Let’s Unplug

Summer is a time for togetherness, to unwind and recharge. It’s also a great time to unplug from everything and be truly present. So that’s what our family did. We unplugged for four days. And let me tell you, it was glorious.

We played board games and baked cookies together. We hauled out the loom and made new throw rugs for our living room. We dried herbs and made decorative wreaths for the local senior centre. And we got a great start on our family Christmas cantata script. All with time to spare.

There was no wifi, no internet at all. That meant no Netflix, no social media, no Clash of Clans. It also meant no bickering over devices. But let me reiterate, no Netflix. NO NETFLIX.

Oh sure, there were some challenges. It is hard to be creative when you don’t have Pinterest at your fingertips. But I discovered that it is possible, nay, preferable, to make a sandwich without a theme. I couldn’t answer all the boys’ questions without my good friend, Google. But it turns out that kids aren’t all that hung up on “accuracy” and “validity”. They will accept just about anything you tell them if you say it with confidence. For instance, I know more about combustible engines than any of us thought.

We had to dig deep a few times to find new ways to entertain ourselves, but it didn’t take long for us to recall that the library loans out movies for free. You can make popcorn without wifi. Don’t need the world wide web to mix up lemonade from concentrate.

Yes, unplugging is good for the soul. I highly recommend it.

Not only can you connect as a family, this is also a great way to get to know your neighbours. If we hadn’t been without internet access, I would not have chanced upon our neighbours “tazzyzee32” and “wireless_mom” or the other one five doors down, “ruko-752”. What a time to be alive.

Give it a try, trust me.

Upcoming post – how unplugging can increase your fitness level.

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Family Perseveres Through Tyke’s Reign of Terror

“I don’t know what happened. Everything was going fine and then the youngest brother was eliminated in a round of Spoons.”

Fear was ignited in a residential home Sunday afternoon. Witnesses say they had no indication that things were about to go so sideways.

A fun family game or a gateway to mayhem?
A fun family game or a gateway to mayhem?

Says one participant, “There was laughter and smiles and then suddenly things turned violent.”

The father of the alleged perpetrator said that although his son is generally even-tempered, he has been known to lash out when frustrated. “But never so quickly or viciously,” dad added.

That may explain this seemingly sweet preschooler’s reaction when he lost a round of a classic game.

According to his older brothers, the family was learning a new game their mother claimed was “super fun” and one that her “family played all the time on Sunday afternoons.” The boys added that she wasn’t allowed to watch television on Sundays growing up, so her idea of “fun” might be slightly skewed. They did admit that they were enjoying this new game.

“It was the second round, another sibling had already been eliminated. Mom got four-of-a-kind and quietly grabbed a spoon. The rest of us followed suit and that left the youngest one spoon-less. That’s the way the game works, we don’t play favourites or let anyone win in our family. Mostly,” the oldest brother recounted.

“As soon as he realized he was the only one without a spoon, he turned and hit Mom on the leg. And that’s when we all knew the truth. He was a poor loser.”

The chair in the middle of this domestic dispute.

In an effort to turn things around, the family moved on to another classic game, Musical Chairs. Sadly, this also ended in violence as the tiny ankle-biter turned his wrath to other members of the family when he was unable to claim a chair as the music stopped.

“He just couldn’t handle being eliminated. He kept promising to change, but finally we had to exclude him from a round. Then two,” said his dad.

Thankfully, no one was permanently injured in these attacks, but the family says they will be focusing on social skills development and sportsmanship over the next few weeks.

“We just don’t want him to be a poor sport to anyone else,” said the mother. “We aren’t that kind of family.” His mother was not available for further comment as she was busy tweeting about the incident.

Despite the family’s assertions that they are a peaceful group, the youngster’s grandparents tell a slightly different tale, describing their young grandson as “feisty”.

