Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make a list. Adopt a cat.

Toronto, 2007

Today there is freezing rain. A lot of freezing rain. The buses were cancelled at Alyce's school, but there would have to be an enormous blizzard of epic proportions for me to keep Alyce home. Two or three days a week the house is quiet and I can actually feel my cells recharging. Shira usually naps for a couple of hours and all is right in the world again. So sorry snow day, it's not going to happen. 

But I can't ignore the freezing rain and snow. It's freezing outside and I'm dreaming of warm sun on my face. The Cats, too, are dreaming of the sun. They are also dreaming of life before we brought home Alyce and Shira. They're good sports about everything for the most part, including the fact that they are living in the (large, furnished) basement of my mum's house while we're here. The rest of us are above ground, but their claws aren't welcome in civilized society. They somehow manage downstairs, what with the couches on which to lounge, the toys to chase around, and our nightly visits. Matt usually watches the basketball game with at least one cat on his lap. Sadly, it usually isn't Hille, who seems to be suffering a bit of depression since we moved here. He's just not his old self.

On this dreary, opposite of Leap Day day, I offer you the following list I made last night in my journal.

Things I want to do but that aren't massively time-sensitive or vital to family security:
  • Learn to use imovie and edit some video.
  • Master a white bean soup recipe (mine are always just ok).
  • Start a morning walk with Shira. We're up at 5:00 am anyway, and now that the light is coming back to the morning, I think we do it. I'll warm up some milk for the road to keep her hands and body warm, pack her into the stroller, and we're good to go.
  • Update and organize photos from forever ago. I have a gift card for 70 free prints and I need to seize this opportunity to go through the piles and piles (both digital and hard copies) of photos I've taken in the last year.
  • Eat more salads.
  • Go on a road trip to visits some friends, just me and The Children.

Do you have such a list? Does it have a catchier title than mine?

P.S. Speaking of cats, just today I stumbled upon the blog of a Toronto photographer who is helping Toronto Cat Rescue, a wonderful volunteer, non-profit cat rescue organization. It was through TRC that we adopted all three of The Cats. Pomegranate, Hillel, and Lucy were all abandoned street kittens who were originally fostered by the kindness of volunteers. So head over there and read about how Sara Lynn Paige is helping out TRC (and check out her other beautiful, non-cat-related images, too).

What's the opposite of Leap Day?

We've been doing nothing but leaping since last spring when we made the big move back home. I have been leaping in so many directions, my leaping muscles are exhausted. Today I think I will sit this one out.

For those of you choosing to leap today, big leaps or small leaps, I hope the day carries you far.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The plan

I remind myself often how fortunate we are. We have are healthy, and holy cow do I know how lucky that makes us. All of my people are accounted for. Some days, however, are just hard, no matter the gratitude I feel every single day. Today was one of those days. Last week had a couple of them, too. My little family is just struggling to move forward. I feel stuck in place, like everyone else is moving, running, dancing around us. And it isn't jealousy I feel when I watch other people pushing forward in their own world, that's not quite it. Yes, of course, I'm jealous of people who have jobs they can count on, work they love, plans for the future. But I know, I'm sure of it, that nothing is as easy at it looks. Everyone works hard, worries about supporting their family, performs acrobatics to juggle all the competing demands. I might, at first glance, feel a pang when I see the stability that other people have, but there are so many details that are invisible to me. There is stress in everyone's world, certainly not just ours.

Sometimes all it takes for me to relax, to take a deep breath, is to remember that we have a plan. Our plan still needs a lot of tweaking, but it's there nonetheless. It gives me hope, a chance to make lists, a reason to look ahead. Our plan is filled with jobs and growing children, and (fingers extra crossed) maybe even the chance to return to school for something I'm passionate about. Will we be rich? Probably never, but maybe we will find some security one day. We certainly have a new perspective on saving (translation: start saving). I like our plan. But at the end of another week where I've watched my talented and capable husband apply for job after job with no lead, no interview, the plan doesn't offer enough comfort. I want to stand on the rooftops and yell at the world. I want someone to reach out to him and say yes, we see your potential. Because I see it. 


Most days The Children make us laugh enough to take the edge off all this worry. Shira woke up this week having grown up into an adult baby. She has sprouted these long legs and arms that reach out in every direction and most days I don't recognize my little one. Not until she snuggles into my lap for more milk, that is. I watch her, especially on the days when Alyce is at school, and I see how she's making room for herself in our family. She is no longer Baby Shira, no longer the silent partner. I wonder if my expectations for Shira are different than those for her big sister. Do I treat her differently because she is the baby? Probably. But so much of parenting Alyce at this age is such a blur, that I can't even compare. That's for the best, I think. Shira can handle this one all on her own.

Do you know that Shira cups my face every morning when she sees me, planting kisses on my face as though it were a full-contact sport? Have I told you that she likes eggs for breakfast, but not oatmeal? That she's terrified by the sound of trains, but likes to taunt the dog by roaring like a dragon? Alyce is already big enough to tell me that she would like to be a princess, an artist, a chef, and an astronaut when she grows up (this morning she added pirate to her list, even making plans to attend Pirate University, where, she informed me, she would learn to say Arrrrrgh, I'm a pirate and how to look for treasure). I wonder how Shira will answer these questions in a few years?

