The last Friday in February was an especially tough one.
John was out of the country, his return delayed by weather. Again (the same thing happened two weeks previous).
I was home. It was a snow day. Thus the kids were also home. Again. (I love my kids, really and truly, but they have been home SO, SO, SO much these last two years and there can be too much of a good thing.)
We did laundry and ate breakfast and put out the garbage and read books and generally set ourselves up for a good day. But I was not in the right headspace.
I’d had a migraine on Thursday. I woke up tired and grumpy. I had some difficult work calls looming that were going to require my full attention. I simply didn’t want to put on my “Mom” cap for another long day home alone (the kids had been off on Monday, too).
At 9:15 am I told the kids to go play quietly and promised videos around 10:00 am because I needed to prep for those meetings. I made the mistake of adding the disclaimer that I might put on a video as early as 9:45 am.
At precisely 9:45 am, a knock came on my door and the kids came in very enthusiastically (not even waiting for an Enter, which they are usually good at pausing for) looking for those videos I had promised.
My response was not pretty. I wanted – and needed – those extra 10 minutes in silence. I apologized for yelling (but then tacked on another little rant about needing alone time).
My boundaries were all justified and necessary, but my approach was flawed. I texted a friend and told her “I just need to get to bedtime.”
But really, I just needed to get to supper. I lit candles. I turned on twinkle lights. I heated up leftovers – Mac N’ Cheese and savory soup (comfort food at its best). We ate slowly. I spent time quizzing the kids on “big” words – a favourite new mealtime activity. We lingered after the food was gone.
At 7:15 pm my friend texted to congratulate me on reaching the bedtime hour; by this point the kids had made their way outside to sled on our little side hill with a friend.
I sat on my bed reading a book, listening to them laugh hysterically; the snow was still falling and the moon was full. I couldn’t have scripted a better ending to our day. They came in cold and wet and very happy and we made hot cocoa and lit the candles again. They hit balloons around the living room and I pumped music through the speakers. There was more laughing.
It was an idyllic evening if ever I saw one. But it took wading through a lot of rather unpleasant stuff to get there.
Hard days don’t always have happy endings. I know this. I’ve had lots of hard nights too…but sometimes what can feel like a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (thanks, Alexander), can end up being alright or even great.
And that’s a win in my books.
What about you; any recent days that started with a bad morning but morphed into a “happy-ending” sort of day?
As a busy Mom, getting food on the table is a big part of daily life. Even though we eat simple meals (with lots of leftovers), a substantial chunk of time is devoted to making sure food gets into bellies (and then cleaning up the crumbs that didn’t make it into bellies – when does the messy eating stage end?!).
Our routine follows a predictable rhythm. We gather – virtually every evening – around the supper table. We eat together and talk and then work as a team to clean up dishes and set the kitchen back to rights. It’s nice to have a routine; it’s comforting and a big part of our family “culture”.
That said, it’s also fun to shake things up. We’ve spread out a picnic blanket on the living room floor and had our food in front of the fire. We’ve gathered in the family room and munched on tacos in front of the TV. But want to know the kids’ favourite experience (which I’ve only done twice, but they still reference regularly) – a Pirate Supper.
The basic idea is this: I cover up the table with brown paper (newspaper or flyers work would work too) and serve a meal without any plates/bowls or cutlery.
Obviously, calling it a Pirate Supper (or Pirate Breakfast/Lunch) is critical to its success.
I think we had pizza with veggies and dip one night and the other might have involved grilled-cheese sandwiches and fruit? Whatever I served, the food was decidedly low-key and forgettable. It is the delivery method that takes center stage in this show, and the kids absolutely loved the experience!
Bonus: clean-up was a cinch as I simply gathered any food mess up in the paper and tossed it directly into the compost bin.
It’s been over a year since I’ve channeled my inner Jack Sparrow and I think I’m officially overdue for pulling this trick out of my parenting repertoire!
Your turn: any great ideas for bringing some creativity – and whimsy – into mealtimes with kids?
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably tempted to go big or go home. If I can’t run 5 km, why bother running 2 km? If we can’t go sledding for an hour, why bother bundling the kids up for 10 minutes?
Sometimes it does make sense to conserve our energy and wait until we can invest significant time or resources into an activity or project.
But I think, more often than not, we short-sell the impact of doing “just” a little.
A few minutes of planking each day is better than no planking.
Writing a few sentences a day is better than the 2,000-word tome that never gets written.
