Saturday, July 21, 2018

It's Been a While

Truly, it has been a long time since I've blogged...five months or so. That's a long time, and I have missed it.

The challenge has been that my kids are no longer comfortable with me posting extensively about their lives. I have always tried to be sensitive to what they may or may not want me to write about them, and have asked them on many occasions if they were ok with me writing about certain aspects of their lives/personalities. Until recently, the answer to those questions were that is is fine.  But then, on one of my last posts, I posted something about Lizzie that a family friend ended up talking with her about and she was terribly upset about how I had worded a few things and asked me to take the post down...which I did immediately. And since then, I have been unable to bring myself to post. I was embarrassed that I'd embarrassed her, and embarrassed that I didn't know better. So I stopped for a time.

I'm always going to write a little about my family - after all, it's the most all-consuming part of my life on a day-to-day basis. But I need, also, to find new ways of expressing myself. And I hope to do just that in the days ahead.

Maybe everyone's checked out of my blog after such long absences. But if you're still here, I'm glad. I hope you are, too.

Sending out a hug to anyone still here.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Farewell to 2017

I've finally managed to complete my usual year-end questions...better late than never!  :)

1.  What did you do in 2017 that you'd never done before?
Geoff and I became cottage owners.

2.  Did you keep your new years' resolutions and will you make more for next year?
I didn't make any new resolutions for 2017, though I did decide early in the year that I wanted to continue with my 2016 habit of tracking our finances for the year. I didn't entirely meet this goal, as I tracked our monthly cash flow only through to the end of August. I plan to resume now in January for 2018, because it really, really made a difference to our bottom line in 2016 and I wish I'd continued it through to the end of 2017.

I have made no resolutions for 2018.

3.  Did anyone close to you die?
Yes, sadly, we lost my beautiful sister-in-law, Cathy, on October 16.  It's hard to write that...I can still hardly believe it sometimes, and the hugeness of it snatches my breath unexpectedly at times.

4.  Did you travel?  Did you visit other countries?  Where did you go?
Just two short trips to Vancouver this year...the first to say good-bye to Cathy in August...the second to be at her Celebration of Life in October. 

The cottage consumed the rest of our vacation time, and all of our budget.

5.  What would you like to have in the coming year that you lacked in the year past?
* More one-on-one time with each of the kids.
* More time with Geoff...on date nights, etc.

6.  What date(s) from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory and why?
June 13: hearing that my BIL, Andrew, had been in a terrible accident and was in hospital with burns to much of his body. 

October 16: hearing that my sister-in-law, Cathy, had passed away. When we celebrated her life twelve days later, it was the most beautiful service I've ever been was like she was there. We talked, laughed, shared memories and other deep thoughts, and it was as beautiful a time as I've ever experienced.

7.  What was your biggest achievement of the year and why? or What things are you proud of?
Pulling out some of my dusty conflict resolution skills to help out a friend and some of the people she worked with. I had a strong sense that I was responding to something God asked me to do, and I felt totally at peace and confident throughout these months. I also really loved using some of my old professional skills and I think that the grey hairs I've accumulated in the last 5-6 years actually lent some wisdom and experience to my work. It was nice to know, too, that my contribution made a difference to others.

8.  What was your biggest failure of the year and why?
I think I suck at building family traditions. I tend to defer to spontaneity rather than sticking to tradition, and I regret this. I want my kids to grow up and know as adults that at Christmas time we..., and that for birthdays or easter, we..., and so on.

Another thing is that I barely scratched the surface of all of my year's intended organizational projects. There are seriously so many things that need doing around here.

9.  Did you suffer illness or injury?
The only illness I suffered was just a week or two ago, right before Christmas, when I had the flu for three days.

At the very beginning of the year, January 01, 2017, Matthew careened off of a tobogganing hill and broke his arm in two places.

My Mom was in the hospital for the first six months of the year; my brother-in-law was in hospital for ten days after being involved in a terrible explosion...we're so thankful we didn't lose him; and of course, my SIL Cathy suffered so much before finally leaving us for a far better place.

10.  What was the best/biggest/most novel thing you bought?
Definitely our cost a pretty penny and we're back into having a mortgage! But it's been well worth it so far...we had a blast there this spring/summer/fall!

11.  Whose behaviour merited celebration/recognition?
My brother, David. How he acted in the months leading up to my SIL's passing was remarkable. His commitment and loyalty to her was incredible to witness.

12.  Whose behaviour made you appalled and/or depressed?
One word here: Trump...again.  Sometimes Justin Trudeau, too.

13.  Where did most of your money go?
Easy. Cottage.

14.  What did you get really, really excited about?
A little sadly, I can't remember anything that I got really, really excited about in 2017. I feel a little flat in some ways...not enough to be concerned, but enough that I realize that I'd like to feel excited about something again in the coming year.