Alyce is handling all these unknowns is our world with her usual glee. Yesterday she read her first book. As in read the words on the page. As in I am still grinning from ear to ear having seen the look of pride she wore when I said, Alyce, you're reading! I am so proud of her, so excited that the world has opened up to her in an entirely new way. Yes, for now she is slowly reading tiny sentences about an elephant who likes flowers, but these are the tiny steps that will lead her to The Secret Garden, Harry Potter, and, when she's old enough, Bossypants. I tried not to overwhelm her with my giddiness.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, there are many good things in our world. It's all part of the plan.

Monday, February 27, 2012

For the birds

While it is still winter around here, one day last week it was clearly Spring. Shira went down for her nap after lunch, and Alyce asked to go out and play. I was grateful for some quiet time in the house and so Alyce got to exploring the backyard. 

But when she asked if I'd help her make a bird's nest, I couldn't resist. I'm an easy target when it comes to such requests. And when she asks me in that tiny warbly voice if I want help her, I help. It didn't hurt that the sun had warmed up the day so much that I could leave my jacket inside. In February. In Canada. So we found ourselves collecting-- grass, old plants, and branches. And we made mud. Glorious mud.

There are many times in my week at home when I lose patience with the mania of my four year old. She's intense, extremely bossy, stubborn, emotional and never stops talking. But at the same time she is loving, funny, compassionate, never stops talking, and is completely filled with joy. And when I say filled with joy, I mean she actually sparkles. Like she did earlier today when she poured my Martha Stewart silver glitter all over her head and the head of her younger sister. We wanted to look like fairies. Of course they did. This day, building our very own bird's nest, her sparkles came through all on their own. So hands off my glitter.

Like I said,  all you need for a bird's nest is some dry grass, twigs, and mud. I don't claim to be an expert or anything, but I think I build a fine nest. Alyce was moderately impressed by my nest-making skills (if only she knew how I make my very own nest for her everyday), and quickly became obsessed with location, location, location. Where should we put the nest? In the top of a tree, of course. This is her face having just fallen at the news that I couldn't climb high enough to tuck our nest in the branches. But I can stand on your head and reach, Mama. I'm very big.

So we settled for the bird bath. It had everything we needed: off the ground away from the dog, in plain sight of flying birds overhead, and out of the sun (so the birds could rest, glare-free). Then she waited. And waited. She had big hopes of all the birds in the neighbourhood descending into our yard, cuddling right into their new little home. If only we could have willed a bird to join us, even for a few minutes. As a parent wanting only the happiest of things for her little one, I wanted so badly for a bird to appear. But Alyce? She quickly recovered from her deep disappointment and moved on. She turned her attention to new adventures, namely strategically placing old cherry tomatoes around the garden for the birds to eat later.

Adults, parents or not, often complain about children, expressing frustration at their difficult, emotionally-charged behaviour. And yes, The Children try my patience daily. But I have a lot to learn from them, too. Alyce teaches me to let go of disappointments, to move on after something makes me feel sad. She reminds me everyday that there is always another adventure just waiting for us. I need that kind of reminder, some days more than others. Lately, I need it a lot. A good Monday lesson, isn't it?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My two

On account of poor planning, feeding six people, and a love food, I find myself at the grocery store multiple times a week. And these two seem to follow me everywhere. I would like to point out three things:
  • Shira is in love with Alyce. Most of the time this love is returned. Other times, not quite.
  • No matter how hard she tried, Alyce did not successfully sneak a bottle of salad dressing into our shopping cart.
  • Alyce and Shira are still carrying around their valentine's cards, which means that I am faced with looking at pictures of Barbie on a daily hourly basis. 
I didn't get around to posting these earlier in the week, but here some things I've been reading this week about, you guessed it, food:

Re: dinner time. We totally follow these strategies when it comes to Alyce, especially the one about never telling her what we're having beforehand (a guarantee that she won't eat it).

The comments following Design Mom's recent post on feeding children in France are worth reading.

I love the way she writes about feeding her family. Here is a post from last week.

I struggle with keeping a "family table." Stephanie at The Knitty Gritty Homestead has a different suggestion.

Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Friday, February 24, 2012

An interview with Dani

 I am starting a series of interviews with the mamas I know in my life. I am endlessly inspired and encouraged by these women, some of whom I've known since childhood, others I've only met recently. I wanted to share some of their thoughts with you in hopes of making our community even just a little bit bigger.

For our first interview, I bring you Dani. I met Dani in Delaware and I would not be exaggerating if I told you that she made my Delaware life infinitely better. She is kind, silly, and eager to make everyone's day a little easier. I am grateful to know her. She has a little boy named Finley.  I'll let her to tell you the rest.

1. Tell us a little about yourself and introduce that glorious little boy of yours.

I'm 36. I have 2 bachelor's degrees, one in film, one in nursing. I live in Wilmington, DE, USA, which is your average suburb with Paneras and Starbucks, gigantic grocery stores, Target, Wal-mart, the YMCA and lots of parents and kids. I will be taking the exam to become a certified lactation consultant this year.  My little boy Finley is almost 22 months old. He enjoys watching "wideos" on youtube of animals, trains and trucks. This is his current fave  He does not enjoy regular cats. When he sees them he screams like he was just clawed by Freddy Krueger.

2. What is your super power? (You know you have one.) For example, I can solve most of Alyce and Shira's problems by dancing.

My super power is getting Finley to eat by watching said "wideos." Ok, well actually his dad discovered that.  I guess I'd have to say it's probably what every mama has, that crazy thing where you're so connected to your kid that you hear everything they say even when you're in a room full of people.  It helps him understand he's not being ignored even though it can look that way and helps me get his needs met before he has to cry for someone's attention.

3. What's the hardest part of your parenting day, and do what do you do to work around it, or help make it hurt your head less?

