Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

While I like to think I'm my own person, travelling along at my own pace and on my own path, happy with who I am, there is a part of me that wishes I was more. Why else would I look forward to January 1st every year? The promise of changes for the better, a new year and a clean slate fill me with hope and excitement. The Captain never makes resolutions for the new year, claiming it's melodramatic and we should be working on our stuff all year round. The Captain is a party pooper.
I've been giving a little thought to what I want to accomplish in 2009, and here's what I've come up with:

1. Organization: This year I will finally gain control of my space. We are overloaded with all manner of crap, the worst offender being the boxloads of books we've lugged from province to province since we were university students. The Captain is partial to his books, so getting rid of any of his collection is out of the question. However, I have many that could go. Craft books I'll never use, novels I've read and won't read again, even the odd cookbook. Thelma, the Karaoke Queen, and I are planning a joint garage sale in May. At 25 cents a pop, I'm hoping the books will fly off the table and find a new home where they'll be used and enjoyed. If not, I'll take them over to Value Village and drop them in the donation bin, then have a small thrift store spree. Either way, it's win-win. And for those books left here, it's time for a new organization system. A few new bookcases for the living room, perhaps a few tubs and bins for my crafting area, maybe I'll even get around to organizing the closets! Yes, 2009 is the year of order and method around here. I can feel it!

2. Productivity: I spend a lot of time mentally lamenting how much more crafting I'd like to be getting on with. As much as I like to think it's a time problem, it's really only partly a time problem. It's also a time management problem. With Rosemary's Baby starting nursery school one morning a week next week AND still taking a nap in the afternoon, there's really no reason I can't get the boring housework done and have a little time left over to make some cards, knit my kids sweaters or do a little beading. And I do already know the way to accomplish this. After I've checked my email in the morning (and updated my blog, of course!), the computer needs to stay off. No more floating around cyberspace while I have another cup of coffee, reading about the profound religious beliefs of celebrities, looking at ballgowns I'll never have occasion to wear, or checking out new card and earring designs I could try (okay, maybe I'll still do that one on occasion). The internet is a colossal time-waster, and I need to start using it only to my advantage. Web Sudoku probably doesn't fall into that category, does it?

3. Newness: The Captain commented a few evenings back that this blog is the first new thing I've tried in years. I argued back that I used a different fruitcake recipe this holiday season (it was dry and dreadful), to which he replied that this was not exactly what he meant. And it's true. If we don't try new things, we do run the risk of our brains turning to jello, so I plan to make a conscious effort to look for new and interesting experiences in 2009. I've made a good start by ending 2008 with my first trip down a toboggan hill in over 20 years (Firstborn laughed all the way down. I screamed like a girl.), and I have begun to explore the world more with my new camera. Feel free to make suggestions, but I refuse to jump out of anything or encase myself in a barrel. Let's keep the new experiences at least physically safe, shall we?

And I think I should stop there. That's not very many resolutions, but they're all pretty involved, and I'd like to be successful this year.
I hope my (3) loyal readers are successful in their New Year's resolutions, and have a happy and healthy 2009. Restrain yourself, people. It's January!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot

When I was a little girl living in England, New Year's Eve was the best day of the whole year. We always spent Christmas at home in Essex, but on the 31st, we'd pack up our enormous family, hop on the train for the 3-hour trek to Oxford and stay overnight with our grandparents, Nanny and Bampy, who had a party every year without fail. New Year's Eve also happened to be Nanny's birthday, so I'm thinking that probably had a lot to do with this tradition as well. However, I cannot ever remember seeing a birthday cake or hearing anyone sing Happy Birthday to her. I don't even remember ever bringing her a gift (though I seriously doubt my mother would've turned up without one). But there was often a gift from Nanny for us.
On New Year's Eve 1981, I received my first knitting book. My sister got her first cookbook from the same series, and we both still have those books to this day. My knitting book was full of patterns for toys, doll clothes, handy kitchen items, a patchwork blanket, and (thrill of thrills!) a bag with a buckle closure!
Nanny was a master knitter. I remember her making clothes for my Sindy doll. I was enthralled by how she could come to the end of a coat or dress and have it hanging off the needles looking almost like the finished product, hardly needing anything in the way of sewing-together. Whenever I saw this, I aspired to one day be a skilled enough knitter to do the same thing. And guess what--now I can do it too.
My mum taught me to cast on, knit and cast off when I was seven. Nanny showed me how to purl, and how to make the pretty, lacy pattern that adorns the bottom of Sindy's first wedding dress (Sindy had a couple. In this day and age, a girl must be realistic). Often, when I'm knitting, I wonder how far back these skills went and where they originated in my family history. I'm glad to be able to carry them on for one more generation, but wonder if it'll stop here, since I don't have any girls of my own (not that knitting is only for girls, of course). For the time being, I'll keep knitting and loving it and perhaps one day I'll have the opportunity to pass the skills on to someone else, paying it forward and keeping an old tradition alive.
If my math is correct, Nanny would have been 94 today. Tonight, I will remember to celebrate her as well as the ringing in of the New Year.
Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Big Recap