Spending 5 minutes at bedtime with the kids is better than skipping it altogether because I don’t have the bandwidth to dedicate 30 minutes to the activity.
This last one really hits home. Because I’m a work-from-home mom (and fit that work in and around being a stay-at-home mom; we have virtually no external childcare aside from public schooling), I’m in a bit of an unusual situation. To my kids, I’m largely there for them at all times. And I see them. A lot. Sometimes too much. When bedtime rolls around, I am usually ready to be done seeing them. But I also feel like they need that time, especially as they get older and have so much to discuss.
There is something sacred about that bedtime ritual, especially when each child gets dedicated one-on-one time.
But long bedtimes – like the ones we used to do when they were little with the baths and the songs and the reading and the rocking – just feel beyond my reach. The kids stay up later, the discussions can be more emotionally exhausting, and I have the accumulated fatigue of almost a decade of health issues.
My solution: I’ve been setting the timer on my watch for 3- or 5-minute increments. Usually I end up staying longer, but that’s the minimum and gives me a set point of escape.
So when the kids ask for a snuggle, I can say yes without feeling like it’s an open-ended, crushing commitment. (I know some parents love bedtime – and it is a magical time of connection – but I’m going to raise my hand real high and say that sometimes bedtime is the absolute hardest time of the day for me because all I want is someone to help me get dressed in cozy jammies, help me brush my teeth, and then tuck me in and sing lullabies while stroking my forehead and telling me that I’m safe and loved and everything is going to be okay.)
Over the last month, I’ve enjoyed the bedtime process more than I have in years. No fighting or whining (mostly). Just short, high-quality bursts of time spent cuddling or listening – making these moments of connection feel extra special and leave us wanting more the next night. In this case, a little has been so much better than nothing and, quite honestly, probably better than a lot.
In fact, a little can be just right.
Anyone else find bedtime with small(ish) kiddos to be exhausting? Any current examples of where you’re committed to doing a “little” and being content with that?
There, I said it. As far as I know, there are no help groups in my area and, if there were, I would probably just try to convert the facilitator until they too were equally obsessed.
It’s not like I stay in my pajamas on Saturday mornings and read picture books instead of doing laundry or brushing my teeth or saying hello to my family. Of course I would never do that…
(Let’s just agree it’s a good thing you didn’t stop by unannounced last Saturday morning, okay?)
I’m not sure why I’m so enamored by picture books, but I am undeniably drawn to them and can’t contain my passion for spreading this enthusiasm for this lesser-discussed genre (except in parent-tot playgroups where it ranks up there with things like in-depth comparisons of diaper rash remedies and nipple creams; side note – perhaps this is the point when one fully enters adulthood. Reaching a stage of life where rashes and nipple cream are prime topics for discussion feels decidedly…old. Animated discussions at that!)
Sure there are websites that dedicate themselves to publishing curated picture-book lists. But they’re not typically up for mainstream consumption, and I think that’s a shame.
There are also, admittedly, more and more graphic novels for adults but, to me, they’re not the same and I wish everyone got the chance to regularly immerse themselves in the world of children’s picture books.
Like, every day.
Maybe this is simply another weird (but true) fact about me? Maybe those of you with older kids are thrilled to have left Green Eggs and Ham and Ten Little Fingers in the rearview mirror. But not me.
Thankfully, my kids remain happy to oblige. While I still read them a wide range of picture books, our discussions have most certainly taken on a new tone. We openly discuss hard themes: war, famine, death, disability, cancer, mental health, bullying, prejudice, inequality, hatred. Picture books – good picture books – have a way of giving clear messages, delivered with love and compassion, in a form not many other mediums can.
They can also be downright fun; sometimes there is no hidden agenda in a book, no deep life lesson to be learned – rather they are simply designed to instill wonder or leave the reader doubled over from laughter. Both outcomes are always a delight. Whatever the goal of the book, a good one always leaves me wanting more.
And I’m also continually amazed by how many life lessons I find hidden within their pages for myself. What parent of teenagers can’t relate to the message of I’ll Love You Forever? Whose heart doesn’t grow along with the miserly Grinch as he discovers a deeper meaning to Christmas?
And who can help laughing about books that center around topics like bears in underwear and dinosaurs leaving colossal poops in outer space (okay, my Mom would not laugh; she’d be horrified with the level of toilet humour I allow – and, perish the thought, seek out!)?
Years ago I read a book by Julia Cameron (can’t remember which – they’re all treasures) where she asked readers to make a list of dream jobs; if skills and finances were no issue, what would you like to be? A simple question, right?