Something about 5:00pm doesn't seem to agree with us. Finley starts to spin out of control. When the weather isn't freezing or pitch black because of dang daylight savings, the best thing to do is go for a walk.  When that's not available, guess what? More videos.

4. Who do you look to for support as a parent?

Twitter mostly. Mama blogs. Very few people in real life.

5. What's been the toughest adjustment since becoming a parent?

Having very few people in real life to look to for support and parenting relief.

6. If you could only teach Finley one thing about the world, what would it be?

Everybody wants the same thing, don't they?
Everybody wants a happy end
They wanna see the game on Saturday
They wanna be somebody's friend

Everybody wanna work for a living
Everybody wants their children warm
Everybody wants to be forgiven
They want a shelter from the storm

Look at me, I ain't your enemy
We walk on common ground
We don't need to fight each other

This is from a song called Solidarity by Black Uhuru. I feel that it really expresses what I was looking for as a child. Children seem like they're naturally connected to each other. Their boundaries are few. If my son can remember when he's older that we're all basically the same, that will be amazing.

7. What ridiculously overpriced splurge do you wish you could spend on Finley? (For me, I would love to get one of those massive wooden doll houses.)

An Ivy League education and a 2 bedroom apartment in Manhattan.

Thanks, Dani! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The work of girls

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to raise girls. I have two girls, good girls, silly girls, loving girls, clever girls, bouncy girls.

Both times I was pregnant Matt and I decided to find out the sex of our baby. It's a girl, we heard both times, though I already knew that. Or maybe I just wanted it to be so. I also imagined that I'd be the mother of girls. 

Each time I was growing a new baby girl, too many people would stop warn me about my future girls. Oh, girls are so hard to raise. They'll get you into trouble. Boys are so easy. I was over the moon about the upcoming birth of my daughters, but people were warning me, giving me that knowing look.

Ok. I've been warned.

And so I prepare myself for the tough work of girls. I school them in the fine art of tomfoolery, storytelling, and tea parties. We devote long hours to interpretive dancing, exploring, and piracy.

But mostly, we just bounce.

Girls are hard work because people are hard work. Yes, they'll face particular challenges because they are girls, but they'll face these problems because of the world we live in, not because they are girls. I'm here to stand up for my girls, and I hope I can use this space to encourage, remind, and sing the praises of not judging our children before they even have a chance to grow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saying no

I found this letter in a box of things I can't seem to get rid of, and I am so grateful I kept it. This is a letter given to me when I was twelve by my seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Cowan. He was a remarkable teacher who was kind enough to see how much I was struggling with trying to be perfect. I was having a hard year socially (understatement of the century) and I was throwing myself into my academics and anything else that I could do well, such as ballet. It seems that I have always been exceedingly hard on myself and worried about what other people might think. There are many reasons for this, but at this particular time I was dealing with some very harsh judgment from my circle of friends (that resulted in losing those friends, for the most part). I was always a kid who had high expectations of herself, and dealing with rejection at the social level intensified my need to be perfect in other areas of my life. I was flailing under this pressure and this very kind teacher reached out to me:
It is terribly worrying to have a whole lot of people expecting you to do well in everything you do, all the time. At some point it becomes necessary to consider every activity, every class, every assignment, every friendship, and ask if it is worth it to you to continue, or to try to meet someone else's expectations...We need to talk about time and how to spend it. Only time has value. Nothing else does. 
I have received so many encouraging replies since my post on authenticity. Thank you for these words, too, and thank you for sharing some of your own authentic "reveals." I think the kind of authenticity I want to practice in my life is found right here in Mr. Cowan's letter. Being authentic means sometimes letting go of expectations, sometimes coming from others, other times coming from yourself. Expectations themselves are not bad, in fact, I think they are quite valuable (and I think Gretchen Rubin is spot on with her take on this). But when these expectations stand in the way of living the life you want to, when you feel paralyzed by what other people will think, it's time to reassess (I'm looking straight at myself, by the way).

Thank you, Mr. Cowan, for your many kindnesses. Also, thank you for introducing me to E.A. Poe, Shakespeare, and writing for the sake of writing.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breastfeeding at a year

 Shira this afternoon, just after breastfeeding.

So my lovely cousin sent me a message the other day asking for some advice about breastfeeding her one year old. I had a few suggestions for her and I thought they might be of use to someone else. For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts about breastfeeding around the one-year mark. I am not a lactation consultant, just someone who has been nursing for four years.

My baby still nurses through the night

So your baby is now a year old and still wants to nurse every four hours at night. Why is my baby so evil? I used to wonder. She probably wasn’t evil, though, just enjoying our nightly habit of her waking up whenever she pleased to have just a little more milk. But after a year of nursing through the night, there comes a time when you’re just ready for a complete night’s rest (that time was probably months before your baby’s first birthday, but here you are).

There is one very straightforward solution to this, but it isn’t for everyone: you could put him in his own bed at night and not go to him until the morning. This is what we did with Alyce. At this point she was going to bed around 6:30 at night, waking up around 1:00 am, and then again around 4:00 am. I decided that I would eliminate first feeding and only go to her if it was after 3:00 am (assuming that if she had her first night-nurse after 3:00, that she wouldn’t wake up a second time before morning). Eliminating that first feeding meant that I had to let her cry. If I went to her and tried to rock her back to sleep, or rub her back, she’d just lose it. And by lose it, I mean violently dive bomb my boobs in hope that one would fall out by accident that she could latch on to. If Matt went in, Alyce would scream for me endlessly. We came to realize that she cried a lot less, and coped with the missed feeding, a lot better if she just didn’t see us. So we let her cry, at first for fifteen minutes or so, but in a week she was down to peeping only for a minute. After a month or so we did the same thing for the 3:00 am feeding.