Isn't the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve the best one of the whole year? You have a perfectly good excuse to hit the stores (because the sales are so great) AND a perfectly good excuse to stay home (because it's the holidays). There's still New Year's Eve to look forward to (the food, the outfit, the HANDBAG!) and, most importantly, the insanity we parents call "Santa" has passed for another blissful year!
So, here are the highlights of our crazy Christmas. I doubt there will be any heartwarming made-for-tv movies based on it next holiday season, but it was all ours and we liked it just fine.
The kids let us sleep in until 8 yesterday, and they were still pretty excited about the moderate number of gifts under the tree this year (we pared back all-round in an attempt to not set a precedent of shameful excess for future holidays). Firstborn's favourite stocking stuffer, the lowly whoopie cushion (a name he was simply unable to grasp, preferring the more obvious "fart bag") only lasted an hour before someone sat on it with a touch too much enthusiasm and split the seam. Frankly, no one was that disappointed.
Firstborn did his Christmas shopping at a kids' Christmas party at our local MFRC, where volunteers had raided the thrift store. The Captain was thrilled with his "I Love Bingo" mug (I'm pretty sure the Captain has never actually PLAYED Bingo) and I'm looking forward to a quiet evening watching my VHS copy of "Save the Last Dance" starring the lovely and talented Julia Stiles. I think this hilarity may have been the highlight of my Christmas.
The turkey was delicious (dark meat, anyone?!), but it became apparent 5 minutes before dinner was served that we had no more jars of my homemade cranberry chutney in the pantry, and no fresh or frozen cranberries to even whip up a quick batch of homemade sauce, so we had to make do with extra gravy. The Captain sarcastically thanked me for ruining Christmas and life went on, sans canneberge. A search through the fridge later turned up 3 tbsp in the bottom of an old jar. Note to self: clean out fridge more regularly.
After our early Christmas dinner, we all waddled back to the living room, stuffed to the gills, and flopped onto the couch. I enjoyed a pleasant read of my new knitting magazines (thanks Mom!), the Captain faded in and out of consciousness, and the kids plotted world domination. Or something.
By the time Rosemary's Baby's bedtime rolled around, we were all ready to put this Christmas behind us. I've never seen Firstborn so lippy. Both kids, in gorgeous new fleece pyjamas from Sister #1, went to bed crying, completely overstimulated and without dessert, not that any of us had room for it anyway.
And this is where the fun began. We poured ourselves a drink, flopped back onto the couch (I'm hitting the treadmill today. Seriously.) and watched some of the new TV the Captain brought back from his course with him. I was already enamoured with Alton Brown, so it was fun to be reacquainted with him, and to learn how to make a decadent 4-layer coconut cake. Then I was introduced to someone new to love, and his name is House. I'm not sure what took me so long to see this show. I've also for many years loved Hugh Laurie. The English, silly, funny Hugh Laurie (fun fact: Hugh Laurie and I were born in the same city). But this is a whole new Hugh Laurie. Brash, arrogant, American. You'd think that might be a turn-off, but I found myself completely besotted. Who knew?!
And now the celebration continues. We have almost a week of working up to the big par-tay, which will include a fake countdown to midnight at 7PM for the benefit of the children, and then several hours of the Captain and me desperately trying to stay awake in front of the TV to ring in the new year properly. We have failed 2 years in a row now, so despite the mounds of food and drink I have planned, we'll need something really good to keep us up that late.
I'm putting my money on House.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All I Want for Christmas...is a Bunch of Unattainable Pipe Dreams!

Excitement is high around here today. Firstborn is back to talking about wanting Santa to bring him a Jack-in-the-Box (do you have any idea how hard it is to find a Jack-in-the-Box in the year 2008?!) and Rosemary's Baby is running around without any pants on (nothing new there). It has been decided that Santa will be treated to a mince pie and a beer this evening, and no one seems to have any worries about him getting stuck in the chimney and having to be pulled out by the RCMP, so it's all good.
I know I've already posted my Christmas wishlist, so I won't regale you with more consumer-driven gift requests. But here are a few other things that I think would come in really handy right about now.

1. Polygamy. No, I'm not talking about the creepy stuff going on in BC with all that victimization of young girls and whatnot. Eww. But an extra husband around the place could potentially be really helpful. Between the truck that still needs a new turn signal, and the 2 broken vacuum cleaners in the garage, another husband could potentially double the productivity around here. Of course, since the Captain's return home, the mess and clutter have also doubled, leaving lots more work for me. It's actually kind of like having another child. So I guess it's really a double-edged sword...

2. Six More Hours In My Day. Oh, to have just a little more time. The cards I could make! The sleep I could get! If it was a toss-up between more money and more time, I'd take the time, hands-down.

3. Immunization from all Winter-Related Illnesses. What is it about this time of year? The germs run rampant at school, and they all seem to make their way back here. Last winter, I got three stomach bugs. It was gross, and completely unheard of for me. It may not have helped that we had a four-month-long kitchen renovation in the Captain's convenient absence, but the introduction of school into our lives hasn't helped matters either. Life's a whole lot easier when you're healthy. More fun too.

4. Toilet Training. Firstborn was a slow toilet trainer. He was well on his way to four before he started showing any interest, but once it happened, that was pretty much it--toilet training was taken care of. I didn't expect Rosemary's Baby to be any different, and he still has a few months to go before I expect him to start showing a bit of interest. But after five years of cloth diapers, I'm starting to feel a little impatient. Recently, Rosemary's Baby informed me "Mu-mee, I wan go pee!" The excitement! The jubilation! The 20 straight minutes of watching him grin naughtily at me as he sat there on the toilet doing absolutely nothing! I'm pretty sure he did it on purpose to get a reaction. He's good at that.

5. Peace on Earth. Sounds like an honourable Christmas wish, right? No, I'm just being selfish. I absolutely recognize the need for Canadian troops to be in places like Afghanistan, protecting those who can't protect themselves, and who didn't ask to be placed in the horrific situation they're in. However, what I'd really like is for the world to kiss and make up so I don't have to wave goodbye to the Captain (and many of our friends) as they head into a war zone next year. I'd like the friends we have overseas right now to come home safely and be with their families for Christmas.

None of this will be under my tree tomorrow, of course. But that doesn't mean I won't get some really meaningful gifts for myself. The kids' excitement when they realize Santa did indeed come, the fun of watching them open their gifts, and the playing-out of the various traditions we've created for ourselves over the years will fill me with Christmas cheer. That other stuff would just be a really nice bonus.
Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's A(nother) Celebration!