Short, squat, and uncoordinated – you could conjure up wishes of being a graceful prima ballerina; blind as a bat with shakey hands, your wish could be a career as a brain surgeon (note she said wish here). It was a surprisingly powerful exercise and it took me a minute to think of something – anything – I “wished” I could become. For someone who reads all the time, my imagination can be sadly lacking, I guess.
And then I had an “ah-ha” moment: my dream job would be getting to read, write and critique picture books all day (that, or be a costume designer on big-budget films; or a location scout – both sound so, so fascinating to me).
My parents read picture books to me a lot as a child, but I mostly remember being able to read to myself. I always wanted to move on to the next challenge and was reading chapter books at a young age so had been removed from the wonder of picture books for several decades by the time my own kids came along. And it is the one aspect of motherhood where I feel great confidence (thank goodness, because I typically feel like I’m failing in most of the others)! I regularly expose my children to the wonders of reading and make sure they are constantly surrounded by books that stretch their imagination; what they do with those opportunities…well that’s up to them.
A few years ago we read a book called An Atlas of Imaginary Places by Mia Cassany. At this point we had already been consuming huge quantities of picture books for a long time, but when I saw this one I was blown away by the ingenuity and illustrations. I was already tracking all my own “adult” reading and at that exact moment, I decided I would start recording our favourite picture books, too. Since that time, I rate any book we decide is 4 or 5 stars on Goodreads and have a dedicated Kids-Lit shelf. It does make me sad I missed years of documenting our favourites, but I’m still so glad I started – better late than never.
I’d say every 1/15 books we read makes the Goodreads cut. I’m selective in what books we order from the library, and I spend a lot of time browsing the stacks as well. If I just grabbed handfuls without looking at them, I suspect the number would be more like 1/50. There are a lot of B-level books out there (though, I admit, different audiences have different preferences, so my “B” could be someone else’s “A”, or as Gretchen Rubin says, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum!”).
We’re always on the hunt for the perfect trio: great writing, a great story, and great illustrations. So, without further ado, here are some of our favourite picture books from the last few years:
Highlights from this bunch: The Love Letter, Foodie Faces, Mel Fell, A Tale of Two Beasts, The Bold, Brave Bunny, Grimelda: The Very Messy Witch, Miss Rumphius, Boa’s Bad Birthday, If I Built A House, I’m Going To Eat This Ant, This Story is For You, The Christmas Feast, and, of course, An Atlas of Imaginary Places. They’re all great, though!
Something from Nothing, Slugs in Love, The Book with no Pictures, A Fine Dessert, Goat’s Coat, The Snatchabook (we LOVE this book), The Skunk, The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past, Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast: Mission Defrostable, A House That Once Was, Snail Crossing, The Mouse and the Moon. Again, all wonderful books.
The Honest-to-Goodness Truth, If I Built A School, Everybody’s Welcome, Just One of Those Days, Malina’s Jam, Aaaaligator, Giraffe Problems, Love Monster and the Last Chocolate, The Everywhere Bear (Julia Donaldson, can we please be friends?), The Good Egg.
I love how picture books can express complex thoughts, problems, and emotions in easy-to-access phrases that are both comforting and surprisingly enlightening. I framed a quote from Brave Enough for Two (another sweet book) for Levi’s room.
And I have this line in my quotes book from a heartwarming tale about a caterpillar (Henri) turning into a butterfly. Cliche? Yes. Wonderful? Yes.
“Here’s the thing with dreams, Henri. If you don’t chase them, they always get away.”
Caterpillar Dreams by Clive McFarland
A few weeks ago, while my husband was preparing supper and I was reading to the kids, he overhead us all rapturing about some book. (I can’t tell you how much it thrills my heart to hear my 7-year-old say: “Those are really well-done illustrations.” He is as tomboy as they come, but he sure can appreciate a good watercolour)! John poked his head in and looked at me and said (slightly incredulous, I think): “You really do love picture books, don’t you?”
I really do.
A few other books from the last few weeks we’ve really enjoyed:
The kids loved, loved, loved the book Foodie Faces. The text was very simple, but the images were downright fun!
Aside from me feeling like my breakfast offerings are incredibly boring, the kids all but examined every inch of this book with a magnifying glass. They wanted to identify every ingredient and they were especially intrigued by the nuances of how different positions of eyebrows so clearly communicated how a character was feeling.