I might have been more open to breastfeeding once during the night if she didn’t start her days at 5:00 am. I am less into compromise in these early hours of the day. Side note: why do I make babies who start their days at 5:00 am? Does anyone have any answers for me?

Because Alyce slept in her own crib, in her own room, this course of action was pretty simple. It was different with Shira. Because we only had a two bedroom house at the time, Shira was sleeping in a crib in our room when her first birthday came around. There was not going to be any crying back to sleep when she was inches from my boobs head. So Shira kept on nursing through the night at least two or three times. When we moved back to Canada and the girls had to share a room, Shira usually ended up in our bed through the night so that her night wakings didn’t wake up Alyce. This meant that she continued to nurse all.night.long. After a month of cosleeping with my nursing monster it was time to try something new. Basically, I just switched bedmates. Alyce came into our bed so that we could both get some sleep, and Shira adjusted to not breastfeeding the night. I think it took two nights. Clearly she had been swindling me.

I have no real advice for those of you who want to continue cosleeping with your nursing  little ones. Sorry about that.

Balancing work and breastfeeding

In Canada (thank you, Canada!) a lot of women are able to stay at home for the entire first year with their baby. Many women can’t afford to pay the bills on the reduced income and return to work early, but for others, it’s an amazing opportunity to stare at their babies all day long. During my time in the U.S. I was in shock that many women only had four to six weeks off after giving birth, and that most could only take three months. I hope that the American government gets with the program about the benefits of mothers and fathers staying home for the first year of a baby’s life, especially for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding just won’t be a possibility for so many women if they have to go to work right away. Pumping is incredibly difficult and is not an easy solution. I am in awe of women who manage to pull this off--nicely done.

So I have little to say about going back to work in the early months (again, sorry about that). But since Alyce was still breastfeeding when she started at full-time daycare at 13 months when I went back to my PhD program full-time (that worked out well, didn’t it?), we still had our own work-balance issues to figure out. Here is what I learned: I had to trust that Alyce was getting enough nutrition from her solid food and cow’s milk at daycare and not worry so much about how much breast milk she was getting. I spent so much time worrying about her getting enough milk that first year (she has always been a tiny thing), that it was hard to trust that by 13 months that she was getting enough to grow. But she was. What helped me was coming to understand that breastfeeding had become less about food and more about comfort and time with mama. Of course breast milk still offered incredible things for her and her developing immune system, but it was so much more than milk. Breastfeeding helped her wake up to start her stay, calmed her to sleep, and cured all ills in between. I also stopped worrying about my milk supply. I knew there would always be some milk as long as she was nursing. She seemed happy and I was happy. Everybody was happy.

One thing to keep in mind: it turns out that babies are very stubborn. Prepare yourself for this. When Alyce started at her full-time daycare we would send two sippy cups of whole milk with her and one cup of water. But no. Alyce did not want sippy cups of milk or water, she wanted to nurse. So she simply refused to drink all day long, waiting instead for me to pick her up and nurse her right there on the spot. It was actually a nice little routine, and eventually she came to accept some lesser cup-milk. I asked her doctor and he assured me that she would not become dehydrated as long as she was eating food during the day, which she was.


I breastfed Alyce until she was twenty-two months old, when I was eight weeks pregnant with Shira. She continued to nurse in the morning and evenings until then. Shira is now twenty-one months and shows no sign of slowing down (she still nurses about four or five times a day, but not overnight). I still love it and have no interest in weaning (except some days when I do). Maybe this one will still be nursing at two.

Maybe three.

Previous posts on breastfeeding:

Ten things you ought to know about nursing a toddler
Uncharted Territory
Sobbing Again. Anxious, too.
Even Alyce tells me I look tired.
On boobs, breastfeeding, and not breastfeeding.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Authentically speaking, I'm often afraid of authenticity

 This is the real me, and my real Alyce.

I'm not really sure what "being authentic" means. The word "authenticity" is thrown around so much that over the years I've become suspicious. It seems that we're encouraged so often now to be "authentically who we are" and to "live an authentic life."  Certainly this sounds ideal. I don't think anything good comes from hiding our thoughts and dreams behind a facade we think is more socially acceptable, and I know some of the most exciting conversations happen between people (or a person and his or her internet) when we tell the truth, when we put our feet down against what we think people want to hear.

Isn't this why so many mothers started blogging in the first place? To tell other mothers and whoever else was listening that motherhood was so much harder/exciting/exhausting than had been publicly discussed, and that motherhood is complicated because we're all actually different human beings with different experiences? Hell, yes. We outlined our hopes and expectations, the day-to-day challenges, and reflected on what did or didn't work. We did this to vent, to make other people laugh, and to offer some support to other mothers and parents. This, too, happened to me. And I survived. Or, I feel this way and I'm still a good parent. One way of understanding these new narratives of motherhood is to consider these perspectives as an attempt at authenticity. No longer would we talk about our transitions to motherhood as seamless, or dismiss time spent at home with children as unimportant.