15.  What song(s) did you enjoy this year?
Music moves me like little else does...I can get so lost in it. I could probably name 100+ individual songs I've loved this year, but the ones that some first to mind for this year are:

* Two Cellos (if you've never heard/seen them, go check them out on Youtube...amazing)
* Peter Bence...particularly playing Sia's Cheap Thrills and Michael Jackson's Black or White.
* 21 Pilots...lots of their stuff...some fav songs that come to mind are Screen, Ode to Sleep, Car Radio, etc
* Elevation Worship's O Come to the Altar
* Christina Perri - the stuff of hers that I love isn't new, but still...A Thousand Years...
* Rachel Platten's Fight Song
* Havana, by Camila Cabello
* Fink's Looking Too Closely
* Pink's What About Us? (her voice...)
* anything Matt Redman
* maybe even a little Meagan Trainor's Better When I'm Dancing

16.  Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Well, I've certainly struggled with sadness this year as my sister-in-law battled for her's no surprise that it's difficult when someone we love suffers and passes away. And yet, I've had some very happy and fulfilled moments this year, too, mostly during the months I was using my conflict res skills again. And I've also felt more peaceful and relaxed this year during our months at the cottage, when it was so good to just rest a little more, and relax. Finally, I've also felt more comfortable in my skin this be more ok to be myself.

ii. thinner or fatter?  Not much change on that front, I'm afraid. 

iii. richer or poorer? Definitely poorer! Between the purchase of the cottage and the purchases we made towards it this summer, definitely poorer!

17.  What do you wish you'd done more of?
* more time listening to music.
* more time reading out loud to the kids. They're so into audio books over the past number of months and often seem to prefer that to being read aloud to by me. But I've missed our regular tea-and-reading-out-loud times, and want to resume this a little more often.
* I wish I'd played more games with the kids.
* more time going for walks with the kids and the dogs.
* reading my bible.

18.  What do you wish you'd done less of?
Deviating from the school/weekday schedule that I thoughtfully created for our fall/winter.

19.  How did you spend Christmas Day?
For the first time in quite a long time, the five of us were alone together on Christmas morning. For many years we've spent it with family, either on a family trip or having my folks over for Christmas brunch. But this year we were on our own until early/mid afternoon, when we made our way to my parents' house for time and a meal together. It was a lovely day.

Geoff and I decided not to do gifts with the kids this year, other than a book and some PJs. It ended up being so ok to do this. The kids still got a gift or two from my folks, but it was just fine the way it was. In lieu of gifts, we are putting a little money aside for a road trip that the kids and I hope to make in spring. 

20.  What was your favourite tv program(s) in 2017?
In no particular order:
* Velvet
* Timeless
* Offspring

21.  What's the best book you read this year?
That's a hard one, but maybe I'd say Beartown, by Fredrik Backman. The Christmas book I received from Geoff may well be one of my favs of 2018, because Gregory David Robert's Mountain Shadow  (sequel to one of my favourite books of all times, Shantaram) has started out to be that good; but we'll have to see what else I finish in 2018.

The kids and I also really liked reading the popular book Wonder, too, and we loved the movie.

22.  What did you want and get?
Hammocks for the cottage...heaven!

23.  What did you want and not get?
I have enough of everything.  More than enough. 

24.  What was your favourite film?
I saw almost no movies in theatres this year...unusual for me, because I love the cinema experience. But I continue to watch a few movies year after year and they continue to be amongst my favourites:  Anne of Green Gables (the Meagan Follows version); North and South (with Richard Armitage...sigh); Twilight (yes, really, still); and Pride & Prejudice (I love all versions, but my fave is still the Matthew McFadden one). Oh, and Far From the Madding Crowd.

25.  What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
I turned 51 in 2017. I spent the day at the cottage with my was relaxed and great.

26.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably satisfying?
Sigh...a little weight loss...a little more physical activity.

27.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
Maybe a little better than in the past?  I tried, regularly, to layer a shirt/jacket over a shirt - this is generally a pretty good look for me.  I generally suck at clothing, though. 

28.  What kept you sane?
For a significant number of years, I have struggled with feeling incompetent in almost every area of my life. As a parent, as an adoptive parent, as a homeschooler, as a friend, as a daughter/sister/wife. I almost never feel competent or enough.

This year, however, I had a few flashes of something different. I did some volunteer work for a school that two of my kids attend on Thursdays, and the type of work that I did was something I'm good at and hadn't practiced in a number of years. I had a glimpse into another aspect of the woman God created me to be, and it added a whole level of confidence to my very being that I haven't felt in a very long time.

29.  Which celebrity/public figure did you admire/fancy the most?
I'm not sure on this front. I think I'll defer this question until next year...I'm not a huge celebrity follower.

30.  Who was the best new person you met?  Who did you meet for the first time?
This year that credit goes to Francine.  Technically, I met her in August of 2016, but that was just a meeting up. It's this year that our paths have become intertwined and I am glad now to count her amongst my friends.

In the past few months of the year, I also met and began to get to know the two new women who, with their children, joined our homeschool Learning Centre on Tuesdays.  Julie and Susan are, frankly, pretty amazing women and I am blessed to be getting to know them.  

When we changed churches in fall'17, I also had opportunity to meet two women I'd been hearing lovely things about for several years. Kellie and Christie have been delightful to meet and start to get to know, and our paths seem to be crossing on at least a few fronts...and I'm loving it. Two of Kellie's boys have become friends with my Matthew now, and I'm really enjoying these connections.