Here at 2kids, 2dogs, we like to celebrate the little things. And this last week, I got quite a lot done. Granted, those sewing projects I swore were my top priority still exist only in my head, and I have yet to set foot in Michaels, but I did accomplish a couple of things I'm happy about.
For the last 12 Decembers, the Captain has been nagging me to create an angel topper for our tree. He had one growing up that he thought I could replicate pretty easily, and I promised I'd get on it...12 years in a row. Well, I finally got around to it. I'm ashamed to admit it only took about 2 hours in total to complete. It was a piece of cake, and now it sits atop our tree as if it had always been there. So, to reward myself (because when it takes you 12 years to complete one simple task, don't you deserve a reward?!), I made myself a pair of pretty beaded earrings with some tiny grey swarovski crystals I got on sale this past fall, using some tree ornaments I made as my template.
And in even bigger news, the Captain has something to celebrate too, other than his lazy wife taking 12 years to make him the only crafted item he's ever requested of her.
For those who don't know him, the Captain is a lot like Eeyore. He's perpetually gloomy. He also gets a little blustery when I share personal information about him on my blog. And when I say "personal" I mean terribly sensitive things like how his return home after months away might create a little short-term friction while we all adjust, or that he likes to grumble about things. Sheesh. You'd think I was telling the world that he likes to cross dress, or eat kittens for breakfast (he does neither of those things, just in case you were wondering).
So, he'll undoubtedly want to give me a lecture after I share this exciting piece of news, but it's no big deal. When he starts up, I will mentally retreat to a place he likes to call "Cut-And-Paste Land", where cards and beaded jewelry designs dance through my head until I become aware that he's stopped talking, and take the cue to nod solemnly and agree with whatever it was he was just telling me.
The Captain, being the Captain, isn't big on tooting his own horn. So it should really come as no surprise that he waited until days after his return home to casually mention to me that he finished his course this month with the notable distinction of being "Top Candidate". In the army, they like to rank people. It's an army thing. So being ranked number one out of 14 is like getting an A+. It means he worked hard and did an exceptional job. For most of us, it'd be fun, perhaps even a little thrilling. For the Captain, it's something he'd just like to keep under his hat. So, lucky for him, he has me to do all the shouting and celebrating, or no one would ever know.
In celebration, I will make something good for dessert. Something HE considers good. Something a pastry chef would make, that doesn't involve pouring melted caramels over Ritz crackers (I was not born in North America, but I have enthusiastically adopted the North American culinary tradition as my own, much to the Captain's food-snob dismay). The kids and I will attempt to sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" as dessert comes out, and he will roll his eyes, grumble a little more, then dig in, wishing he hadn't told me anything, but hopefully at least knowing that we are proud of our Top Candidate.
We will undoubtedly find more to celebrate as the holiday season continues. We have a few friends dropping by for a meal and some fun tomorrow night, and my stylish (read: expensive--thank goodness for vision coverage) new Calvin Klein glasses will be ready for pickup on Monday. Stay tuned for my riveting musings on such topics as Santa, turkey-stuffing, new year's resolutions, and whether or not the Captain and I can break our 2-year streak of falling asleep on the couch by 11:30 on the 31st. Never a dull moment.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Going to Jail at Christmas for Murdering Your Spouse? Priceless.

I've mentioned in the past that the media makes a big fat lie out of the military reunion. Those unaccustomed to the reality of the situation see the hugs and kisses and miss the part where he messes up the house with his stuff and causes fights and arguments with his inability to just blend into the life we've created without him.
It's not that I'm not glad he's home. And in a week, we'll all be back to normal. The mess won't be so irritating. His need to comment on every little thing I say or do will have died down a bit. We'll both have mellowed some (because I admit, it's not just him). But for right now, I'm having to strongly resist the urge to hit him over the head with our cast-iron frying pan.
So, what's a girl to do when the Captain comes home and presses all the wrong buttons? Luckily for me, the answer is a fun one. I'm going shopping!
That's right. Having been through all this before, I anticipated these problems and made sure of two important things: we have no groceries, and I still have a little Christmas shopping to do. Check Mate!
So, tomorrow I will head out the door early in the morning, coffee in hand, leaving the Captain in charge of Firstborn and Rosemary's Baby. I will undoubtedly come home to find everyone still in their pyjamas, the breakfast dishes piled high, and evidence of some messy new project of the Captain's all over the counter, but no matter. For the few hours I am out of the house, listening to whatever I please on the radio, shopping wherever I like, and picking myself up a few bucks' worth of small, fun items, knowing that I don't have to be back by a certain time, my brain and body will return to its long-forgotten zen-like state, probably reducing my chances of having a heart attack this Christmas by half.
I'll make a few stops at places I normally wouldn't bother with if I had the kids with me, like the wine-making store and the liquor store (is anyone sensing a theme to my festivities this holiday season?). I might even get a rare, uninterrupted trip around Michaels! And if I time it right, I may even cap off the outing with a quick, delicious trip through the Burger King Drive-Thru on my way back out of town.
Hmmmm...better forget that thing I said about the heart attack.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Celebrate Good Times...C'mon...

I have this memory of myself as a teenager making a chocolate cake out of an ancient cookbook I still use to this day for my mum's birthday. It might be good to mention here that, until I met the Captain, cooking of any kind was limited to heating up something in the microwave. My mum wasn't big on it. Having been forced at a horrifically early age to cook for her family, then going on to have a husband and seven children of her own to feed, cooking never felt like much fun. So the first time I went over to the Captain's place and watched him make me french onion soup, my jaw dropped. He never even picked up a can opener!
You can imagine what this cake ended up looking (and tasting) like. The icing was too runny, so when I tried to spell out "Happy Birthday" in red, on a sheet of green icing, what I ended up with was a drippy brownish blur. Between that and the fact that the cake had the consistency of a brick, by today's standards, I'd have considered it a disaster. But my mum at least acted thrilled (it may have been the sugar rush), saying no one had ever made her a birthday cake before. I like to think that my skills both in the kitchen and in the area of homemade gifts have vastly improved since that time.
And, in a completely unrelated story, today the Captain makes his victorious return home! The kids are beyond excited and I'm going to have to find a way to keep them occupied until after dinner, when we can finally go pick him up. I guess it'll be good practice for Christmas Eve. Groan...
So, today we have two reasons to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Mum! I hope you like the knitted nativity scene. And welcome home, Captain! Please don't dump your crap everywhere and drive me crazy for the next 3 weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It Just Isn't Christmas Until You Insult an Obnoxious Celebrity

Firstborn is home sick today, and Rosemary's Baby decided it was time to get up and come jump on my bed at 4AM, so I'm a little dizzy this morning (or is it afternoon?). Since the day is obviously a write-off, I thought I'd get started on my end-of-year greeting letters. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Dear Mr. Cruise,

Can I call you Tom? On second thought, let's not get too familiar. I'm a little afraid you'll lure me into the Scientology Celebrity Center and my friends and family will never hear from me again.
First there was the couch-jumping incident. Then came the forcing of your adorable third wife to give birth to her first child with no drugs and in complete silence (you really ought to have been there when, after 26 hours of labour and 4 hours of pushing, Firstborn's enormous head finally emerged, ripping half my insides out with it, to understand how truly and deeply this offends me). Recently I read that you showered your toddler with a Manhattan penthouse of her very own (I just picked up a great pair of dollar store binoculars for Rosemary's Baby's stocking!). Before the days when we all knew your opinions on...everything, I was naive enough to believe that there might be a celebrity or two out there who wasn't completely, utterly and outright CRAZY. Thank you for setting me straight.