So why am I suspicious of the term? Like I said, I think it's because I don't quite understand it. My only experience with it comes from my liberal arts background where I was surrounded by teams of people arguing for an "authentic" view of the world. They were right: too many of our stories have been told by the same few people. We needed to deconstruct our assumptions about the world, to ask the right people the right questions, and most of all, we needed to listen to their answers. But looking for authenticity--for the real story, so to speak--seemed to spiral into an identity politics that plagued my academic world. Every statement, every research question, became a competition over who had the right to speak about a given historical experience. While I am grateful that the status quo of academia got knocked down a few pegs, at times I was frustrated when valuable conversations about gender, for example, were paralyzed over arguments about who could authentically speak to a given issue. It's one of the reasons I lost interest in my research.

When it comes to blogging, I wonder sometimes about how much our pursuit of authenticity is really about how we want to appear to each other, rather than truly representing ourselves. I have been moved to tears reading about the experiences of other parents, seeing my own struggles in their words. And I've mentioned before how my isolation as a new parent in new country was softened by my discovery on this online community of parents, and of mothers in particular. But sometimes I wonder if so much of what I read online is actually prescriptive, rather than descriptive, especially when it comes to living and parenting authentically. Are the descriptions I read about days spent playing and crafting with kids, making mountains of food for growing children, and political statements about how and what to buy for our families about what really happens in our home, or about what we want to happen in our homes? I love staying home with The Children, including the cooking and crafting and chaos, but my home doesn't always look the way homes sometimes do in blogland. When mothers reflect on their own authentic living, are they telling us how they live, or how they'd like to live? Because I'd like to the live that way, too.

I think I'm over-thinking this. I know, you're shocked. I've been hesitant to describe my own writing as a quest for authenticity because my graduate training left me a little shaky. But when I quiet those voices in my head (still quoting Foucault and Butler) and ask myself what I'm doing with this blog, I am sharing my life as I understand it. I talk about loving my girls because these are my days. I am sharing a part of myself, and while it isn't the whole me, it is still me, still authentic. And when I tell you things about my life that still only exist at the level of ideals, this is still part of me, even if it isn't fully realized yet. This doesn't make me inauthentic, it just means I'm in process. And the same goes for other bloggers and writers.

Do you read A Cup of Jo? Joanna Goddard writes a beautiful blog (and her Friday links are the best around), and today she posted about her own thoughts (and fears) on authenticity. She is ready to reveal something about herself and in the process she is a bit afraid of the whole thing. Naturally, it is scary to share. We are vulnerable, defensive, and downright petrified. For the time being (she hasn't made the big reveal yet) she is sharing some encouraging words from her mother:

"It seems to me that being authentic is being brave enough or just candid enough to be honest about what you are experiencing or who you are, whether it is popular are not. A person gives a gift to other people when they say, 'This is what happened to me or this is how I truly feel, no matter what the popular belief is about what I should feel.' Whenever you are honest, you are speaking for a thousand silent people who don't have the voice to say what they really feel or are really experiencing. So, if you ever talk about [the thing you went through], you will touch a million hearts. Because you are speaking for more than just yourself. You are never alone in what you are feeling. I love you."
Find the rest of the post here.

Joanna's mother's description of authenticity makes sense to me, takes away some of my suspicions. Because this is exactly why I share my experiences about motherhood and life as a post-graduate student-teacher-soon-to-be-midwife-I-hope, and why I share in others' experiences about life as mothers and parents. Life feels decidedly less scary when I know I'm not the only one. Although she doesn't plan to share this particular experience until next week, for today Joanna invited us to reveal something true about ourselves, big or small. You can find hers here.

Here are some of mine. I promise they are authentic:

  • I've struggled with depression for a long time.
  • It takes me weeks to put away laundry.
  • I am terrible with money.
  • I often forget birthdays. Or I only remember at the very last minute.
  • I've never read anything by Charles Dickens or a Russian.

What about you? Do you have anything to share?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Food on Thursdays: A day in the life

Alyce, March 2010

4:45 am: Wake up with Shira. I'm not even kidding about this. Nurse Shira for 30 minutes.

5:15 am: Pour some coffee for me, water for Shira, and cut up some pineapple to offer Shira as first breakfast. She turns it down, so I eat it.

5:16 am: Shira nurses again, since she didn't eat first breakfast.

5:28 am: And again.

 Dinner out, March 2010

5:30 am: Start cooking oatmeal for me and Alyce (Shira doesn't care for oatmeal). We use steel cut oats, so they take about 25 minutes to cook on the stove.

6:45 am: Alyce is up and ready for breakfast. I give her a bowl of oatmeal with a mountain of maple syrup (or at least, that what I tell her it is--more like a teaspoon). For second breakfast I offer Shira a bowl of cheerios and milk. She sticks the cheerios to her cheek, dumps out the milk, and then Matt makes her an egg with cheese. She eats eggs every morning, and I should probably just stop trying with the other stuff. But I am not very smart.

6:46 am: Alyce asks for more syrup. Her request is declined. I sit down with my own oatmeal, topped with blueberries, almonds, flax seed meal, and some brown sugar.

Alyce, August 2011

8:00 am: Matt feeds The Children snacks of applesauce (Shira) and yogurt (Alyce).

9:00 am: Now it's my turn for second breakfast: peanut butter on a rice cake and a second coffee.

10:00 am: It's been two hours and naturally The Children are STARVING. So I make smoothies of raspberries, banana, baby spinach (don't tell Alyce), plain yogurt and orange juice. I pair the smoothie with half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 Shira, June 2011

10:15 am: I start making lunch, an imaginative macaroni and cheese. I've been trying out some gluten-free cooking lately and so I decided to try, without a recipe for some reason, a gluten-free m&c. I used brown rice pasta and threw some gluten-free flour mix into the butter to make a roux (I also added cheese, milk, dijon, and salt and pepper). While that was cooking I added some frozen edamame to boiling water.