Finally (and I know this list is going on for too long, especially given that the list was to mention one person!), I met a young man named Jordan in September, who is the Student Ministries Director at our new church. He blew me away with his passion for the kids attending the youth program, and it directly impacted my boys...especially Matthew. For a long time, we've been needing more church connections for our kids, and Jordan was for me, a beacon of hope in this journey.  

31.  Who did you miss?
Oh, I miss Cathy. That's an easy one, and the one that fills my heart and eyes immediately. It's only been a few months since we lost her, and I miss her smile and her laugh every day.

32.  Any other highlights / lowlights of the year not already discussed?
Definitely the cottage was a highlight this year. I would never have guessed how much, and how quickly, I would come to love being there.

33.  What valuable lesson(s) did you learn in 2017?
It's not a new lesson, to be sure, but the need to be in the moment is so pressing...we never know how long we have on this earth, and I was reminded of that so many times throughout 2017.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Giving Up on Dreams for our Kids

Last week, I made a difficult decision. I decided to pull all three of my kids out of piano lessons.  Now, this might not seem like a big deal, but it was to me. Music is important to me...has been throughout my life. I played piano as a child/teen/young adult, played for choirs, played other instruments in bands and orchestras, etc etc..  These days, I don't have much opportunity to play for myself, but when I do, it's a balm for my soul. Music always is for me. It's been a big deal in my life, and I worked really hard as a teen to do well with it.

I always imagined that this is something I'd pass on to my kids...not only for the sheer beauty of being able to create music, but also because I am a firm believer that a musical education enhances a child's neurological connections and abilities. There's a lot of research about that...I needn't bother getting into that here. When one has two kids rooted in a trauma past, there is something very appealing about employing a method that will create new and significant neuro connections to help them deal with their stuff. And for any child, learning music is such a worthwhile pursuit.

The kids have been in piano lessons for the past 3-5 years (depending on the child). We've had a wonderful piano teacher, and for the most part it has gone well. The kids have always complained a little about not wanting to practice, but overall, it's gone pretty well.

Until sometime last year.

I'm not sure what happened, but they began to fuss more and more about practicing, beginning sometime last spring. The boys, in particular, were not happy. Then, in summer and fall, as Seth began to seriously learn how to read, we noticed in him what has happened every time he's been learning something new: As his reading skills began to emerge, other areas of knowledge tanked. It's almost uncanny how regularly this has happened over the years. He was learning to read and print, and correspondingly, his ability to remember other things (such as musical knowledge, note names, etc) dwindled. This child who had previously known all of his treble and bass clef notes, could suddenly remember none of them. And I do mean none. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It was as if he'd never seen a page of notes before. I would have been super concerned by the severe memory glitches if we hadn't seen this happen over and over again over the past 6.5 years. The knowledge always comes back at some point, but how long it takes depends on the 'bigness' of the other things being learned. And learning how to read and print are huge areas of learning; I figured it was going to take months (maybe more) before his musical knowledge returned. Our piano teacher was great at working with this new thing over several months, in order to take the pressure off of remembering notes - Stephen had Seth creating his own music, by ear, and helped him record and amplify his simple compositions; he created games for Seth to keep him engaged; and so on.

But it's just proven too difficult.  Not just for Seth, but for the other two kids. They were all beginning to hate piano, to resist practicing so much that it became the number one thing that I dreaded every weekday. I was getting pretty frazzled and discouraged over the past several months and, sometime before Christmas, I began to wonder if I needed to pull the plug on lessons. It was increasingly difficult for me to manage practices and to contemplate pouring more money into ongoing lessons.

Finally, this past week, after six or eight weeks of contemplation, I advised our teacher that we were out, at least until fall, at which point I will re-evaluate.

It was a grief process for me to get to this point. I always assumed that my kids would grow up with music, would grow up to know how to read music, how to sing, how to play piano (and maybe an additional instrument, too). I just thought this would be the way it would be.

But at some point, we parents all know that our dreams for our kids need to be loosened in order that they can follow their own path. We can only place opportunity in front of them, not make them take advantage of it. It's hard for all of us at times, to let go of the things that we so hope our kids will take on and love to do. Hard, but necessary.

And so Monday will arrive tomorrow, as usual; but instead of heading out the door shortly past 11:00 to get to our lessons, we'll be at home for an extra two hours - likely doing some other form of school work. I know already that I'll love the extra time at home; we need more time at home to accomplish the school work that we are getting through.

But for now, maybe for the next few weeks, maybe in perpetuity, I'll just be a little sad on Mondays. While the kids will surely whoop and holler in their excitement about being free of practice time, I'll mourn the loss that they won't appreciate until years from now...if ever. Sometimes we just have to let go of some of the things that really matter and deal with the reality of what is. And that can be ok, too. I hope.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

In Memory of Cathy

Life changes so quickly, doesn't it?

My sister-in-law died just over two weeks ago, and it feels like the trajectory of life has shifted a little now that she's no longer in my present or future.  I came home last night from a weekend celebrating her life, and it was an awesome weekend - it's strange how, at such a hard and sad time, one can also feel pleasure in being with other people who loved her, and joy in remembering the one we all had in common.  It was the most beautiful celebration of life I've ever been to, filled with white flowers and white candles, and it felt like Cathy was still with us throughout the service and the gatherings afterwards.