“We aren’t all that surprised,” said his grandfather. “His mother was very much like that at this age and used her cuteness for evil. We will just keep hoping for the best and keep our distance when it looks like he might be losing. There are no elimination games in our near future.”

As for the rest of the family, they have no plans to cease game-playing at this time.

What Cup?

Eight days.

EIGHT DAYS.

I thought perhaps they were playing a game of chicken with me or had colluded to see how long I could stand it. But I was wrong.

After eight days every male in this household said, “what cup?”

But I’m getting ahead of myself, especially if you weren’t following along during the whole debacle.

What Cup? I don’t see any cup

One morning as I tidied up the breakfast mess I noticed a blue plastic cup under the slight overhang of kitchen cupboard. This also happens to be the highest traffic area in our house. My first instinct was to pick it up and return it to its home with the other colourful kids dishes (after a wash, of course, rest easy, it’s safe to eat here). But then I thought, “No.”

“No, I’m tired of picking up random things the boys leave around. No, I have gathered up enough dirty socks left on the coffee table, Lego on the bathroom counters, hoodies on the steps. Enough. The boys have walked by that spot no less than six times already without bothering to pick it up, so I won’t either. Because principles.”

And there it sat.

One full day.

Two days. That’s when I started to document and fully committed not to pick up that cup.

Clearly visible to the naked eye.
Clearly visible to the naked eye.

It hurt. Trust me. It took all my self-restraint not to pick it up. BUT I HELD ON.

Walking by like there isn't a cup RIGHT AT HIS FEET.
Walking by like there isn’t a cup RIGHT AT HIS FEET.

My Facebook community started chiming in, with some asking for my home address to take care of this business themselves. But I WOULD NOT BE MOVED.

And there it sat, collecting dust and missing its cup friends.

Day Three

Day Four

Day Five

photo 5-2
They were all within ten feet of me when I set up this shot.

Day Six my friend was over for coffee and in less than ten minutes of being here she said, “hey, this was on the floor” and had the cup in hand. To which I gently replied, “PUT THAT CUP BACK I AM DOING SOME SERIOUS SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH.” She may or may not return.

By Day Seven I decided to change things up a bit. So I added a Hershey Kiss. I thought this way I would know if the males in this house truly didn’t see the cup or were choosing to ignore it. And it was American Hershey, so you know I meant business.

Here, boys, come and get the shiny chocolate.
Here, boys, come and get the shiny chocolate.

Nothing.

The cup remained.

Some friends on social media suggested upping the ante, perhaps with cash. My plan was to add something every day until it was discovered. So on Day Eight I included a loonie (that’s Canadian for dollar). Once again, I did this within the presence of my family. We left for the walk to school and then – EVERYTHING CHANGED.

Plot Twist

I returned home with Little who said he was thirsty. As we took our shoes off I said I’d get him a drink in a second. He was only steps ahead of me. “That’s ok. I found a cup right here!” he chirped and held up The Cup.

“Where did you get that?” I asked him, playing it cool.

“On the floor,” he replied.

“Was there anything else on the floor?” I inquired.

“Nope.”

Oh, the game had changed. Who could have removed the candy and money, but left the cup? My number one suspect was Bearded Husband. I determined I would not give him the satisfaction of a text asking him, oh, no, two could play it this way. I would Wait. Him. Out.

And then the game changed again. My friend texted to tell me that a coworker strode into the staff room, walked up to BH and said, “JUST PICK UP THE CUP ALREADY” and then walked out. BH was perplexed and our friend told him I was doing a social experiment and not to worry about it. “Was I supposed to ask her about her hair or something?” he asked.

No.

So it was not Oblivious Bearded Husband. The mystery prevailed. I thought I’d have to give up, but not before interrogating all the other males in the house first. Denials and confusion abounded.

Cup Resolution

Finally at dinner time we brought our various stories together and I explained what had been going on. “What cup?” all five of them asked. ALL FIVE OF THE PEOPLE WHO WALKED BY THAT CUP FOR EIGHT DAYS. Except Little changed his story and said, “Oh, yeah, the blue cup on the floor that had the money and the New Work chocolate.”