11:15 am: Lunch is served. Shira eats her weight in edamame, and they both seem to enjoy the m&c, though not with their usual vigor. After lunch Alyce tells me the following, as I posted on twitter:

Mama, sometimes you make the best mac and cheese, and sometimes it's just o.k. Today it was just o.k.

She said it very sweetly, if that helps.

12:30 pm: While Shira is sleeping, Alyce and I settle down with one of our Valentine's Day cookies, sadly the last two. Alyce tells me that I make the best cookies. I feel vindicated from the earlier mac and cheese feedback.

2:00 pm: We are heading to a friend's house for dinner so I decide that we should make something little for dessert (I'm also bringing pizza dough for dinner). We make rice crispy squares, but, sadly, we don't use enough marshmallows. They are a wee bit hard. It happens.

2:20 pm: Shira wakes up from her nap and it's time for another snack. This afternoon we dine on canned peaches and rice crispy squares. Snack of champions.

3:00pm: I make two batches of pizza dough. Somehow I use completely trash the kitchen in the process.

Valentine's Day Cookies, 2012

4:50 pm: We are in the car driving to our dinner date. Since The Children usually eat dinner at five, we break the no snacking in the car rule (even I have limits) and offer them cheese and crackers. Shira takes control of the crackers and refuses to share with Alyce. There is some discussion about this. She gives Alyce at least three of the giant bag of crackers.

5:30 pm While the grown-ups put pizzas together (one just cheese and chicken, the other topped with cheese and vegetables), the kids are offered hummus, carrots, and rice cakes. Shira eats all of these things, while Alyce just sits near them, choosing to direct 100 percent of her energy to talking about princesses.

6:30 pm We eat pizza. I love pizza. Alyce and her friend (the daughter of our hosts) eat a teeny tiny portion of pizza in hopes of getting to the leftover Valentine's day candy. Shira eats the chicken from four pieces of pizza, grabs a couple of Hershey's kisses, and calls it a night. But only after nursing some more.

Alyce, January 2011

So, I've crunched the numbers and it appears that I spend roughly 96 percent of my day preparing, eating, or cleaning up food. Thank goodness food is so delicious and worth all this work.

Does your day look like this?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For Matty

It can't always be about vaginas.

When I hear this song I am reminded how much I am loved by this remarkable man. We've been married almost five years and none of these years qualify as those early honeymoon years people tell me about, where time is made up of just the two of you, figuring your way around the world. We are certainly figuring out the world together, but this married world of ours has always been filled with so many unknowns. Our marriage has almost always been the marriage of a family, not just the two of us. Alyce came almost instantly (please don't remind my grandmother that we were pregnant before the wedding--she's still reeling from the news four years later), and then a move so far away from our family.

Marriage is work no matter what the circumstances, this I know. But how lucky I am to navigate this life with a man who would give me anything, do anything, to make my world better. There was a time in Delaware when I was struggling to connect with our life, self-absorbed with the next steps I would take. I hadn't yet decided to leave graduate school and I was stuck. I pulled away from Matt emotionally sometimes because I didn't know where I was (so how could I share it with him?). One day he reached out to me with this song, adding it to my ipod, nudging me to listen. He said this song was his voice. And it made all the difference in the world.

Happy Valentine's Day to my favourite.

Valentines and Vaginas

From the Vagina Monologues. Not quite office-appropriate.

Happy Valentine's Day! I am head-over-heels for Valentine's Day because I jump a the chance to tell someone I love them, and I want to share this joy with my girls. It's the perfect excuse to make a craft, bake with chocolate, and relax a bit about things in life that are hard. A good day in my books.

I've had some great Valentine's Days in the past, but my two absolute favourite Valentine's Days celebrated a different kind of love: the love of vaginas. Have you even seen The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler? I have seen two performances of this incredible play, one at Queen's University and one at the University of Alberta. The first time I watched my friends perform the monologue (and I wish now that I had had the courage to perform along with them), and the second time I took my father's wife's mother (let's just call her May) to watch Jann Arden perform. Both times blew me away. Made me proud. Made me cry. And, most importantly, these performances stuck with me for years, fueling my commitment to teach my own girls to love their vagina.

Here's the thing: I want Alyce and Shira to be proud of their bodies. All of their bodies. We just can't be proud of something we don't talk about, so in our house, we talk about vaginas (Hi, Matty!) and that's just not going to stop. So Valentine's Day in our house will always, for me and my girls, be a day for vaginas.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Oh Monday, there you are

For Alyce, Valentine's Day is a two-day event. She doesn't have school tomorrow (the actual Valentine's Day), so today is the day of her Valentine's party and card exchange at school. And the day she dresses up in hearts and brings her new favourite princess to school. Belle was a gift from her Nana this weekend and the two are fast friends. I am exceptionally tired of sharing my house with Disney princesses, but I am awfully fond of her smiling face.

And what plans do we have for day two of Valentine's? We baked chocolate heart cookies on the weekend (which, I must confess, were a bit of a disaster. Martha's cookies never fail, but these ones, I'm afraid, just didn't work--it was like trying to roll out fudge, not cookie dough) and tomorrow we will cover them with icing and sprinkles. I'm thinking of trying out some icing paint, found here. Alyce has also declared that the house needs decorating, so I guess we have work to do. I'd also like Alyce to help me to make a nice dinner for Matt (I like to delegate), so I'll likely be asking her to help me roast a chicken. It's never too early to learn how to blend rosemary and lemon.

