Tension and Turntables

It was a typical Saturday in that the boys were oscillating between playing nicely and pushing each others’ buttons. In an attempt to keep the peace and remove a certain younger brother from the mix, I retrieved our old record player from the basement.

Sometimes I think I need a life coach, or at the very least a Jiminy Cricket-type friend who will caution me when I’m about to make a huge parenting mistake. Someone who will whisper, “Really, do you not remember the last time you got that out and how many times they played ‘Snoopy Versus the Red Baron’?”

But I digress.

Old favourites from my childhood were dusted off and played. If you haven’t heard “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” on high speed (but just the chorus) you haven’t lived.

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In general I would be described as a laid-back mom. I don’t tend to micro-manage and the general chaos that is our family life does not phase me (except for tapping, that’s the worst). However, I seem to have strong feelings about playing records. I was unaware of this side of me. What follows is a sample of phrases I uttered while my old LPs were spinning, unedited.

Gentle.

Please pick a speed.

Stop flipping between the speeds.

How about we let the whole song play right to the end?

Gentle.

Leave the volume at one setting.

No jumping, it’ll scratch the record.

Put the record back in the sleeve.

The sleeve, the box-thing it came in.

GENTLE.

Just let the song play the whole way.

That record made it through my entire childhood, it better make it through this afternoon.

GEN.TLE.

Stop jumping.

Hey! I have an idea – just let the song play through.

Pick a speed and commit.

We can’t repair it if it breaks, stop fiddling with the switches.

JUST. PICK. A. SPEED.

We don’t put Lego figures on the turntable, I don’t care if it looks cool.

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Here’s the part where I say something profound about how I changed my perspective and savoured the sweet moments of them having fun together. How Psalty the singing songbook isn’t creepy in hindsight and the boys delighted in my ability to recount all the lyrics to Muppet Movie soundtrack.

Nope.

They had fun, the record player still works, and no albums were damaged.

Okay, okay, it did bring back good memories for me. It conjured up images of the old blue velour couch from my childhood home where just yesterday I was curled up listening to The Three Little Pigs on my portable player. Or cozy winter nights spent indoors while another album dropped onto the turntable (our hi-fi was quite fancy and held up to five records in the queue). Rifling through the large selection of LPs in our family collection – Burrell Ives, Bobby Vinton, Rick Springfield, Tom Jones, and of course Kids Praise.

Sunday afternoons spent playing games, napping, or reading. The house buzzing with the sound of friends and family visiting. The smell of coffee brewing.

You can’t hang on to everything, but we should hang on to some things. Today I’m grateful for vinyl, varying speeds and all. It’s okay, Jiminy, I’ve got this.

 

 


Poke-a-what now?

“Mommy, see this card I got. It’s an EX.”

“My skirnigorf has evolved!”

“I thought that was a good trade, but then I realized that mine had way more energy than the other one so I didn’t.”

Hold on – cards can have energy? They evolve? Tell me more no wait, that’s okay.

Pokemon.

I’ve tried. For years I have tried. I think I am a reasonably intelligent woman. I can hold my own in a conversation and can even watch movies with subtitles. But Pokemon is something beyond my comprehension.

And that, dear readers, is a problem because not only do I have four offspring who are all into Pokemon cards, our house is the trading hub for such activities. On any given day there could be up to nine or ten kids congregated on our front porch actively discussing and negotiating with these playing cards. They stroll over with their binders full of plastic sleeves housing these colourful and shiny bits of paper and huddle on the cold concrete for an hour or more. They only stop to pee or hydrate. And I teach in an elementary school so basically 75% of my waking hours have some element of Pokemon in it. I want to be an engaged mom and neighbour, but I’m struggling.

In an effort to be an invested parent and a teacher with a working knowledge of this craze, recently I agreed to let my son show me his Pokemon collection. It took a long time. A really, really long time.

What follows is a photo essay of sorts chronicling the longest 45 minutes of my life.

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I am watching you and trying really hard to follow along, honest.

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Those are a lot of cards

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I mean, when did you get so many? WHO IS FUNDING THIS CARD-BUYING FIASCO? 

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HOW many pages?

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No, I’m listening. Really. I am. Something about energy and wait, I’ll be right back, your brother needs me to move the van.

Do I want to see your Pokemon? Depends. Will you be serving snacks?

 


Me versus the Laundry Tub

I like to think that I am skilled at multi-tasking. And in many ways I am. But if you know me in real life you are keenly aware that I am also highly distractible. Do not sit beside me in a meeting unless you are prepared to engage in sidebar conversations and also willing to fill me in on the things I missed. I’m not proud of it, but that’s who I am.

Imagine what it’s like for me to try to clean the house, plan lunch for the boys, rotate laundry, and type in the password for an online game while listening to a podcast and trying to tweet my random thoughts. It’s a burden, guys, a real burden. So far I haven’t (permanently) lost any children or burned the house down.