I knew Cathy for just over eight years and she entered our family during a difficult time. I wasn't really prepared to like her; in fact, I was resistant to liking her.  But when I met her, she completely disarmed me by ignoring my outstretched hand and going in for the big hug.  A warm, genuine hug that told me she was so glad to meet David's little sister.  Her huge smile and laugh of pleasure softened my heart in just a moment.  That first night, when I met her over a glass of wine on the beach in White Rock, BC, I knew she was going breathe fresh air into our family.  I could see it, feel it...I knew why my brother loved her, and why I would, too.  Very uncharacteristically, and almost against my will, I told her at the end of that first evening that I was going to love her.

Who does that?

But I did.  And I did love her.  I still do.

Cathy was pretty awesome.  She had her faults, as we all do, but she was pretty dang awesome.  Fun-loving, warm, and without artifice, she drew people to her.  She had a way of making people love her, with seemingly no effort on her part.  It was her gift.  She was good for our stodgy old family, and she was even better for my brother, who adored her from beginning to end.  It's fascinating to watch two people bring out the very best in each other; and she certainly did that for my brother.  He became a warmer, gentler, more in-tune person with her.  It was obvious to anyone who watched them together; he glowed when she entered the room and sat up a little straighter as her eyes looked for his.  And he stayed with her and cared for her through the worst time in their lives, with a stamina that I don't know if I'd have, and with a commitment to honouring her that I envy just a little.

Many visits, many meals, many heart-to-heart conversations have been shared in the days since that first meeting.  And my first impression of her never changed. 

Then, all too soon, I flew out to Vancouver in August, to say good-bye to Cathy.  She had been sick for quite a while already, and we all knew the end was coming.  I had a chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and I was able to thank her for loving my brother and our family and for making us all better people for knowing her.  It's a hard thing to say good-bye when someone is still living; but such a gift.

While I was still there, she rebounded a little and ended up making it home for another eight weeks.  She was so grateful for that extra time; it meant she could say good-bye to almost everyone important in her life and tell them that she loved them, and why.  She was able to share meals with people, deepen relationships, and do what she needed to do to prepare.  That extra time was the one blessing during a very difficult time.

I want to learn from that.  Life is so short and we don't know when it will end...we need to prepare.  I want to be grateful for every day I have and to make the most of it.  I want the people I love to know it, and I want to do the things that matter the most.  I'm grateful to Cathy for teaching me that.

I noted earlier that Cathy is no longer in my future.  But that's not true.  I know exactly where she is now, and it's the same place that I'm going when I'm no longer in this world.  Thank God!

Until we meet again, Cathy.    

Two Hearts on Apple

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Raw Food Diets...Finn...and the Ridiculous Reaction of A Vet.

I'm not sure if I've mentioned before or not that our dogs are on a raw food diet. They eat a combination of raw meats/organs/bones/tissues, along with fresh fruits and veggies, and other supplementary foods to boost the nutrients that their bodies need. We've done it from the beginning, and we really like it. Finn has a lot of allergies (some food, some environmental), and our choice of their diet has helped her, too.

Before we brought the dogs into our family, I researched the city's vets and landed on a vet that practices more holistic medicine for family pets. She is not only very supportive of raw food diets, but encourages it, along with practicing a reduced vaccination schedule (and using titre testing to determine if a vaccine is even needed). Whenever we have one of the dogs at the vet's office, we go through their whole food routine, and she is awesome about ensuring that we're providing the most balanced diet possible (which needs to be intentional when putting a raw food diet in place). When we wanted Finn spayed earlier this year, we again went back to this vet because they were willing to do a surgical procedure that not many vets will do...we had only her ovaries taken out, rather than having a full hysterectomy completed.

Anyway, we've been very happy with our vet.

About a month ago, we needed to take Finn in to a vet because of a small lump that was growing near the corner of her inner eye. I called our vet's office and was told that she was swamped for the next 48 hours...and we were on our way out of town later that afternoon to get to the cottage. So I phoned a different vet's who practices more traditional veterinary medicine. It was a newly opened office, so I figured they'd have appointments still available. They did.

We took Finn into the office, where a vet assistant ushered us into a room and asked about Finn's diet and activities, etc. I remember being a little surprised that the young assistant didn't go anywhere near Finn; in fact, she rather backed towards the wall of the room. I thought that was a little unusual, especially because Finn (and Charlie, who was up on the table keeping Finn company) was desperate to have the woman's attention. Finn is the dog who falls asleep on her back (with limbs spread eagle) when our usual vet is examining her, and who falls asleep when the groomers are trying to groom her; she is the most laid back, attention-loving, type-B personality dog. She audibly groans with pleasure when people are stroking her. And here this woman at the vet's office appeared almost scared of little Finn! I couldn't quite figure it out, but answered all of her questions.

A minute or two after she left the room, our vet of the day came in to examine Finn. As he entered the room, he was pulling on rubber gloves and he then pulled a face mask over his nose and mouth. I had never seen that before in any vet's office, and so I asked him why he was wearing them. I imagined the worst: That Finn had some incurable and communicable disease that the assistant had been able to diagnose from her lofty position some feet away. I was rather anxious to hear the vet's answer.

"I understand that you feed your dogs a raw food diet," the vet said.