Sincerely,
Someone who has no patience for your nonsense.

P.S. Please reconsider your stance on Ritalin. I think it could really help you.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Best Gift of All is Time

Am I the only one who feels like there just aren't enough hours in the day anymore? No matter how focussed I am on getting all the drudgery around here completed, turning off the computer so as to completely avoid all time-sucking distractions, it just seems like there's always one more thing to do before I can move onto anything fun.
Well, yesterday, I decided it was the season of giving. And what I wanted to give myself was a new apron (I know how uninspired and pathetic that sounds). I've been wearing the same filthy, homemade denim apron in the kitchen for about 5 years now. When I put it on, the Captain never misses the opportunity to make fun of me. The thing is a little too short (or so the Captain says--this doesn't actually bother me since I rarely slop soy sauce on my legs while cooking), and it's covered in all manner of things that never came out in the wash. I realize that's the point of an apron, but for a while now I've felt it was time for a new one. And then, in an unexpected turn of events that found Firstborn swinging Spiderman-style from my hanging apron and suddenly landing with a crash on the floor, apron left securely hanging, but apron-strings still firmly grasped in his hands, the need for a new one became a little more urgent (thanks, Firstborn!).
So, instead of folding my 40th load of laundry yesterday, I dropped everything and headed downstairs to my craft area for a little fun with the sewing machine. As I've mentioned before, crafters seem to end up with a lot of stuff. And, as such, I have a couple of tubs of fabric that need to be used up. As it turned out, once I'd picked the polka-dot fabric that would protect my clothes from the inevitable circles of grease that always seem to mysteriously land on my stomach, regardless of what I'm making, the whole project didn't even take me an hour to complete. And, as with all successful sewing projects, I now feel I'm on a bit of a roll. I've caught the bug, so to speak.
I have some lovely, bright crepe-backed satin downstairs that my mom sent me some time back to make some dressy tops for the Captain's various formal events. I did make a couple but I didn't use up all the fabric. So today, I'm in the mood to make something a little festive. Something dressier than my usual t-shirt, but that can be worn with jeans or pants to a casual holiday party. Something a little like this, or maybe this. I've already gone through the ridiculous number of patterns I own and I have some ideas, so I'll let you all know how it turns out.
If this one ends up being a success, there's a good chance I'll spend the rest of the week in the zone, sewing and crafting to my little heart's content. Then, on Friday night, I'll realize I'm less than 24 hours away from the Captain's triumphant return home, and the craze of scrubbing and sweeping will begin. I will have come full-circle and be right back where I started, needing just a few more hours in my day to get me through.
But until then, let the sewing frenzy begin.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Part 3

Is anyone sick of me making lists yet? Because I've spent the last day or so wandering around the house taking pictures of a few of my favourite already-received gifts from Christmases past, and a few other occasions. And here they are:


Bags of all sorts, from homemade (note the red dog print lining on the black tote!) to functional to fun. Some people just know what I like.


Things that make me feel like I'm eating out, when I actually live 45 minutes from the nearest restaurant, are always a good bet. The napkin holder was made by Sister #3 in shop class when she was a wee thing, and graces my holiday table every year without fail, despite the fact that no one in this pig pen would ever actually think to use a napkin.

Books (or gift cards that allow us to buy books--thanks Brother #1!). Where would we be without them?

Some groovy shoe-gifts from the Captain.



Nothing says "I Love You" like a homemade gift from the heart!



I never leave the house without these.



And there are many more, of course. The camera I received on my last birthday couldn't be photographed without me having to include myself in the mirror-shot, and you should see what I look like right now. No. No you shouldn't.
I hereby promise to lay off the lists for at least a couple of days.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

...And These are a Few More!

Oprah has nothing on me. One special a year on her favourite things? Come on. I could do this all month!
Of course, what I couldn't do is give everyone thousands of dollars worth of my favourite things to take home. So I guess we'll say Oprah and I are even. For now.
I've gotten to a point in life where I don't actually ask for Christmas presents anymore. The Captain likes to come up with his own stuff for me, and I have various agreements with various family members on what our gift exchange should look like. Sadly, none of those agreements result in me getting to ask anyone for expensive booty. I think that's called being a grown-up.
Anyway, as I may have mentioned, I'm all about the lists. So, without further adieu, here is a list of items Santa would leave under my tree if I wasn't on his Naughty list:

The Grey Handbag: A few days back, I came across a picture of my latest dream purse. Like Alice after the White Rabbit, I followed it through cyberspace until I came to its present abode. A little place called Nordstrom. And that says it all. I can't, nor will I ever be able to, afford a $950 bag. But the good news is that I'm not snobby about these things! I like the fashion magazines, and one thing I find fun about them is that I can find something I love for a horrendous, wasteful amount of money, and then recreate the look (more or less) with a quick trip to GT Boutique, the Superstore and Wal Mart. I like to think of it as ingenuity.

The Cuttlebug: I go back and forth on this. Every time I walk down the paper craft aisle at Wal Mart, I ask myself "Should I?" Thus far, the answer has been no. I'm not doing enough cardmaking at present to justify spending the money. Between Christmas, kids, dogs and life, I haven't had a lot of time for crafts. That will change at some point, and eventually I'll get my Cuttlebug. But for now, I'm like the kid with his nose pressed up against the store window, dreaming about some toy and how it'll transform his life.

The Long Sweater: Those who know me say I'm tall. I'm no Amazon, but I do have a little trouble finding tops that reach low enough not to show off my flabby belly and stretch marks if I need to raise my arms upwards or lift a toddler onto my hip. So, when my beloved fashion magazines started featuring women in dress-length sweaters, I was overjoyed. I hit the Superstore to find one just chunky enough to look chunky but without all that added bulk that a woman my age simply doesn't need. Sadly, that sweater was nowhere to be found 50 feet away from the cabbages and slabs of cream cheese. I fear I'll have to venture into the mall to find what I'm looking for, perhaps during the January sales.