Abby was quiet in the corner one evening (a miracle) and then all of sudden shouted: “The wreaths are SCRUNCHIES!“
She was looking through one of the Look-Alike books by Joan Steiner which are so fun and whimsical. Most elements of the depicted scenes are made with everyday items like clothespins, pasta, erasers, crayons, dried beans…and scrunchies. (This reminds me of the Walter Wick Can You See What I See? books which are also HUGE hits in our house.)
My favourite – the girl by the tree whose dress is a badminton birdie! How cool is that? And there is one of those scrunchies Abby was so elated to spot.
And yes, we all still really, really enjoy books about poop.
Your turn – any favourite picture books from your own childhood? Or, like me, do you still have an “excuse” to gleefully check out teetering stacks of these wonderful things each week at your library to “read to your children” while you secretly love the experience even more than they do?
I really dislike throwing out food; something deep inside me feels immense guilt and frustration. Not only is it wasteful environmentally and financially, but I also feel like I’m slowly understanding the true value/cost of food – the time and money and human effort and fossil fuels that go into putting that product into my fridge is mind-blowing (for more on this, check out A.J. Jacobs book Thanks A Thousand, where he thanks 1,000 people responsible for his morning cup of coffee).
In our household, we do everything we can to reduce food waste.
At the same time, we try to provide healthy, palate-broadening meals for our kids. Do they love white carbs? Absolutely. But they also like olives and aged cheeses and spinach salad and sushi and scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and veggies.
For the most part, they eat exactly what we eat. Kids eating habits can be a touchy subject and modern parents think about this a lot more than my parent’s generation. We try to balance realistic expectations and healthy eating patterns (nothing too restrictive, not calling things “good” or “bad” – they eat chocolate cake and cereal and boxed Mac N’ Cheese), with wanting to expose our children to lots and lots of whole foods.
Now back to those waste solutions…
1. HAVE GO-TO “KITCHEN SINK” MEALS
These are meals that will be flexible enough to include just about anything. I know produce choices vary widely, so I’ll make a few specific suggestions from things we eat:
Leftover spinach and zucchini can go in…everything. Also, if your spinach needs to be consumed and you won’t use it in time, I just pop mine in the freezer for soups or smoothies. (Side note: this week my blog friend Suzanne categorized zucchini as the khaki trouser of the produce section and it’s so true – it goes with everything; tangent alert: if you’re really ready to howl, read her take on waiting for the doctor and wrangling into hospital gowns – we’ve all been there, and she just articulates the experience perfectly and hilariously).
I have a Chicken Pot Pie soup recipe that can play host to just about any vegetable. It calls for potato, carrot, celery, corn, peas, and grean beans but I have added spinach, zucchini, sweet potato, and turnip. Aside from the veggies, it’s just chicken stock (or I often cheat and just use water and some extra salt), shredded chicken, cream or coconut milk, thyme, salt and pepper; this is one of the easiest recipes I make – the corn and green beans are canned, the peas are frozen – and is one of the kids favourite meals; one time I counted and we had 13 veggies in the soup!
Chili is another great meal for using up extra veggies. To reduce time and mess (and to make vegetable textures less of an issue – neither of the kids enjoys mushrooms and one is quite resistent to bell peppers), I will blitz things up in the food processor. In a chili I made recently I chopped up: spinach, mushrooms (that I had bought reduced by 50%, see below), zucchinni, carrots, bell peppers and onion. We all devoured it.
Interestingly, I do find the kid’s preferences vary by meal. As mentioned, one child loathes raw bell peppers and will even pick them out of a stir-fry (or eat them with gritted teeth and lots of glaring); yet this same child has no problem with finely diced, cooked red peppers in one of my favourite meals ever – Chicken Mango Curry (I got my recipe from a book and can’t find it online, but this one is close). So if you have an anti-veggie child, it might be worth trying various meals with the disliked veggie?
I don’t eat much bread, but the kids typically have toast a few times a week for breakfast. We occassionally have an extra bagel, waffle, or a few slices of bread left over. Instead of throwing them out, I cube them up and pop them into the deep freeze. Once the bag is full, I pull it out and the cubes get turned into Baked French Toast (since I cube it before it’s frozen, I can actually prep it while frozen and then just leave it to soak/defrost in the fridge for a few hours or overnight before baking). I use a modified version of the Pioneer Woman’s recipe and the kids LOVE it. I also buy a lot of our bread reduced by 50%; it’s usually still days away from it’s best-before date, but I’ll freeze the bread and just defrost it straight from the freezer in the toaster.