But today. Today is Monday! It's been too long since I've properly taken advantage of the Monday momentum and I need to fix that.  Lately I've had tough time staying positive, or even just staying focused.  I need to regroup, and what better way to regroup then with a list!

  • I'm in the middle of designing the new course I'll begin teaching this summer. I'm grateful to have been given the time and money to redesign the course, but it's no easy task. When given the opportunity to start from scratch, I sometimes struggle with keeping my project small enough. I think it's part of what made me a good researcher (because I think big), but at some point decisions need to be made. So this week I want to finish putting together my course reader and complete the first few weeks of lecture notes.
  • I would like to spend some time thinking about what I write here on this blog, about how I might structure things a bit differently. When I started writing here and was unsure about what would become the focus of my writing, I figured I would just start writing what came naturally and see where it takes me. Now it's been year and a half, and I'm still not sure. I don't think it's necessarily a negative, but reassessment is good. Sharing these little details from my life has become so important to me. 
  • At home this week I would like to do some early spring cleaning, tiny steps at a time. As Matt suggested to me earlier this week, it's time for toy purge. We like to keep half of their toys hidden so we can bring them out later (hey look, new toys!). We brought so little with us home from Delaware and already I feel as though we are buried in toys. It's also time to go through their clothes again, because against my wishes, The Children keep growing.
  • I am also trying me hand at some gluten-free cooking this week. I thinking of trying some gluten-free cranberry-orange bread.

What do you have planned for the week? Do you write Monday lists, too? Am I obsessed with lists? Probably.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This week in stay-at-home parenting

 There were many walks to and from school. The snail pace at which we moved gave me a chance to welcome the sun back into my life. I feel as though it had been grey for years.

We enjoyed spending time with some friends amidst the chaos of the bookstore-turned-playdate venue. These crazy new bookstores reel you in with giant tea cups and enormous train tables, but then they get back as you purchase your weight in books on your way out. Here Alyce is reading to her friend my most hated Barbie story, wherein girls at a charm school stab each other in the backs in order to get ahead. I don't allow it in our home so she's taking full advantage of its availability at Chapters.

 The Children coloured approximately 2,293 pictures of the following: butterflies, rainbows, bees, trees, ponies, and princesses. And one stunning portrait of a baby we know. I will be talking about this for a long time, so bear with me, but watching Alyce go from squiggles to elaborate (humour me) portraits of people we know astounds me. I just can't comprehend how she's gone from being a baby who eats crayons to drawing, if you will, masterpieces.

 With my first full week at home with the girls I took advantage of the extra time in the kitchen. This past Wednesday found me and Shira in the kitchen (Alyce was at school), where we made tomato soup and oat bread in time to enjoy for lunch. I'd love to offer you a recipe for the tomato soup, but I would be embarrassed to call it a "recipe." Instead I'll call dressing up a can of whole tomatoes with a some onions, a little olive oil, some stock and some cream. But it was exactly what I wanted. And one of the reasons that Shira is one of my two favourite daughters is our shared love of all food. She literally threw herself into our lunch. A perfect date.

And I would also like to point out that we discovered green things growing in the woods next to Alyce's school. Green things do not grow in Canadian Februaries, but here is the proof. I think even the leaves must have been excited that it was Tu B'Shevat

Lest you think that our week was all sunshine and artistry, I'll share with you the following story: On the morning of the bookstore play date, after dashing like a madwoman to get the three of us dressed, snacked up and in the car, and after chasing these two around aisles of books for an hour, I finally managed to carry Shira, my bag, a coffee (obviously), and Alyce out of the store and back into the car. It sounds easy when you say like that, but it wasn't. Shira won't walk holding my hand for more than a few steps, so I have to carry her everywhere (why oh why do I always leave my Ergo in the car?); I was determined to finish my coffee, so there goes my other hand. Always the model of safety, I asked Alyce to hold on to my jacket while we walked through the parking lot to get to the car. We were a sight. So we're finally in the car, all of us buckled into their seats, when Alyce comes out with this: Mama, I probably should have told you before we left the store, but I need to pee. Bad. For thirty seconds I cursed loudly in my head, cried out in horror, again, in my head, and then got over myself and admitted that we were all heading back into the store. Honestly, it made me laugh a lot.

How was your week? Are you ready for the next one?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Food on Thursdays: Cookbook club

Photos or not, I need to tell you about our cookbook club. Update: I now have photos for you, thanks to the very talented Amanda Schnarr. Thank you for sharing, Amanda!

I've never been part of a book club, but when I read over at Tea and Cookies last year about starting a cookbook club, I was instantly hooked on the idea. I needed to make it happen. And since I had just returned full-time to Canada, I figured that I could at the very least guilt some of my friends (though when you mentioned food and eating, you really don't need guilt) into making room in their chaotic schedules to come hang out with me.

My scheming worked.

The first meeting took place in November, but since getting a group of people together is notoriously difficult, especially when some of them live out of town and most of them have young children, only three of us made it for the inaugural meeting. No matter the numbers, it was an excellent beginning. We chose The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and made an incredible dinner. There was champagne, crab cakes, roasted brussel sprouts and chicken, and brownies made with an impressive amount of butter.