Nigella Christmas: Don't you love Nigella? I swear by her baking book. It's literally my baking bible. Everything in it is what food tastes like in heaven. Or so I imagine. So when I saw this new book being advertised, then heard that Sister #1 has actually bought it, my inner foodie started jumping up and down, yelling "Can I have it? Can I have it?" Then my inner mom snapped back irritably "No. You can wait for a scratch-and-dent!"

The Cluster Ring: Ever since I saw Sleepless in Seattle, I've wanted one of these rings. They're big(ish), sparkly and look-what's-on-my-finger pretty. Let me reiterate here that I'm no snob. Sterling silver and some cubic zirconias will do me fine. I can pull off fake. I'm just that fabulous.

So now I either need to trick the Captain into thinking he came up with these ideas on his own, or find a way to justify buying them myself. Or, I could find myself a wealthy benefactor who wants to shower me with gifts, just for being me.
C'mon Oprah, whadda ya say?


These are a Few of My Favourite Things

Well, we're in holiday mode here on the farm. The house smells like baking (and sometimes diapers), the last of the Christmas mail has gone out, and Firstborn is excitedly adding an ornament to the advent calendar every morning, feverishly awaiting #13, the snowman, because he knows that this is the day Daddy comes home. By early next week, we should have a Christmas tree and a decorated living room. We have kid-oriented celebrations to attend both this weekend and next, with a grown-up party to get me out of the house in between. Christmastime is here!
Now, you know I love a good list. It's the nerd in me. I was reading a magazine last night that suggested I make a list of all the things I love about Christmas and focus on those, getting rid of the stresses and things I do only out of obligation or a feeling that I should, because I always have before. Though I think we can all agree that eliminating the Christmas stress is unrealistic, it doesn't mean we can't all make an effort to lean towards the parts of the holiday that make us happy. So, with that in mind, I give you my favourite things about the holidays:

Food and Drink: I'm not much of a drinker, and this only changes slightly over the holidays, with the occasional glass of wine after the kids are in bed, or at a party if I'm not driving. But there's something decadent about knowing I can slip a little Baileys into my morning coffee or drink fatty eggnog spiked with rum in front of the TV on Christmas Eve, sans guilt. I do go a little overboard at Christmas with the baking. Sometimes at Easter, we're still forcing down Christmas fruitcake that would otherwise make a lovely doorstop. But, despite the tragic no-more-sweets pleas of the Captain as he slips into a diabetic coma, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without shortbread, mince pies, squares of all kinds and steamed pudding with custard. The fact that I also add a lot of deep-fried finger-foods to the menu on New Year's Eve does not help my waistline, or my marriage. But it keeps the self-indulgent, overstuffed spirit of the season alive until I wake up on January 1st, swearing I'll never go that mad again.

Gifts: No, I don't mean the ones addressed to me. I'll save that topic for my next post! I'm talking, of course, about the look on Firstborn's and Rosemary's Baby's faces at about 5AM on Christmas morning. The stockings waiting to be emptied, the overflowing pile under the tree, and the giggles and squeals (and impromptu dance numbers) that stem from a month of anticipation in the brains of little people who still think it all got there because a chubby guy in red squeezed his butt down our filthy chimney. Magic.

Music: Have I mentioned we got Sirius this year?! There's a whole station dedicated to Christmas numbers. It's been going since Halloween, and if I hear one more version of Grown Up Christmas List, I'm going to cancel Christmas altogether. But when I opened up the box of decorations this week, I found a whole bunch of mysterious, shiny discs. They were small, almost compact. That's right! The age-old CD's have come back out to play, so to speak. Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, various choirs and orchestras. Nothing ushers in that festive atmosphere for me like the Christmas music I grew up with. Besides, the satellite radio was starting to smoke from overuse anyway. I can abuse it again in January.

Crafts(!!!): I've made a point of making my own cards and ornaments for the last few years, and my skills are slowly improving. Actually, to confess something a little embarrassing, I already have some of NEXT YEAR'S cards made. I love it that much! Last night, Firstborn and I decorated a large paper ornament for the school theatre with our family name and some punched snowflakes and glitter. It was a fun way to spend time together, and I only glued my fingers together once. Okay, fine. Twice. I'm klutzy.

Books: The Captain and I always order a huge box of books from Book Closeouts at this time of year. We also usually stick a new magazine in each other's stocking for fun (um, thanks for Women's Health last year dear, but can I suggest a fashion or crafts mag?! Love you!!). And then we spend the whole holiday drinking coffee and reading while the kids break all their new toys. Heaven!
***
Reading back over that, I realize what a North American consumption junkie I must sound like. So, to clear things up, I should admit that what I'm looking most forward to this year is having my little family together, just relaxing at home and enjoying what we have, not needing expensive gifts, and creating memories to last us until the next one. For Christmas 2009, the Captain will be in Afghanistan, so I plan to make this one count.
Happy Holidays!


Monday, December 1, 2008

The Season of Giving is Here!