What you are about to read is a real-life, mostly accurate recount of true events that transpired in our home.

The children were mindlessly watching something on Netflix. I decided I would blitz through as many chores as possible while they were occupied. I cleaned some toilets, tossed some clothes in the washing machine, and emptied out the recycling bins. Upon my return from the garage, I noticed Bearded Husband’s sandals sitting in the laundry tub needing a wash. He had been busy with school work and home repairs, and stinky footwear is kind of my specialty, so I thought I’d do it for him. However, the compost bin was in the way. I put the plug in the laundry tub, started the hot water and dashed to the kitchen to put the bin away (because everything has a home).

And that’s when things got dicey.

The bin needed lining, so I MacGuyvered some paper bags from the liquor store into a passable liner (it isn’t hard when you have so many bags at your disposal, but that’s another story for another day). Then one son needed help finding Mario videos on youtube and the other two required assistance to choose a show they could both enjoy. I sat down and scrolled through the options while sipping my lukewarm coffee. Once everyone was content, I tried to recall which task I had been doing prior to the interruptions and hey, what’s that hissing sound? Did someone leave the hose on outside because that’s weird we’ve been indoo–NOOOOOOOOOO.

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Steady, Jan, steady. You’ve got this.

The water was hot. Super hot. And even this psychology major knows about water displacement. Putting my arm in that tub would result in scalding of my skin and more water sloshing onto the floor. Not on my watch.

How was I to get enough water out of the tub so I could unplug it yet not make more mess? And then an unused science part of my brain kicked in and I thought “I will just dangle a wet cloth over the side into a pail and let physics take care of the rest.”

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At some point in my life, I learned about molecules sticking together blah blah blah. Attraction, sciencey word, sciencey word, something about gravity and affinity. I don’t know, I’m 100% bluffing. But I really did know that it would work, despite having never done it before.

Was is Sesame Street? That biology course I dropped in university? Casual conversation? I cannot recall. But I do know this: Science Works.

Maybe my brain just can’t actively retain information like the source of my knowledge, but apparently my brain is full of it. And I intend to use this knowledge for good. Like staging photos of me being poisoned by puffball mushrooms we found in the woods just so I could post them on facebook. TIME WELL SPENT. I REGRET NOTHING.

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I think I was working on something before I sat down to write this. Meh, it probably wasn’t important.

 

 

 


Closing Time

This is neither profound nor original, but it’s been on my mind a lot recently.

Semisonic was right.

Semisonic – you know? That band from the 90s? They had that song “Closing Time.”

Closing time
Open all the doors and let you out into the world
Closing time
Turn the lights up over every boy and every girl.
Closing time
One last call for alcohol so finish your whiskey or beer.
Closing time
You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from.
Closing time
This room won’t be open ’til your brothers or you sisters come.
So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend.

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Yeah, I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Time for you to go out to the places you will be from

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
I know who I want to take me home.
Take me home

Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Summer is over. A new school year is beginning. We finish school and start jobs and careers. We move houses and create a new home. We end relationships and initiate others.

With each change there is some sadness for what or whom we leave behind. I am sad that my year of being part-time is over and I am not home with our boys after school. I will miss being there as they rush out the school door each day asking me for popsicles or to stay and play at the park. I will miss seeing my other parent friends as we corral our children and commiserate about making lunches. But today I embrace a new teaching assignment. In addition to providing planning time coverage for the kindergarten classes, I will be teaching Bearded Husband’s grade five class at the end of each day. I am nervous and excited and a teeny bit emotional (about not being home with the boys, not about teaching with Bearded Husband).

This keeps happening – these changes. Some are easier than others. Some are more exciting.

Summer began and ended. This school year has begun. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I am grateful.

Song written by Dan Wilson • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

How to Feed a Family of Six and Not Lose Your Mind

People often ask me how we manage to feed our four boys and not break the bank or lose our sanity. For real. They ask me (like I actually know what I’m doing).

“You must meal plan really well.”

“Have you had to take out a second mortgage?”

“Your grocery bills must be astronomical!”

The answers are yes, no, and not really.

Yes, we meal plan. No second mortgage or job (yet). And the bills are high, but not ridiculous.

What’s our secret? There are a few things. We have a large chest freezer that we use faithfully. This allows us to buy in bulk when things go on sale. A few dollars on chicken fingers can add up to big savings when bought in large quantities rather than week-to-week. We also buy pasta, sauce, crackers, cookies, and other staples and pantry-type items in bulk when the deals are found. And anyone who knows us is well-aware that we have an entire section of our fridge designated solely to cheese. WE STOCK UP, SON.

When it comes to planning, we do it, but nothing too complicated. I was going to just share my most recent plan with a friend or two, but since others have expressed an interest, I’m sharing it here. This type of post is new for me, so be gentle.