With the momentum of our first meal, we got to business arranging the second meeting. We skipped December in honour of the bizillion commitments people have over the holidays, and chose to meet instead at the beginning of February. I hosted this time around because our house was empty while my mum and stepfather are off gallivanting on some Mexican beach (not that I'm jealous). After choosing a date we needed a book. I headed to the library and brought home an solid collection of cookbooks and began browsing (I was considering Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights and Tender), but felt stuck on not wanting everyone to feel like they needed to buy a new book just for this one meal. Not everyone had the time to search out libraries for a copy and I didn't want to discourage anyone from joining us. And since we're not really working (for actual money) in this house, it wasn't in the budget to buy a new book. So what to do?

The internet, my friends.

I realized one day that some of my favourite cookbooks aren't actually cookbooks--they're food blogs. Since the internet is nothing if not accessible, I thought it was the perfect way to easily include everyone. We could choose a blog, browse the archives, and in no time we'd be eating (and this is all about eating, obviously). For those of you who've visited this blog, you'll be familiar with my stalking of Smitten Kitchen, so it was an easy first choice. I chose a few recipes just to get things going, sent them out to the group to consider, and invited them to search Deb's blog to come up with their own ideas.

Our meal was a huge success, if you don't mind me bragging a bit. I can't think of too many other ways I'd want to spend an afternoon: great friends, too much food, and the chance to celebrate the beauty of a shared meal. There was a little chaos, a lot of laughing, and our party wasn't even crashed until the very end, upon the arrival of The Children. I hope that everyone else enjoyed themselves as much as I did. Thank you so much for indulging my obsessions.

For those of you who want to try this out for yourselves, head over to Tea and Cookies, my original source of inspiration. But for what it's worth, here are a few suggestions:

  • Once the cookbook/blog is chosen, decide on the structure of the meal. I figured that we'd need an appetizer or two, a few side dishes, an entree (we chose a meat dish), and, of course, at least two desserts. This way everyone could see what others had chosen and make their own choice according to what had already been scratched off the list.
  • At both meetings the person hosting the dinner made the main dish because the meat had more demanding cooking schedules (it just seemed easier to cook the meat in the kitchen where dinner would be served). Of course this isn't necessary, and neither is having a meat dish at all. But it worked for us. 
  • As host of Sunday's dinner, I was in charge of putting things together. I'm not sure if we'll take turns organizing (maybe the person hosting will take on this role each time), but I was happy to do it. In order to keep things in order, I created a spreadsheet to keep everything straight: food restrictions, who was in charge of making what. I am a proud cookbook club nerd. 
  • I wish that I had taken some time to write down the names of all the dishes so that everything could have been labeled on the counter. I think that it would have shown off the food better, prevented me from mixing up the details, and it just would have looked nice.
  • On a practical level, I think next time I'll use paper plates and cutlery. I just didn't have enough in my kitchen to cover all of our needs, and I found myself washing forks halfway through the meal. I don't like using paper, but I think it would be worth it. 

Here is what we made:

Artichoke-olive crositini
Pesto potato salad with green beans
Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint
Warm mushroom salad with hazelnuts
The best baked spinach
Buttermilk roast chicken
Roast chicken with dijon sauce
Whole lemon tart
Pear cranberry and gingersnap crumble
Crisp salted oatmeal white chocolate chip cookies

Are you drooling yet?

P.S. Sorry for not having any photos of the food, or of my gorgeous friends eating that food, but I was too busy having fun to take any photos. Update: Thanks again for the beautiful photos, Amanda!
P.P.S. The baker of the incredible lemon tart wasn't able to stay for dinner, but she drove an hour to deliver the tart. An hour. I have good friends.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tu B'Shevat

Today is Tu B'Shevat, a relatively minor Jewish holiday, but a holiday nonetheless. Alyce and I rarely pass by the opportunity to make a craft, so in our house we love these days. Tu B'Shevat is special to me for non-craft reasons, too, because it was the first Jewish holiday I celebrated once I had begun my conversion to Judaism. In January 2006, after a few meetings with our rabbi, Matt and I signed up for a year long course on Judaism. It was a requirement for conversion and needed to be done before I could go before the beit din, or Jewish court, and formally convert. Tu B'Shevat is one of four Jewish New Year's, and this particular new year's celebration is for the trees! Technically this is a day to mark the age of trees for tithing purposes (and is introduced in the Talmud), but now those who celebrate Tu B'Shevat use the day as a chance to give thanks for the fruit and nuts that grow on trees (especially those that grow in Israel). It has also been used as a springboard to discuss contemporary ecological issues, so for a minor holiday, there is still a lot to work with!

We used the coming of Tu B'Shevat to spend some time learning about trees, taking walks in the woods (we have another one scheduled for after school with Alyce), and, of course, making things. The tree in the first photo above is my childhood tree located around the edge of the old cemetery behind my house. My friend and I each had our own tree, mine named Fred, hers named Harry, and we spent hours in them. Hours. I still visit it, and sometimes I even find a tree fairy poking around. Can you spot her? She's the one that resembles a puffy blue marshmallow with rosy cheeks.

Alyce and I made a tree painting that we covered in pictures of fruit that we drew. I painted a large tree trunk and then she went to town with the leaves. While we were busy tree-making, Shira painted her own hands blue. Before dinner last night Alyce and I hung the painting on the front door, waiting for Matt to come home and find a surprise. Just for the record, internet, the man walked up to the house, opened the door with the enormous blue poster board painted with an enormous tree, and didn't notice it at all. Alyce and I sent him right back outside to take proper notice, Which he did, and he loved it, of course. Alyce declared this morning that it is never coming down, so he'll have many opportunities to enjoy it.

For a few more tree-inspired crafts, check here.

For those of you celebrating, I hope it it's a lovely Tu B'Shevat where you live!