"Yes, that's right," I answered, puzzled about what that had to do with anything - unless it had a link to whatever was going on with her eye.

"I'm not sure you understand the significance of this choice for yourself or for your children," he continued.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Zero.

"It's not us eating the raw food," I assured him, completely puzzled. "It's for the dogs."

Well, the long and the short of it is that that vet was thoroughly and adamantly horrified by our choice to feed the dogs a raw food diet! Seriously. I mean, I learned when I was doing research into it before the dogs came home that some people still find a raw food diet controversial...because people might still think that it's better to feed their dogs grains and highly processed kibble instead instead of what dogs would eat naturally. And I get that - the raw food diet isn't for everyone or everyone's dogs. It doesn't bother me if people choose to feed their dogs a more traditional diet.

But I'd never heard someone speaking so passionately and frighteningly about it! The vet went on (and on and on) about the dangers of the raw food diet, the mistake that it was, how we needed to be fearful of what was on our dogs' tongues because the bacteria might end up on us (hence his gloves and face mask, I guess), how we needed to purchase his particular form of kibble, offered right there in his office. On and on and on he went. He expressed "horror" that we'd been led to believe this was in our dogs' best interest. Despite my pointing out how shiny and soft their coats are, how much better Finn's allergies are on a raw food diet, how full of life they are, he couldn't hear it. He said that I should have informed the front desk immediately upon entering the office that the dogs were on a raw food diet so that they could all don appropriate hand and face gear! He told me that it was not a responsible decision to do this when I also had children to consider - apparently because I need to worry that my children will either eat out of the dogs' bowls, or because they plan to put their mouths inside the dogs' mouths. At one point, I let a small giggle out by accident - I was just so amused and I can't believe this about his die-hard belief in traditional veterinary practice. To not even consider an alternate opinion that is in the best interest of the dog was mind-boggling to me. And in the meantime, he terrified my kids, who were standing right there alongside their beloved dogs, suddenly looking at the dogs as if they might be monsters. In fact, it was because of a glance at the kids' faces that I finally and abruptly shut the vet down and indicated that we were perfectly fine with our choices and that we normally worked with a holistic vet who provided support for our choice. He shook his head, gingerly touched the sides of Finn's wiggly-happy head to take a brief glimpse at her eye, pronounced that she had (basically) an ingrown hair follicle there and said that he'd provide a little cream to help it out, failing which if it weren't better in a week he would anaesthetize her and surgically remove it.  SURGICALLY REMOVE IT!

I was done! I paid my bill, took the expensive little tube of ointment (which I applied only once before thinking that, now knowing what it was, I could help move along just by rubbing a little shea butter on it and massaging it a few times throughout the day) and we family and dogs left the office. Two days later, the bump near Finn's eye was almost non-existent...and four days later, it was gone.

I totally get why some people may not choose a raw food diet for their dogs. It's more expensive, for one thing; and it's a little more work than dumping kibble into a bowl (though we also have balanced dehydrated raw food for dumping purposes!). But to assume that it's a dangerous option, when you're a trained and experienced vet, is shocking to me. Ridiculous. I will not be entering that building again...after all, I'd hate to contaminate the people there!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Whew! The Winter's Menu Plans Are Done!

At the cottage this summer, as I was thinking through the coming school year, I was reminded how (often overwhelmingly) busy last winter was. I knew that I needed to do some things differently this year in order to feel like I was preserving my sanity.

I came up with a few good ideas:
* We said 'no' to some of the activities that the kids wanted to do. Although we could technically fit more activities into our days/weeks than we currently are, the kids are needing more time on academics now than they have needed in the past...and it's hard to fit it all in when we're constantly out and about. So we said no to a few things...and, to my surprise, none of the kids seemed to mind.

* Geoff will be doing all Math homework with the kids this year. The kids each have 60-90 private minutes with a math tutor each week, and Geoff offered to complete homework with them during the week between tutoring sessions. That felt like a significant load off of my shoulders. :)

* On Thursdays, Seth and Lizzie will be spending the days as they did last year - at a small Christian school for children new to Canada. The school offers a day for homeschoolers on Thursdays and my younger two love those days! Unlike last year, Geoff will be the one picking the two kids up at the end of their Thursdays, and taking them both to Lizzie's evening dance class; he'll wait there for an hour, then bring the kids home. Because Matthew does not attend this day program, he and I will have most of a day, and part of an evening at home together! We are making it a combination kind of day: We do school work for part of the day; watch something on Netflix together; cook something together; read out loud; and kinda hang out together. So far these have been restful and relaxed days that we've both loved.

Then I got to thinking about something else that makes life more complex/full every week: Meal Planning!

I hate meal planning and grocery list preparation! Really hate it. But it's a necessary evil for a lot of moms with young children at home. And what I hate even more than meal planning is the 4:00pm panic about what to make for supper that night and wondering what I have in the pantry that's fast and easy and relatively healthy. I imagine many of you can relate! 😏 For years, I've been in the habit of weekly meal planning, but it's still quite a chore to do every week - I easily spend an hour or two every week just sorting through my pantry and freezer, and coming up with a plan for the week and the accompanying grocery list.