2. Shop more often + buy less
I think some of this is the minimalist in me talking, but I enjoy seeing an almost-empty fridge because I start to feel panicky when I catch glimpses of a lot of food that needs to be used up. For context – our 1970’s kitchen cabinets were designed to hold an apartment-sized fridge. If you think that’s crazy, friends of ours designed their renovated kitchen to only contain a bar fridge and toaster oven + portable induction burners. No full-sized (or apartment-sized) fridge; no oven/stovetop. Now that’s crazy. Unless you only have a bar fridge and toaster oven in which case it’s not crazy but very, very normal.
I do set up vague meal plans for the week, jotting down 4-5 ideas based on what’s on sale or what we have in the fridge, but don’t plan a concrete menu. I typically go to the grocery store at least twice a week. When we run out of fresh fruit or need more baby spinach, I know it’s time to go back.
This isn’t necessarily feasible for many people; I live 5 minutes from a small grocery store and it’s easy to pop in and out whenever necessary. But, if it is an option for where you live/your lifestyle, I think it is probably the primary way we avoid food waste.
3. Make Hodge-Podge Meals
We do this a lot and literally call them Hodge Podge meals.
The kids will often ask: “Can we have hodgepodge for lunch?” For this we use a random assortment of leftovers – that little dish of soup that’s not enough for a meal but, when augmented with cheese cubes, raw veggies, and some apple slices, is more than enough to go around.
Some things like cheese and olives are stable for a longer time in the fridge, so I use more or less of these depending on what I’m trying to use up. If I have hardboiled eggs, shaved turkey, and fresh raspberries that all need to be consumed, I might not even offer crackers or other non-perishables on the side.
4. identify your key offenders (and justify your purchases)
The worst for us is definitely avocados.
We love avocados but they never seem to be ready when I need them and then I end up forgetting about them until they’ve gone soft and brown. I get so frustrated anytime I have to throw out an avocado.
Grapes can also fall under this category, cucumbers have an annoying tendency of sneaking up from behind and going slimy, and I find it hard to get through an entire bunch of cilantro in time (but, see below, I have a plan for that too and it involves the freezer).
I now make sure I have a specific plan for avocados before I buy them. Being on sale isn’t good enough. Better to buy them full price and USE them, rather than buying a bag on sale and throwing most of them away. Avocados also can’t be frozen and don’t go into soups, so they’re harder to use up – for me – because they have a more narrow range of use than something like spinach (and I never seem to think of making guacamole).
This reminds me a bit of my habit of looking over my cart before I check out. For food products that I know won’t keep long (i.e. perishable fruits/veggies + meat), I try to make sure I have a clear plan for the item. It can be tempting to get things on a good sale or because it looks interesting or temptingly delicious, but I have left produce with the cashier when I realize there is a good chance some of it will be destined for the compost bin if I follow through with the purchase.
A prime example of this temptation – a basket of (seemingly) ripe peaches at the store in the summer. But, unless I can say: I have no other fruit at home and we will eat these in the next two days, I try to leave them on the shelf. Peaches do put out an alluring siren song for me, yet are so darn unpredictable; there is little more frustrating than salivating over the idea of a delicious peach and then biting into a sour/firm/unappetizing one!
5. find meals that freeze well
Chili, baked oatmeal, waffles; most soups I make can be frozen if there are leftovers.
If I have some veggies that need to be used but I don’t have a dish that requires them, I will dice them up and freeze them. While they’re not great in things like stirfrys where you want veggies with a bit of “bite”, they work fine for soups. I will do this with bell peppers (sometimes even dicing up things like cilantro and fresh ginger and freezing that along with the peppers so I have the main base of ingredients for that beloved Chicken Mango Curry dish). I’ve done this with raw carrots, onion and celery (before eventually turning it in to homemade Chicken Noodle Soup).
Sometimes I freeze veggies in their raw state, and other times I will pan fry until soft. Both strategies work. I have a Baked Rice dish we all love and I make up the cream sauce + fry the veggies so all I have to do is defrost the mix, mix in rice + water and bake.
bonus suggestion – reduce waste at the STORE LEVEL
I’ve alluded to this already, but our grocery store has several dedicated “clearance” sections. Sometimes this includes produce that is past prime – overripe bananas (which I prefer for my beloved muffins) or tomatoes with bruises that will work fine for homemade salsa. I seek out these ingredients, not only for the cost savings but also because I know there is tremendous food waste at the grocery-chain level.