Sorry to the two or three of you who actually read this stuff and expect a new post in a timely fashion. The end of November/beginning of December is crazy around here. Between the mail-outs, preparing for the Captain's triumphant (and likely noisy) return home, and Rosemary's Baby turning three this past weekend (yes, it's true. Be very afraid), the posts that have been forming in the back of my mind have had to stay there temporarily. But fear not, I have lots in store this holiday season!
In the interest of paying it forward, I must tell you about a blog I love. It's called 2BKrafty and it is the brainchild of the fabulous Janine, who just happens to live in my old stomping grounds of Southwestern Ontario. Now, I'm about to risk sounding like an exciteable 12 year-old at the Twilight premiere here, but this lady's creations are AWESOME!! She is a serious stamper and her blog inspires and amazes every single day. This week Janine announced that she was hosting a cookie recipe exchange, and up until I saw this, I was having serious difficulty figuring out what the heck to give Firstborn's teacher for Christmas. After a devastating experience with a bad batch of apple butter this past fall, I decided that no one will be receiving my trademark jams and pickles this year, just to be on the safe side. And having been a classroom teacher in my former life, I wasn't about to load the poor woman down with her umpteenth scented candle or dollar store coffee mug (not that those things aren't appreciated). So, when I read Janine's post, I got straight to work.
Being a recycler of everything, I set myself up a little challenge of sorts. As many crafters can attest, being crafty and having a whole lot of stuff go hand-in-hand. So I decided that for my projects this holiday season, be they knitting, paper crafts or beading, I will only use what I already have at my disposal here--no running out to buy anything new! I used a burgundy-coloured, child-sized shoebox, to which I affixed 2 different lengths of blue ribbon (which also covered up the unsightly brand name logos all over the box!). I then attached a tag I made with some cardstock and a punch from Stampin' Up, some gold card that came in a bar of chocolate (yeah, seriously) and I punched out 3 snowflakes from a paint sample I've had kicking around that just happened to match the colour of the shoebox (Janine, I hope you're not having a heart attack yet). I finished it off with 3 dots of gold glitter on the snowflakes (I really wanted some gold brads here, but that's the problem with setting up no-buying rules beforehand) and one of my own homemade beaded Christmas ornaments. It's definitely not the professional quality I've grown accustomed to seeing on 2BKrafty, but I'm pretty sure Firstborn's teacher will be suitably impressed.
As for the recipe, I've also veered off in my own direction and decided to include 2 different baked goods (and I'm considering squeezing in a third if I can find the time to do more baking), one being a basic fudge brownie recipe, and the other being New Zealand Shortbread, which is a Christmas tradition in our house, and an old family recipe. I'll assume you can read between the lines here and guess that when I say "family", I mean the Captain's family, since my family is just as happy to hit the grocery store and pick up a jumbo tin of custard creams.
For anyone out there interested in making herself a small batch of New Zealand Shortbread (and I do highly recommend them), I give you the recipe:

3/4 cup butter, softened
6 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Mix well and press 3/4 of the mixture into a buttered and floured 8x8 baking dish. Set aside remaining mix.
Combine the following and cook either over low heat or in the microwave until the mixture is smooth:
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp corn syrup
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pour mixture over shortbread in the pan and crumble remaining shortbread mix over condensed milk mixture. Bake at 350F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. When completely cool, cut into 16 squares.

This recipe can be doubled, and if you don't want to find yourself sneaking spoonfuls of the remaining 1/2 can of condensed milk when no one's looking, I suggest you make a double batch. They do freeze well.
So there you have it, I've participated in a fun recipe exchange and figured out a great gift for a deserving teacher. Not bad for a day's work!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's a Dog's Life

For some odd reason, American Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate time for an embarrassing confession: we bought our house, and the five acres on which it sits, for the dogs.
Don't get me wrong. We like the place, and the privacy. There's nothing quite like heading out back to hang laundry on a hot July afternoon, wearing a dirty old t-shirt and your fat pants and belting out the entire score of Grease, secure in the certainty that no one will ever know.
But the driving force behind purchasing such a property, with its hours and hours of lawn-cutting, pipes that freeze every winter, and garden that needs constant attention all summer long, was having a place where our dogs could run free.
After 3 years of moving from military base to military base, and living in married quarters with nothing more than an unfenced postage stamp for a backyard, Rusty and Jerome were getting a little on the portly side. Letting them off-leash was a bit of an iffy enterprise because they were never what you'd call well-behaved around other people or animals. So when we drove up the driveway for the first time and saw the side field, the enormous yard and the complete lack of visible neighbours, we knew we'd found the perfect doghouse.
It sounds ridiculous, I know, and before owning animals, I'd have rolled my eyes at such a prospect. But despite the fact that they sneak food from the kids' plates, they embarrass us everywhere we go with their naughtiness, and we have to toss them out back or into the garage anytime we have guests over because of the barking and jumping, to me they're worth every penny we owe on the place and every hassle that comes with it.
While I never took the dogs in with the idea that I'd need them for protection, they provide just that. With the Captain gone as much as he is, having two large, noisy dogs pretty much guarantees that no one could break in here while we're sleeping. By the time the axe-murderer got one leg through the window, there'd be a snarling Rottweiler waiting for him on the other side. Having Rusty and Jerome wandering around the place allows me to sleep peacefully at night.
But it's more than just that, even. We rescued our dogs. Jerome was a tiny puppy when he was found in a sewer grate. The runt of the litter, he was unable to keep up with his mother and littermates when they ran for it after being discovered by some hikers, and he was scooped up and taken in by a rescue foundation. That same foundation helped us to add Rusty to our little family a year later. Her story was more heartbreaking. She was rescued from a local SPCA shelter after being picked up as a starving 6 month-old stray and was never claimed. At some point in those first 6 months of her life, some monster shot her in the face with a pellet gun. The plastic pellet remains lodged in her head to this day. And I guess when you look at the luxuries they enjoy--the enormous yard, free run of the house, daily tooth brushing and grooming (yes, it's true), expensive shots, checkups and parasite prevention treatments every spring without fail, and treats galore--you might get the idea that they won the canine jackpot. And in a sense, you might be right.
But in reality, they rescued us. We were a childless couple running on a pointless treadmill before they came along. We were too exhausted to get any exercise, and too focussed on our jobs, our place and our money worries to realize there was so much more out there. And then one day this little black Border Collie moved in, dropped his hair everywhere, peed on the carpet, barked like a maniac and ran and ran and ran, never getting tired, until we finally had to drag him, and ourselves, home. We never realized there was that much love in the world, let alone inside us. Our dogs prepared us for the chaos, the mess and the exhaustion of having kids. They taught us that it's better not to live a perfect, hermetically-sealed existence, to stop and smell the roses (or someone else's crotch, if that's more your thing), and that life always looks a little better after a good, long nap.
Rusty and Jerome are now both seven years old. I know they won't be with us forever, but what they've taught us will. And for that, I am thankful.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pardon Me While I Collapse From Exhaustion