I decided to do something about it, and what I landed on was making a six-week rotating meal plan for the course of the winter. And this is what I did over the course of several evenings at the cottage in August. I also ended up preparing grocery lists for each of the six weeks, to remove another obstacle from life's craziness...I even included a list (on the grocery lists) of the spices I need for the coming week, so that I can quickly go through my spice drawers and see what I've got and what I need.

It was a surprising amount of work to complete the menu plans and grocery lists:
* I tried to include lots of variety in my plans.
* I planned right down to the snacks.
* I included recipes for each item in the file folder I developed for each week.
* I tried to ensure that if I needed 3 cups of spinach for a recipe, I would then incorporate another recipe later that week to use up the remaining 3 cups of spinach in the container - so as to minimize waste.
* I also tried to plan based on the amount of time I would have on a given day to prepare meals.

In the end, Sunday evenings generally became beef nights; Mondays are usually fish night; Tuesdays are mostly slow cooker days; and Wednesdays are usually some sort of chicken. The remaining dinners are mostly leftovers, with a back-up plan or two in place in case we don't have enough leftovers.

It was well worth the effort. I am now five weeks into my menu plans and, although some adjustments still need to be made to a couple of them, they've generally worked extremely well. And my favourite part has been the already-complete grocery list that comes with each week's menu plan. I included on my grocery list every item that my week's plan calls for (for example, all recipe ingredients, even if I generally carry them in my pantry/freezer). Thus, the only food-planning task of my week is to take that complete grocery list and cross off the items I already have in my pantry/freezer!! It's awesome!!

It's been helpful in another way:  We are part of an organic food co-op, and we order food through our co-op every second Thursday. With grocery lists in hand for the coming weeks, I can easily order food through my co-op online, and then supplement as needed with Costco and supermarket lists...and, of course, the Costco and supermarket lists are already ready to go so if I order something through the co-op, I just cross it off the other grocery lists!

I've already been asked by several friends for copies of my files/plans. I'm happy to do that, but it's harder than it looks. Each person will likely change one, two, or many things on the menu plan to cater towards their family's likes/dislikes, budgets, and so on. The challenge is that any change to the menu plan means that the accompanying grocery list also needs changing - removing any items (and recipe ingredients) that need to be removed; and then adding any items that need to be added to reflect the changed menu plan. Really, it's likely better/easier just to customize one's own.

Thus, unfortunately, the menu plans and grocery lists are naturally proprietary/custom things:
* For example, on Monday afternoons, I usually put together a nicer/bigger/funner snack for the kids and me, because they've just come home from swimming lessons (which means they're extra hungry) and because that is one of the time frames of the week when I do a fair bit of out loud we nibble at things while I read and we generally have a great time with this on Monday afternoons.  Also, our dinner is usually a little later on Monday evenings, so I'm using a bigger/funner snack to stretch out the time a little before the kids eat dinner.

* Another example is Tuesday afternoons, when the kids and I are with our homeschool Learning Centre; we share a potluck snack with the other seven families on those afternoons...for about 25 people. I often prepare a larger snack for this purpose.

* Yet another example is Friday mornings. We usually have a little more time in our schedule on Friday mornings, which allows us time to make a nicer breakfast. Often those are the mornings I'll make waffles or pancakes or french toast. I always make extras of these meals, because everyone prepares their own breakfasts on weekends, and I like to have options available to any of us who would like to use Friday morning leftovers.

Just these three examples might demonstrate why my menu plans will not work for most other families. What may work, however, is to use my menu plans as the basis for ideas for your own. And to this end, I've let a number of people take a look through my files, for ideas or recipes that they like. After all, we moms need to band together as much as possible to help each other out!

I find that if I can carve out two hours' time on Saturdays, I can get a lot of food prep done for the week, and it makes my week so much easier. This past Saturday, for example, I:  Made a pot of salmon chowder; made a pot of beef goulash; chopped veggies for the week's other meals; made a pan of granola bars for the freezer; cooked up some bacon for the week (homemade meat lovers' pizza on Tuesday, to go along with a movie night; and BLT sandwiches for a lunch); etc. I will not be spending a lot of time on food prep this week, despite having a delicious menu plan ready to go!

Anyway, I felt rather proud of myself for getting this job done, and I've had a month already to enjoy the fruits of that labour. Meals never looked so easy to me!

Here are a few pictures that might help understand what I've done:

Each week has its own file folder.

Each file folder has its own week's complete menu plan...below are three random examples. Now that the plans are pretty solid, I plan to laminate each menu plan; that way I can use a dry erase marker at the beginning of the week to make any changes to the plan that I need to. For example, it being thanksgiving this weekend, I needed to modify the plan a bit to incorporate the two turkey dinners we partook of. :)

In each file folder, behind the menu plan, is the grocery list of the week. I order first what I can from our organic food co-op, and cross off whatever I can from the lists below - which are the Costco and Supermarket lists. Then I quickly go through my pantry/freezer to see which items I already have at home; and I cross them off of these lists. Usually these lists are pared down by at least a third, given what I already have at home. This process usually takes me 10-12 minutes and I'm ready to walk out the door with my complete grocery list!!