Hold on, New Work chocolate? Coin? This kid knew more than he was saying.

“Did you see those things in the cup?”

“Yup.”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t know. Where are they?” he replied. Then he seemed to have a flash of memory and started opening kitchen drawers. After a few minutes of baffling conversation where he repeatedly asked me where he had put them, we concluded that he snagged the treats, hid them, then forgot their location before he even asked me for that fateful drink. All because he wanted to eat the chocolate himself.

I surrender.

If you need me, I’ll be sobbing quietly as I pick up random game pieces and underwear off the basement floor.

More Than Coffee

Walk into my kitchen right this moment and you might think you smell coffee, freshly brewed and filling the room with it’s cozy aroma.

And you would be wrong.

Sure, there is a pot of coffee waiting to be served, but it’s so much more than that. It’s a portal to the past. A glimpse into the summers of yesteryear.

On a summer evening with the windows open and the coffee on, I am transported to my childhood. To summer evenings as the sun slips away and the busyness of the day settles into contented quiet.

I hear the laughter of my extended family as we wrap up our annual holiday weekend barbeque. I detect voices of unseen passers-by taking in an evening stroll behind our house. If you’re still, there’s the sound of the tree frogs, the crickets, a motorcycle far off in the distance, the unique squeak of our backyard gate.

Walk back inside and there’s the aroma again and immediately I’m ten years old, rushing into the house for a drink between rounds of “Ghost in the Graveyard” or “Hide-and-Seek”. I can almost taste the Rice Krispie square I grabbed on my way outside to join in again.

Cousins, friends, family.

It’s not just coffee, it’s the backdrop to hospitality, gathering together, shared moments.

Memories.

Love.

Few things have this power for me. There is a magical force when open windows let in a summer evening breeze and waft that dark elixir into the air.

It’s not just coffee.

_______

Miss you, Maggie.

Riding the Waves in Winter

A Weekend Warm Up at Niagara Falls’ Americana

It’s been a long, cold winter here. So cold that as we left the house for our most recent road trip I was asked, “if your penis falls off from frostbite, can you grow a new one?”

Yes, it was that cold.

What is a good, hearty-ish Canadian family to do (on a budget) to get a break from the constant indoor recesses and mad dashes to and from the van? Any more long days stuck together enjoying each other’s company could start to turn ugly.

A short trip out of town to an indoor waterpark is just what the meteorologist / Travel Bureau of Ontario ordered. And so we did.

Destination: Americana, Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls has several indoor waterpark resorts from which to choose. They vary in accommodations, amenities, and price range. A few years ago we took our then six and four-year-old sons to the Americana Resort. We were expecting our fourth son and wanted to get away for some special time with the oldest two. Do not feel badly for the third-born, he had Grandma and Grandpa exclusively to himself all weekend.

We had a great time back then, so when we decided to take the whole family, the choice to return there was easy. It is a great entry-level park. They have a variety of features including a wave pool, four slides, splash pad for water play, and a wading pool spot for the younger family members. There’s a hot tub, but unfortunately I did not get to try it out because the first visit I was pregnant and this time there were too many kids to track. Towels and lifejackets are readily available, so no need to pack those extras.

More Than Just a Pool

Our room had two queen-size beds and a pull-out couch so all six of us could sleep in comfort. The boys pleaded their cases as to why Mom and Dad should get the couch but we pulled rank, so at least four of us were happy (my apologies to the youngest two, but they were the least likely to appreciate a comfy bed, and yes, they slept just fine. Mostly).

Must be broken, weird.
Must be broken, weird.

Standard in every room are the usual coffee maker, mini-fridge, hair dryer, etc. The fridge and microwave came in handy since we brought food for a lunch, breakfast, and snacks. This also helped us with our bottom line (kids eat a lot).

