhood if I had let him, and little Avatar was keeping up with him every step of the way. But just after 7:30, the baby started to cry and Janelle announced that she was done, so I sent my daughter home with the Wicked Witch of the West, and I soldiered on with the convict and Avatar. We arrived home at 8:00, to find most of the candy I had bought waiting for me.

Janelle, who is really amazingly self-aware for a seven-year-old, told me that she had already eaten her two pieces of candy and was ready to go to bed, and I had her tucked in and heard the story she wanted to read to me by 8:30. Connor, who would fight bedtime every step of the way, took a little longer, and was much more of a struggle to keep out of the candy, but by 9:15 he had settled down and we had finished reading a chapter of Harry Potter together.

Our first Halloween on Westwick Walk. Fun. Delicious. Exhausting. Over. Time to go put away the decorations for another year.