In each week's file folder, I have all of the recipes that I need for that week. This was an awesome inclusion to my plan, because I never (like, never) have to scrounge around any more for the recipe I'm looking for...they're all right there in the file, in order...and I know that I have every ingredient I need!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Home from the Cottage...and Back into Winter's Grind

It's been just over two weeks since we left the cottage and came home to start all of our fall/winter activities.  We managed to delay our fall start by a couple of weeks, and spent that extra time at the cottage, but eventually it was clear that it was time to come home.

I didn't want to come home.  Truthfully, I still don't want to be here.  It feels strange to be home...and yet the cottage seems so far away now, too.

We had a terrific summer.  A different kind of summer than we've ever experienced, but it was good for us all and I have no regrets. 

This fall is a busy one for us, to be sure, but it's not going to be as busy as last year.  I learned the hard way, last year, that we just can't take on too much.  Particularly when things go awry (like when one's mom is in the hospital for many months, and like when one's child breaks an arm in two places), it's overwhelming to keep up with a schedule that has few breaks in it.  So we've said no to a number of things, yes to a few things, and we'll-play-it-by-ear to other things. 

Here's how our extra curriculars look this year:
Mondays - piano lessons; swimming lessons; writing/reading workshop

Tuesdays - our homeschool Learning Centre, where we meet weekly with seven other homeschooling families for the purpose of both community and learning.

Wednesdays - Math tutoring for the younger two kids in the morning; Matthew and a buddy will exercise together for a couple of hours in the evening.

Thursdays - Seth and Lizzie spend a day of homeschool schooling at a local Christian school designed mostly for children new to Canada (here they participate in chapel, gym, choir, art, and a two-hour sports program/running club).  Matthew is involved in Math tutoring for 90 minutes on Thursday mornings, and in the evening, Lizzie has jazz dance class.

Fridays - Matthew has art class all afternoon with an amazing local artist; in the evening, all three kids are involved in youth group at the church we've begun attending.

Saturdays - Matthew has wood turning workshops with a local wood turner.

When we're not engaged in these activities, we're doing more academic kinds of schooling than we've done before: Bible; Science, Math, History, Reading/Writing, Keyboarding (Matthew), and a bit of Geography.

It's a full life, but a good one. 

Life for Matthew will be a little better this year, too, I think. For one thing, he's a night owl and yet I've always had him (attempt to be) up by about 7:00am.  This year, I ask that he be downstairs for breakfast by 8:30 (dressed with face washed and teeth brushed), which means he can sleep until 8:15 or so.  And on Thursdays, with Seth and Lizzie away all day, he'll have a chance to do some one-on-one work with me in a fairly quiet and peaceful house...he's really going to benefit from that.

All in all, I think we're in for a good year.  I've given myself three weeks to settle into the new schedules and routines and we're half way through that time now.  I think we're going to be ok.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Matthew...Wood Turner Wanna Be

"Mom, I really don't want to grow up, but it's kinda strange that I just spent the evening drinking (and liking) black coffee and hanging out with a bunch of older men."

About six months ago, maybe more, Matthew began to express a serious interest in wood turning. This is not, I quickly discovered, something to be confused with wood working. Wood turning is the using of a lathe machine to shape wood...often into bowls, vases, and other assorted things. It might be fair to say that Matthew quickly became obsessed with the notion of wood turning - he began researching it, contemplating which lathe to purchase, watching endless (mind numbing) Youtube videos, and talking about it rather endlessly (did I mention mind numbing already?).

For a while, I viewed his obsession as merely the latest thing that he was interested in (we've gone through a lot of interests this past year alone)...but the months went by and his interest waned not the slightest. When, sometime in July when I was planning our homeschooling year, I asked him what he would like to learn about this winter, his first response was "wood turning." (Note: his second response was ice fishing...another real winner in my books...)

So...I scoured the internet, searching for places to start. Nowhere in the public schooling system could I find classes in wood turning, and the city had nothing to offer either. And then, eureka...I found it...the name of the provincial wood turners' association. Who knew??!!?? The website was a little out of date, but I contacted the person named on the site and was rather surprised to receive a response within 24 hours.  He directed me to someone whom he thought might still teach classes out of his home.

Enter Herm. A lovely, somewhat-older gentleman who has been passionately turning wood for decades. Even better, he is still happy to teaches youngsters and was happy to meet with Matthew for the purpose of deciding whether or not there might be a fit.

They fit.

Geoff took Matthew to Herm's house that first evening and Matthew came home a few hours later in raptures. If he could have shouted from the roof the passion he felt about wood turning in that moment, he would have. The long and short of it is that, beginning in October, Matthew is going to take regular wood turning classes from Herm.

(Ice fishing is another story altogether.)

And so tonight, as the newest member of the Wood Turners' Association, Matthew (with Geoff as his side-kick) was invited to the season's opening night, where there would be lathe demonstrations, presentations by individuals who had completed projects over the summer and, of course, the business portion of the evening.

Matthew was apparently the only person under 50, and he was greeted by the other members heartily and with excitement. Apparently, during the business portion of the meeting (I am completely dumbfounded that Matthew sat through an hour long business meeting of Wood Turners!), Matthew was given a front row seat and he was referenced several times throughout.  One gentleman later gave him a partially-turned wooden bowl and suggested that Matthew finish it before the next meeting.