The entrance to the waterpark is through the arcade. Yes, it is very much like Las Vegas for kids. The trick it to never start putting the coins in the machines.

Anticipation, Amenities, and TV Angst

Everyone had a great time, and as usual, the excitement began well before we even left the driveway. The boys all had their bags packed two days prior to departure. When he spotted juice boxes in the cooler, the five-year-old cried out, “this is the best day EVER!” We all agreed it was going to be one of our favourite experiences, that is until the same five-year-old began reading all the house numbers out loud. After we shut that down, he thought we’d all appreciate a constant update on the speedometer, “120…117…121…”

As we pulled into Niagara Falls, the oldest two read aloud various signs: “Oh, heart-shaped jacuzzies,” “heeeey, efficiency sweeties,” “are we staying in a sweetie?” “It’s pronounced “suite” and no, we’re not millionaires.

Shhh...we're busy watching the security camera channel.
Shhh…we’re busy watching the security camera channel.

The hotel TV did not function like Netflix which caused much angst for our youngest son, “WHY CAN’T YOU SKIP THIS? SKIP. IT.” He also couldn’t understand why the TV didn’t cater to his personal viewing needs, “I said I want to watch ’Sponge Bob’”. Once he realized he had to deal with commercials or we would turn it to the French-only channel, he simmered down.

But Wait, There’s More

Staying overnight in a hotel is very educational. Did you know there is no escaping a fart in a hotel room? Truth. Also, no one will own up to it, but many a finger will be pointed.

Fun fact: if a five-year-old says he packed extra underwear, he’s lying. Related note: hotel room heaters dry clothing remarkably quick. And yes, your mom is a genius.

Maybe not all hotels have this feature, but apparently the dresser in our room smelled exactly like Grandma and Grandpa. It remains unclear if they meant that my parents smell like a bureau or their house does, I was too busy trying to brew a tiny pot of coffee to seek clarification.

Parting Wisdom

A word of advice if you stay at the Americana in Niagara Falls: take the roll pillows and hide them before you even let your kids in the room. I spent approximately 1/3 of our time there uttering threats through clenched teeth for them to “stooooop iiiiiiit” because:IMG_8247

Anything can be a weapon if you just try hard enough

Bottom line: this was better than camping and I almost have all the chlorine rinsed out of my hair.

From Our House to Yours

Dear family and friends,

Another year has come and gone – can you believe it?images

What a year it has been – it’s hard to sum it all up in three pages single spaced, but I’ll do my best (wink, wink).

I tried to get writing this earlier than other years, but with raising and sheering our own sheep to knit personalized mittens for our neighbours, I just ran out of time. Silly me, I should have known that I’d be stretched for spare time since taking on writing, choreographing, and directing the school musical this year, too. Something had to give, so instead of carving chocolate busts for my parents this year, we went with painted portraits – good thing our youngest has been taking “Painting for the Young and Gifted” every Tuesday. He did a bang up job.

The family is all doing well. In addition to excelling at school, the kids are thrilled with their many extracurriculars. Not to brag, but this proud mom can’t help but share some of their achievements. This year they took home first place in Competitive Pairs Floral Arranging, and are already planning next year’s submission. They also decided to give back and created a puppet troupe that performs at the senior centre on Wednesdays. Sometimes they move it to Thursdays if they are behind in making their own soap. Those crazy kids love to try different scents and can get so carried away with new recipes!

We apologize for not including our traditional Christmas popcorn balls with this letter. Unfortunately, this summer was unseasonably dry so our corn didn’t turn out as well as usual and you know the hubs – he didn’t want to sacrifice quality with store-bought kernels. Not to worry, though! We are trying our hand making cinnamon body lotion so fingers crossed it turns out
and some will arrive on your doorstep soon.