First step: I make a list of well-liked meals based on past experience. This time I loosely broke it down into categories to ensure I had a balance.

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I really like paper and pencil. I mean, REALLY like them.

Second step: I slot five meals into weeks for the month. I don’t worry about selecting seven because sometimes we eat out/order in and often weekends we play by ear.

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It’s not that I CAN’T use technology. It’s that there’s something satisfying about using a freshly sharpened pencil. Trust me.

Third (this is a new step): I take an inventory of the staple items we have on hand and then make a list of general grocery items we need as well as things for specific meals. The number beside some items refers to the week we are planning to use that ingredient. That way we can wait until it goes on sale and also stock up.

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As the week begins, we tentatively decide which nights we are having each meal and which one of us is cooking it. Creating this in pencil allows us to adapt as the week or month requires.

I’m no hero. Life gets busy. Sometimes I double up a recipe and freeze one for a tough week or an evening when we have a sitter. And sometimes I accept that the thought of making a meal will break my spirit and we just heat something up. It’s important to go easy on yourself, too.

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*disclaimer: Vegetables are implied. I do not plan that part in advance since Bearded Husband  makes bi-weekly trips to the Farmers’ Market (or is it Farmer’s Market?)and stocks up on produce. We eat them, but we eat what’s in season or on sale.

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GRAPES FOR EVERYONE

Interested in reading more about our budget-friendly shopping? Here you go.


Everything Has a Home

“Cleanliness is next to godliness” – ancient proverb

“Out of clutter, find simplicity” – Albert Einstein

“Clutter is nothing more than postponed decisions” – Barbara Hemphill


Oh, yes. I agree – clutter is the worst. Once upon a time I was organized. Everything had a place. What a sweet, sweet time that was. Counters were clear, laundry was folded and put away, recycling was taken out, and if something wasn’t needed then off to donation box it went. The floors were clear and end tables held only lamps and maybe a coffee cup (okay, definitely a coffee cup).

Glorious days, my friends. Glorious, tidy, streamlined days.

Then we had kids and our house became inhabited by these little people and all their little people things. But I was determined to keep our home clutter-free. We bought storage containers and decorative baskets. There was a Car Basket and a Book Basket and a shelf for puzzles. For a little while this worked, but eventually the grown-ups were outnumbered and the children were expected to take on some of the cleaning responsibility, and things changed.

“Clean” became “clean-ish”. Tidy meant that stuff wasn’t laying around on the main floor, but only a brave soul would venture into other regions of the house. And closing the basement door was all that was necessary for it to be deemed “put-away”.

Standards were lowered. But not forever and not completely. The anti-clutter side of me comes out every now and then. The family knows it’s coming when I start saying things like, “this is not preschool!” and “EVERYTHING HAS A HOME PUT THINGS IN THEIR HOME”. This generally results in me being offered some “quiet time” and Bearded Husband quietly ushers the children from the home amidst whispers of “she’ll be fine, everything will be okay, just get in the van boys.”

That’s when the magic happens.

Jackets are hung up on their hooks. Bedding is folded and placed on the correct shelves. Receipts are thrown out and library books are gathered for return. The craft area gets purged and all the art supplies fit in their decorative bins. When the house is tidied, I feel calm and smiley. It’s a great feeling.

And then the family returns and this happens.

(These photograph have in no way been altered or staged)

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EVERYTHING HAS A HOME

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PUT THE THINGS IN THEIR HOME

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One day I will miss the clutter and chaos that a house full of kids brings, it’s true. But I wouldn’t mind being able to close a closet door all the way. Just once.

 


My Five Rules for Summertime

Lemonade, biking, camping, swimming, walking to the store for slushies, eating M&Ms while hiding from your children in the closet – these are all classic summertime pastimes. And summer is an ideal time to reconnect with your family and spend time with friends. I’ve found it’s always good to lay down a few ground rules at the beginning of the season just to avoid unnecessary complications and to maintain realistic expectations.

And so, I present to you, My Five Rules for Summertime

    1. Parents are only going to “lookit” a limited number of times. Listen, we love to see your developing skills and yes, that cannonball off the diving board was great. It was just as great at the other 17 cannonballs you did leading up to it.
    2. No wet hands in the chip bag. Actually, no wet hands in or near any of the communal food. That goes for sand, too. So no wet or sandy or sandy-wet hands in food, okay? I think this rule also applies for all seasons, not just summer.
    3. Close.
      The.
      Door.
      All the doors, all the time. Just close them.
    4. Applying sunblock is not the same as being dipped in battery acid. Please stop acting like it is.
    5. Go ahead and ask for a snack/drink/screentime but for the love of Moses, just ask once. You might think that persistence will pay off, but no. It only makes your parents want to cry. Also, you come across a little unhinged. Or maybe that’s me. I don’t know because you won’t stop asking for all the things.

But seriously, CLOSE THE DOOR.

Happy Summer Everyone!