I have reached my breaking point.
This happens every time the Captain goes away. For the first few days, I'm dealing with a child with separation anxiety and trying to make things consistent. Then, for the bulk of the separation, I'm in my groove, getting things done, falling into comfortable routines, occasionally dropping Rosemary's Baby with a sitter so I can have a day to buy groceries and get a head start on the Christmas shopping. And then the last 3 weeks is upon me and my body realizes I'm in the home stretch and gives me permission to give in to the exhaustion. This is where the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan.
When my brain catches up and realizes my body is screaming "ENOUGH!!", it wants to help me out. And I love it for that. Unfortunately, in these situations (and many others), my brain is like a friend who means well with her indulge-yourself advice, but just ends up getting me into trouble, and lots of it. When I want to sit on the kitchen floor and blubber for an hour about how I just want the Captain to come home and take me on a date to Boston Pizza, instead of reminding me I'm mere DAYS away from sitting on the couch with him watching Dexter and eating cheesy popcorn, my brain says "You know what? I think you deserve a new wardrobe!" And that's no good.
And you know what I learned this evening? I'm not the only one.
Many, many moons ago, when the Captain and I were first married, he was working 60 hours a week at a local newspaper, making sweatshop wages, and I was in school full-time and working at a horrible little coffee shop in a mall until all hours and making next to nothing as well. We had rent to pay, tuition to scrape together and the dream that someday we'd be able to afford our very own acreage in the middle of nowhere. Some nights, he'd come pick me up and we'd hem and haw about whether we should go through the Wendy's Drive-Thru. We knew we shouldn't be spending the $8 (or eating greasy fries at 11PM), but when you're that tired and that demoralized, it's hard to be sensible. So we'd get our burgers and go back to our cruddy 70's throwback of an apartment (vinyl-cushioned walls and a pull-out shuffleboard, anyone?!), watch Letterman and wonder if it'd ever get better. And this is just like that.
The Captain told me tonight he was trying to keep his eating-out to once a week, but it wasn't hard to read between the lines. After nearly 2 months of heating himself up an instant Hamburger Helper in his depressing room every time he got hungry, his resistance was wearing thin. He misses us and he's exhausted too, and in the back of his mind, there's a voice telling him to give in and indulge in the only thing he has at his disposal to make it all better: delicious restaurant eats.
So, how to make it through the final few weeks without blowing the budget and creating even more stress when the Captain does finally waltz back in and dump his stuff everywhere? Sadly, it seems the only answer is boring old willpower.
But I have lots to do before the Captain returns. A house to clean, dogs to bathe, kids to keep alive. And if I can focus hard enough on this, I SHOULD be able to avoid the shopping spree that will undoubtedly work against me in the divorce proceedings. And then perhaps our military family reunion will be easy and pleasant.
That is, unless he's eating a porterhouse right now.



Friday, November 21, 2008

Hi. I'm Knitwit, and I'm a Purse-a-holic.

I've already admitted to having a shoe obsession, so you must've known this was coming. No one is obsessed with shoes and NOT also obsessed with purses. They're sister obsessions.
I was attempting to get Rosemary's Baby and Firstborn bundled up for our monthly pilgrimage to the town dump this morning, and couldn't figure out why the closet door was having such trouble sliding along its track. When I looked down, the reason became abundantly clear. The enormous Rubbermaid tub which houses my handbag stash was overflowing to the point that one had slid off the pile and was stopping the door from closing properly. After carefully placing the bag back onto the purse hill (remember Homer and the garbage pile?), quickly closing the door before everything fell out again, and loading the kids into the car, I got to thinking. Could it be time to get rid of a few of my purses?
Like shoes, purses do not require you to lose 5 lbs in order to use them. They can be switched quickly and easily to complement your current outfit. And a bag with numerous zippers and pockets can fool you into believing that you've finally found the one thing that will help you to organize your life. This last one is key for me. I live in chaos, and when I walk past those shops at the mall that specialize in purses, wallets and luggage, I don't see a store bursting with stuff that'll add more clutter to my already cluttered existence. I see the possibility of my life finally becoming ordered and methodical. It's a pipe dream, and an ironic one at that. Adding more stuff to my life will never make it simple, and for this reason, it's time to get rid of what I don't use and start using what I've already got.
I do go through the jumble from time to time and find an old one I'd like to switch back to, but for the most part, it's a tub of bags that, if I'm brutally honest, will probably never see the light of day again. A lot of them are products of my craftiness--something I've crocheted or whipped up on the sewing machine. If I had to pick only one type of project to complete for the rest of my life, indeed it would be the purse. It's quick, the possibilities are infinite, and it's useful. Others are super cheapies I've nabbed at places like Giant Tiger or Value Village for under ten bucks. The third category would be souvenirs. I've learned the hard way that china mugs with the name of a place on them not only travel badly, but elicit snobby protests from the Captain on their tackiness, so I've found that a cute purse is a fun and functional way to remember a trip or visit with friends and family, sometimes for months or years after the vacation.
So, how does one go about culling such a pile? The homemade stuff I'm reluctant to donate because of the work involved, although, considering a good number of these are from a time before children, they're far too small (and in some cases, youthful) for me to ever use again. The cheapies are a good bet, but some of them I really could use again, and I hate giving up something that was such a good bargain. And the souvenirs, well, they're souvenirs!
I think I'm starting to see why I have such a preponderance of clutter in general around here.
But something must be done. I'm going to have to be ruthless. And when I do get my handbag stash down to a reasonable size (which is at least not overflowing out of the current oversized container), I need to have a plan to not be right back here in a year. Like shoes, handbags seem to have an ongoing powerful pull on me even five minutes after I've just acquired a brand new one.
So, the purses I deem useless will be bagged-up for donation and I will avoid at all costs buying any more. I will appreciate the pile I have left, make good use of the pockets and zippers and compartments I forgot all about, and I will not yearn for the adorable plaid handbag with leather handles I saw in Lou Lou magazine last month. Really.
Oh, this is going to be hard...