It can take a bit of extra creativity – and I look carefully at expiration dates/for signs of mold – but, generally, the reduced items are still highly edible. Sometimes things will go on clearance after a special event. Candy cane ice cream, for example, is now at rock-bottom prices at our grocery store. This is a bad example because I try to avoid dairy and no one else in my house really likes candy-cane ice cream (what is wrong with them?) but…if they did…now would be a great time to buy it if you’re willing to eat peppermint-flavoured treats after the calendar turns over into a new year.
Now it’s your turn – any suggestions for reducing food waste? Any candy-cane ice cream fans out there?
A bit like my suggestion last week to flip a coin to randomize decisions thereby preventing sibling disagreements (theoretically), this is another one of those simple “hacks” that I seem to forget about all too frequently.
In our house (and, I suspect, in many others too) we get an almost instantaneous mood boost by playing upbeat music. Loudly.
Obviously, mileage will vary on this; I know some children are sensitive to loud music, and I’m not recommending shake-the-pictures-off-the-walls volume but, for us, it has to be loud enough the kids can hear it from their rooms.
Typically they come running and will start spinning in circles or, at the very least, start singing along to the music.
I was reminded of this impact last week when I turned on the Encanto soundtrack one evening (I cannot get the beat of Surface Pressure out of my head, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I think this would be such a fun song to run to)! The kids both ended up in the living room and literally spun in circles for almost 30 minutes straight. They would (purposefully!) bump into each other and crash onto the floor and laugh and laugh. Their deep belly laughs were so authentic and heart-warming. I didn’t have my phone with me and just sat on a chair and watched them. The music was infectious and it lifted the whole vibe and energy level of the house.
Our first day of online learning – the one I had dreaded so very much – started with a bang because I played Everything Is Awesome (this is from the LEGO movie and I do NOT recommend you go listen to this song unless you want it stuck in your head every waking moment – and it might just wake you up tapping out the beat in the middle of the night). But it really is such a fun song and it felt like a whimsical jumpstart to our day.
In terms of practical “tools” for this, we have four Google speakers on our main level; they’re connected and we can play music on them simultaneously, which is usually what I do if I want to get the kids attention/distract them with fun music. We also have a Spotify account. We are a naturally frugal family and I couldn’t believe people spent money every month to access music I could get for free on YouTube or the radio. But I would not want to go back to life without Spotify. I use it daily and it is so nice to be able to access things via voice command through the Google Speakers.
That said, none of this is necessary to get the full benefit of this “hack,” of course. YouTube on a phone or laptop will work just fine!
And now I’m heading off to listen to Everything Is Awesome. Because even if everything is NOT awesome, this song is pretty irresistible.
A few other good ones:
Don’t Worry Be Happy (we like the one by Bobby McFerrin) and I Don’t Feel Like Dancing by the Scissor Sisters. Happy by Pharrell Williams seems like an obvious suggestion, but I’ve heard this song too many times and, counterintuitively, it now makes me rather grumpy to hear it.
The kids do also like Perry Grip, but I’m more than over those songs and find the ones above 10,000x more palatable. For now. Even Surface Pressure will have an expiration date for me, I’m sure.
Any good (child-friendly) songs to recommend to reset the mood and lift everyone’s spirits and energy levels? One of my favourite destressing activities is driving solo and playing the radio LOUD – anyone else?
P. S. And, of course, we all know: the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear. Thanks, Buddy the Elf. I miss you and your maple syrup spaghetti catastrophes and inappropriate gifts.
Thanks for all your support and well-wishes on Wednesday’s post. I know we all have our own hard, and it’s cathartic to hear and know that; it’s also good to band together and go joyfinding. I’ll do a bit of both here today.
I ended up having a lot of screen time the last few days which kinda bummed me out, but much of it was sweet friends reaching out in support (Hi Elaine, Hi Hillary!); friends with their own “hard” that come alongside and cheer and support. I do find texting a slippery slope, but it’s also a great tool to maintain community. You’ll be proud to know I only checked the news ONCE on my phone all week.
It was another roller-coaster week of parenting. The kids ended up getting sent home early their first day back to in-person learning because of a pending storm (good call, school board – the roads got very messy mid-afternoon) and the next day was cancelled outright. I tried to make life as easy as possible; simple meals, I hired a hostage negotiator babysitter for one afternoon but I was still bone weary. The kids also fought. A lot. And over perceived slights (disagreeable looks, getting in the way) which could not be solved with a coin toss. Sigh.