Speaking of the hubs – what a guy! He works full time, coaches the enrichment mini-golf team and still finds time to felt hats. Yes! The hats our family is wearing in our Christmas photo are all made by him! Don’t they look great with our matching boots? (I couldn’t resist trying out boot-making and I’m so tickled with the result).

Of course, no year is complete without some bout of illness. Thankfully, we avoided anything serious, but some of the family did develop a bad reaction. We narrowed it down to a bad batch of honey that we had jarred in the basement. Live and learn, right? Next time we won’t let the neighbour kids watch the hive while we run the daycamp for fetch-challenged dogs.

Well, friends, I’d love to write more, but making pasta from scratch takes more time than you’d think. Multi-tasking helps – I usually get a batch done in between dying fabric for the homemade jammies I sew each year for the kids. We are hosting the extended family this year so I’m also drywalling the basement. So glad I finished teaching my rug-hooking class last month – not sure how I’d fit it all in.

Be well, friends. Until next year!

———

Dedicated to my partner in crime since 1978, Andreeeeeee.

It Was Just a Car

It was just a car, but it was my first one. After many a misadventure in good old Gold Turismo, I had a teaching contract and new wheels. The goal was to have a reliable car that I would not be afraid to drive on the highway, preferably with a working radio – tape deck was optional, I’m no princess. This little beauty delivered.

It was just a car – a 1999 Honda Civic Special Edition. The “special” part being automatic, keyless entry and air conditioning which YES, I realize is pretty much standard now, but this was 1999. I was living the dream.

It was just a car, but it drove me safely as I garage-saled for toys and games for my very first classroom. It’s AM/FM radio helped me stay alert on the short, but at times tedious commute to school. It was the sole witness to countless laughs and serious debriefs with my carpool friends.

It was just a car, but it drove me to our wedding, on our road trip honeymoon, and across Canada one summer. With Bearded Husband behind the wheel, the Civic delivered me to the hospital when our firstborn decided to arrive one month early. Three days after, it brought home our family of three. Twenty-one months later, we made the same trip and came home with our second son.

My attempt to cover up the "au de smelly socks".
My attempt to cover up the “au de smelly socks”.

It was just a car, but it transported our babies to my childhood home where we relived the magic of Grandma and Grandpa’s house. There they played with my favourite old toys, swam in the “best” pool, and explored the creek where just moments before I was climbing trees and throwing pebbles in the water.

In the beginning, I hand washed that silver beauty every weekend.  I scrubbed the car mats to maintain the “new” smell. With time, it was cleaned less and less. Eventually, carseats replaced space for shopping bags and Cheerios littered the floor. In 1999 I never imagined that I would have spare clothes and diapers in the trunk or that I would wash down the dashboard with baby wipes. As with everything, the Civic’s time came to an end.

Confession: I am not that attached to “things”. I don’t really care about cars or electronics or having everything new and shiny. But friends, I actually cried when we decided not to repair the car and let it go to its final resting place. Real tears. And yes, Bearded Husband laughed at me. A lot. He still brings it up.

Here’s the good news, we bought a slightly used Mazda 5 and for a girl who doesn’t “really care about cars”, I LOVE that thing. So much has changed in the auto industry since 1999, I can’t even tell you. I don’t like driving much, but I make excuses to get out at night and “run some errands” (most days I have the oh-so-exciting-van) just so I can zip around. The sight lines! The seat warmers! The working rear wiper!

Can the Mazda hold as many memories and milestones as my sweet Civic did? Well, just last week I was strapping Little into his carseat and as I pulled on the tether strap, BH whipped open the driver door and clipped me RIGHT ON THE FOREHEAD. I didn’t cry, but I wanted to. Only kidney stones and labour have hurt more than that did. It’s possible that this car is enchanted, because even though my head developed a sizeable goose egg, it never bruised. Thus, I have dubbed November 30, “Mazda Miracle Day”.

RIP, Honda Civic.
RIP, Honda Civic.