In addition to that bowl, Matthew came home sporting a (worn, sawdust encrusted) leather wood-turning satchel, and some kind of tool that is now occupying part of the garage foot print, both of which were purchased from a fellow wood turner who'd brought his for-sale items from home. More importantly, Matthew came home sporting a large grin and great attitude.

I have no idea how long this passion will endure for my 13-year-old son, but we are homeschoolers, after all, and this is what we do: Help our children pursue their passions and gain life experience, with solid adult mentorship, sometimes in a way that is a little different than mainstream.

As I look into my future, I see kitchen cupboards full of bowls...lots and lots of wood turned bowls...


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Lighting the Candle at Both Ends...and No Summer Camp this Year.

As a homeschooling parent, it is genuinely rare that I have any time by myself...I'm usually 'on' 24/7...and yes, I do mean the '24' part because we almost always have a kid sleeping in our bedroom during the night. I find particularly challenging that two of my children are early morning risers, while one begins to come alive at about 9:00pm. I want to be available to all of them during their best hours, and frankly need to be available to them during their best hours (to hear what's going on in their hearts, to work with them academically at a time of day when it's easiest for them to learn, etc), but I struggle with the need to be present throughout such a long day. I'm often tired...emotionally as well as physically.

One solution that has been a huge help to me over the past four or five years, and something I've really looked forward to as meeting a personal need for rest, has been the week(s) that my kids have been in summer day camp(s). For the past two summers, I had two and three weeks to myself during the day because the kids were in various day camps. If you've been a blog reader here for a while, you'll know that my intention for those weeks has always been to be productive around the house - to work on projects, organizational tasks, whatever. The reality, however, is that I've spent a good number of those weeks doing nothing other than sit in our little home library - crying, and drinking tea or coffee. I've come to accept that my tears, which tend to go on for days during one or more weeks of summer camps, have been terribly cathartic...tears of futility, tears of grief, tears for lack of time by myself, tears of healing and restoration.

This year, as new cottage owners and brand new cottage lovers, I didn't sign my kids up for any weeks of summer camp. And sure enough, we're having a surprisingly great summer at the cottage; other than four days that I spent in Vancouver two weeks ago, and quick trips back to the city for groceries and clean laundry, the kids and I have lived at the cottage since the third or fourth week of June, in addition to weekends there from early May onwards. It's been great...and, without question, really good for the kids.


...I'm missing that summer camp time, when I could drop the kids off somewhere at 8:30 and not have to think about how to occupy or educate them for the next nine hours. I'm really, really missing it. And it's too late now. Just this morning, feeling a little desperate, I even checked the website of our fav summer camp, the one the kids have attended for the past five consecutive years, and next week is full up...and it's the last week. I admit that I hung my head a little, feeling just a little sorry for myself.

I need to be clear that, almost always, I love being with my children. I feel privileged to be able to be with them full time and love our life as homeschoolers. People regularly say to me that I must have the patience of a saint, and my response is always laughter - I have no more patience than anyone else. But we did make a choice about we want to live our lives, with our kids, and I wouldn't change that for the world. When one tries and waits for kids as long as I did, and when one finally experiences the riches of parenting for the first (then second and third) time, it seems a natural choice to want to maximize the blessing and to foster attachment and relationship as much as possible. For other people that manifest differently than for me, undoubtedly...for me it manifested in decisions to suspend a career that I loved and to homeschool my children. No regrets, ever, about that...for the rest of my life, this will be one of the best decisions I've made.

It's just that...

I live near the border between introversion and extraversion - just slightly on the extraversion side. I've done the tests many times, over the past few decades, and I always land around the same spot. How that works out in my daily life is that I draw energy both from being with people and from being alone...and I need both of those things in order to function healthily. It's obvious which source of energy is lacking these days. 😂

I know it was my choice - Geoff even encouraged me to sign them up for a week or two of camp - but I may have made a poor choice in deciding not to. Although I'm generally managing pretty well, there are some frayed edges around my tolerance levels that I'm noticing and not liking. We're soon to head into another very busy winter season and my personal margins are somewhat at a low ebb, despite a good and mostly relaxing summer.

So, I need to figure out a plan to give myself a little alone time. There is one other summer camp the kids have enjoyed in the past that may have a few openings during the next week or two. Other than that...suggestions?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Picture Highlights of the Past Week or So...

The kids and I have had another great 10 days at the cottage.  Below are some highlights.

My sister, nephew, and niece came out for a few days, and it was a lovely, relaxing time for all.

My three, plus my niece and nephew, went fishing one morning...and they left the cottage before 7:00am!!

The kids, ranging in age from 10-17, had so much fun together...playing games, jousting each other on the hammocks, swimming, fishing, and watching movies in the evening.

(one of my fav boys on the right, my niece and nephew on the left)

Cousins fishing (Matthew on the right)

My sister

Cousins and best buddies...whispering their secrets. :)

As always, the dogs have a blast at the cottage...cute little munchkins! 


Matthew (wearing my Dad's old, ugly hat!) is quickly becoming an expert at gently de-hooking fish...his siblings don't really want this job, so he's getting quite a bit of experience!





And that's it, folks!  Not a single picture of me this week!!  How typical.  I must change this in the days upcoming.