After over a month of fitting work responsibilities in and around kids and online learning and prepping lunches and answering questions and doing laundry…I just wanted a solid day to concentrate on the tasks at hand. Expecting the kids to be in school all week, I had gone ahead and set up a full schedule for Tuesday, but managed to make it through a volley of video calls – only interuppted once by receiving a Post-It note from a child asking: “Can I go on the Chromebook? Circle yes or no!” to which I replied “No and why are you bothering me?!” I kept a close eye on a particularly rambunctious neighbourhood snowball fight through the window, as well as an adorable snowman making effort…all while nodding along to budget considerations and milestone projections like an adult who didn’t have children covertly slipping Post-It notes and building snowmen nearby.
The taxes that I was so relieved to have done weren’t actually done and there were still forms to sign and lots of back-and-forth with the accountant, but those communications ended up saving about $6,000 in tax, so it was worth the effort.
Wednesday and Thursday were…amazing. The kids were in school the whole day and I felt like a productivity wizard. I had picked away at things over the last few weeks and kept my head above water, but there were so many nagging tasks that I just couldn’t prioritize when I had to fit work in and around having kids home. It felt so good to get some major meetings behind me and I’m feeling a lot more positive about work responsibilities after this week of catch-up and, in some cases, proactively finishing tasks.
Now let’s find some joy, shall we?
The kids have been begging to go sledding and I have to admit the little side-hill on our property (think the size of a ditch) doesn’t really cut the mustard anymore. I decided to get the kids off the bus after their early dismissal and head directly to our favourite sliding hill (yes, Wolfville also has sliding hills). We collected a few friends along the way and it was great fun. Speeding down the hill with Levi and flying – literally – over one of the speed bumps was both terrifying and exhilerating. When we finally came to a stop, he collapsed against me quietly – I worried he had hurt his tongue or head – and then stood up screaming: “THAT WAS SO CRAZY AND FUN!” It really was so, so fun.
Reading Anne of the Island in bed one night. I was so tired (shocking) and literally felt like I couldn’t move so I used the opportunity to read through most of that book in an evening and it was just pure comfort.
My dear friend (giver of the awesome, thoughtful mug gift from last week) came over to watch the latest Nate Bargatze special on Netflix (Greatest Average American; I’d already seen it twice, and it only gets better with each viewing). I love to laugh and I love to spend time with Joy – win, win. We quote lines from Nate Bargatze all. the. time. Humour is subjective, but I just think he is objectively hilarious.
Homemade confetti. Nuff said? The kids (mostly Abby) have been working on using up old scraps of paper; we have a star punch and regular hole punches. This feels like it is bordering on glitter territory, but I did sanction/encourage it. I can’t decide whether to put a warning label on the cards or just let my mother silently curse me when she has tiny circles of colourful paper littering her dining room floor? *Update: I decided to be responsible and, against my fun instincts, did label the back of the envelopes with Caution: Confetti Alert*
One child was so tired and cranky they excused themselves from the table after a few bites on Tuesday at supper. I let him go – he had a giant bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, and two generously full chicken and spinach wraps for lunch. After some snuggling and chats (very joyful), I made a mental note to leave a snack in his room in case he woke up hungry. I forgot. At 4 am our bedroom door opened. This is quite unusual, so I woke up immediately. When I got to the door a tiny voice simply said: “I’m so hungry my legs are shaking.” Sigh. I like that the kids now ask permission to get food in the middle of the night (there was a candy fiasco a few years ago that doesn’t bear repeating), but not at 4 am. I got him a muffin (these 5-ingredient muffins that I’ve been making at least once a week for YEARS; I do add a bit of oil or applesauce to make them extra moist and now sub 1/4 cup brown sugar – total – for the dates because it’s easier and I need easy right now) and a granola bar and cup of water. I told him to eat up and then get back to sleep; when I left he was sitting, legs dangling over the edge of the bed, eating his granola bar with his bedside light on at its lowest setting and it just…melted my heart. An unexpected “joysighting” at 4 am. I hope he got back to sleep. I didn’t.
Yes, the green beans were joyful! Freshly steamed with a dollap of butter and some salt, I enjoyed every mouthful. We all love fresh beans and I got bonus joy by serving them out of my new bowl from Christmas (inexpensive – Dollarstore, dishwasher safe, and so pretty).
I’m grateful for most of the food I consume, but this soup was bordering on joyful. I talked to Abby after school the whole time I was chopping and prepping; she ran to the cupboard to get ingredients so it felt like a team effort and the house smelled delicious. Plus there were leftovers…and leftovers give me joy.
I was tired last Sunday and couldn’t stop yawning in church. Capacity limits are minimal and we were sitting alone with about 50 empty chairs around us. It was cold. Did I mention I felt exhausted. We can’t sing, and watching a music video is just not the same. Worshiping with a group is a powerful form of community and connection. All this to say I wasn’t feeling overly joyful. But then…they showed a musical rendition of Psalm 1 and our pastor explained that the singers – Poor Bishop Hooper – are a young couple singing through the Psalms. I quoted from Psalm 1 in my post on lamenting, and I’m reading a Psalm each morning at the breakfast table. I’ve known God long enough not to be surprised by this, but it was such a burst of unexpected joy. I’m not likely going to listen to all the Psalm songs (try saying that five times fast), but I’ve been listening to this one on repeat.
Finding this in the drawer of my bedside table, from when Levi looked at our 2021 Christmas card and decided to recreate the back picture.
quotes from Anne of Avonlea
One of my goals for 2022 is to read through the entire Anne of Green Gables series; I’ve done it once before, during my first year of university.
A lot has changed since then!
I grew up immersed in Anne’s world – we watched the Megan Follows movies regularly, we read the books and, living so close to Prince Edward Island, we visited the very regions where Lucy Maud Montgomery dreamed up her famous “Anne-girl.”
But while the characters were familiar to me, I can’t quite get over how much practical wisdom is contained within these books. They do portray the world through rose-tinted glasses, but that’s not always a bad thing.
As per usual, I made note of favourite quotations and thought I’d write them out here. If you don’t get around to reading these classic treasures, here are some nuggets of wisdom I discovered recently. Anne, of course, would be a kindred spirit with my recent persistence in “joyfinding”.
“Marilla, what if I fail?”
“You’ll hardly fail completely in one day and there’s plenty more days coming,” said Marilla.
“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more – though I know that is the noblest ambition – but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me – to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
“If a kiss could be seen I think it would look like a violet,” said Priscilla.
“I am so glad you spoke that thought…instead of just thinking it and keeping it to yourself. This world would be a much more interesting place – although it is very interesting anyhow – if people spoke out their real thoughts.”
“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
Anne had a long meditation at her window that night. Joy and regret struggled together in her heart. She had come at last – suddenly and unexpectedly – to the bend of the road; and college was round it, with a hundred rainbow hopes and visions; but Anne realized as well that when she rounded that curve she must leave many sweet things behind…all the little simple duties and interests which had grown so dear to her in the last two years and which she had glorified into beauty and delight by the enthusiasm she had put into them.
“But I’d rather look like you than be pretty,” she told Anne sincerely.
Anne laughed, sipped the honey from the tribute, and cast away the sting.
Happy weekending. Happy joyfinding. And be careful when you open envelopes; there just might be some confetti inside.
Have you ever read Anne of Green Gables books? If so, who is your favourite character? Do you collect favourite quotes from the books you read? Any moments of joyfinding to share?
My kids fight…quite a lot about quite a lot of things. I think this is mostly normal and natural. My brother and I fought…quite a lot about quite a lot of things. Happily, we never fight now (granted he lives in Denmark, so there is significant friction of distance, but I’m glad to report that when we manage to overcome the laws of geography, we generally get along quite peaceably).
Deep down, the kids are very attached to each other – weekend sleepovers are a must or wailing ensues. They can show great compassion for one another and are especially defensive if they sense their sibling has been mistreated by a peer.
This is all lovely, but back to the fighting for a minute. Most of these squabbles occur over the tiniest of things. Like who gets the spoons out of the drawer for the soup. Or who gets to pray before our meal (there has to be something deeply ironic about fighting about who gets to express gratitude – sigh). Or who gets to crack their own pepper first. Or who gets to unpause the movie – this is a big one.
You get the picture.
Last week I could sense a fight before it even started: who would get the red, fluted bundt pan and who would get the silver, round bundt pan for our wreath-making activity.
So we flipped a coin. Abby won and got the coveted red, fluted bundt pan (but then, hilariously and predictably they both decided they wanted the silver pan, so she ended up getting “stuck” with the now undesirable red bundt pan, but at least everyone was civil about it because the coin had decided, not a dictatorial mother).
I forget about this hack a lot, but we’ve used it to decide who picks the movie, who gets to choose the first slice of cake, and who gets to sit in the currently preferred booster seat.
This may not be a solution when they’re older and fighting over who gets to borrow the car. But, then again, maybe it will be?
Have you ever flipped a coin to level the playing field with your children or to expedite other forms of decision-making?