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Defining Success

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a little boy. Because this was a time before ADD was invented, most people just thought this little boy was wildly hyperactive, willfully naughty, and predisposed to being the complete centre of attention at all times. One day, the little boy was home sick from school with his twin sister and got bored. So he pulled out the paintbox and went to work on himself in green watercolour. And by "himself" I mean a certain body part. I won't tell you which one because I don't need to. I'm pleased to confirm that the body part you're thinking of is the correct one.
The little boy is now 31, and some sort of rocket scientist. Actually, he's an engineer, but he's in pretty high demand and has just recently started working for a little company you may have heard of. It's called NASA. Sigh...
As the oldest of 7 children, there was a very brief period in my life where I was a family success story. I was the first to graduate from anywhere, the first to embark on a respectable career, and the first to get married and travel across the country in search of my fortune. I always knew that couldn't last. Sister #1, just a year younger than me, was always destined for greatness. So when she graduated with a degree in Math and Anthropology (huh?!), went south for a Master's degree in something even more confusing, then landed herself on a positively impressive career path as an Actuary, it was really no surprise.
But when the pesky little monster who enraged me every day of my childhood, always knowing exactly which buttons to press, getting worms from not washing his hands before dinner, and carrying around a stuffed Smurf until he was about 12 is entrusted with a project that will eventually enable people to travel into space, I have to wonder, how exactly did I manage to become the family ne'er-do-well?!
I have a second brother. He was actually the first of my siblings to work over at the Kennedy Space Center a couple of summers ago. He is now immersed in post-graduate studies in chemistry. Shudder. My other sisters have all reached their own personal levels of success as well. Sister #2 (the little boy's twin) does the all-important work of answering 911 calls between raising 2 (soon to be 3) wonderful kids, and sisters #3 & 4 are both just heading out into the world, embarking on marriage and everything that comes with that, and they have the whole world still to conquer.
But I guess success is a mindset. You can look to the world to tell you you're worthy (and probably never get a satisfactory answer) or you can look within. And whether you're saving the world, sending astronauts safely into space, sending kids safely off to school, or growing a few things in your garden, if you're passionate about what you're doing and feel you're making the world a better place, you probably are.
When I look at myself, I really can't complain. And in the big scheme of things, I guess that's what success is all about.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Crappy Driving Conditions are My Friend

The alarm went off this morning at 0600, and I forced myself out of bed because today we had a plan. We were going to do the 45-minute early-morning drive into our nearest Booming Metropolis to run a few errands then stop in on a playgroup made up primarily of army wives. But plans changed.
When I looked out the window, I noticed the early commuters puttering by on the highway at an alarmingly low speed. So I got online and checked out the highway conditions. If there was a condition called "atrocious", it could certainly have been used this morning. From here to Booming Metropolis, and on all the roads surrounding, there was ice everywhere, accompanied by a healthy measure of packed and blowing snow. We weren't going anywhere. And to be perfectly honest, it was the best thing that could've happened.
A couple of hours later, we've been fed and we're all still in our pajamas. I'm about to go make myself a third cup of coffee and, although Sirius appears to have made a few changes that include having gotten rid of Movin' Easy (and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, have a look at this, and try to keep up with me here!), there's still plenty to keep me amused on the radio. It's the perfect morning.
You can call me lazy, you can call me anti-social, but I like to think of myself as a homebody. There's little I like better than hanging out at home, cooking, crafting or reading a magazine with a cup of tea in hand, and being snowed in is a great excuse to do all of those things. It's not glamourous, but then, neither am I. Perhaps later on, I'll even reach parent-of-the-year status by taking the kids outside to build a snowman. My ulterior motive, of course, will be the hot chocolate that follows. I like the marshmallows.
Now, I really do need to get myself to Booming Metropolis soon. There are Christmas card photos waiting to be picked up, and stocking stuffers to be bought, and friends to visit. I may try heading in tomorrow if road conditions improve. But maybe for just this weekend, the sand trucks will get behind and the ice and snow will stick around, giving me a perfect excuse to turn up the heat and do a little baking instead.
One can always live in hope.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Let's Get Crafty!

After a couple of months of research into what people blog about, I've found myself considering starting another blog. I love the idea of keeping a blog about one specific topic, like crafting or cooking. But the problem for me is that I don't think I could keep that going on any sort of regular basis. Sometimes I want to talk about my latest knitting project, or post a photo of a few cards I've recently made, but I don't think I want to pigeonhole myself by setting up a blog where that's all I can talk about. Luckily, this little endeavour of mine has turned out to be pretty versatile in its ability to let me ramble on about whatever I please whenever I please. So why shouldn't I talk about the stuff I love to do once in a while?
This Christmas, all the gifts going home will be homemade. I've been doing this for a few years now and I find it's pretty successful in general. My siblings and I had a 7-way email conversation recently that got a little heated, and it was all about the excess of Christmas and how we could try to keep it under control for the sake of not spoiling our kids, and for the sake of our sanity at a really busy time of year. I find the homemade option is the best way to do this. For me. Some people would shriek in horror at the idea, and I respect that. But for me, crafting and cooking is just so much fun. It beats fighting my way through Wal Mart looking for socks and chocolates for the hard-to-buy-for men in my life anyway. This way, I beat the rush.
The thing I'm most amused with this season is the knitting project I completed for my nephew. This photo has already done the email rounds, but I want to post it anyway. It's hard to find good knitting projects for little boys, so I made this one up myself. My nephew loves all things Army, so I attempted to make him a tank. The treads proved so difficult to make look right, I had to give up and call this a LAV. The many army types I know would probably laugh and point out all the technical inaccuracies, but I'm a girl, and I'm happy with it.
So now, I just have 3 gifts to make for little girls, along with the homemade food baskets the adult family members have come to expect from me. From today, I have just over 2 weeks to get everything out in the mail, and I've barely started. And once that's done, it's onto shopping for the Captain and my boys. I foresee a lot of teeth-gritting over the next month.
So much for beating the rush.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day

On the last day of September, I awoke from a dream I'm still reluctant to describe. I have no idea where it came from, but I think I know what it meant.
The Captain and I were in a Nazi concentration camp. People were being shot. We were afraid to do anything, for fear of being shot too. But this wasn't the bad part, believe it or not. In the midst of the chaos, I felt something tug at the back of my shirt. I turned around to see Firstborn looking up at me, and my terror magnified by about a million percent. I pulled him close to me and wrapped myself around him, trying to protect him from the imminent danger. And then I woke up.
After the horror wore off, and the relief set in, I tried to forget that dream, but of course I couldn't. I always believe that my dreams mean something, even when they're insignificant. And I knew right away what the message was.
It's not all about me.
The Captain goes away a lot. Most of the time it's a course or an exercise. But we have something looming which I like to call "Next Year". He'll be away for much of the first half of the year on exercises meant to prepare him for the second half, which will be, of course, deployment. Like all military spouses in this position, I feel a sense of dread over this. The job is dangerous, and by letting him go, I risk the personal devastation of losing him and ending up raising 2 kids by myself. But I know, deep down, that it has to be done. The vivid memory of that dream reinforces this.
That terror I felt was actually felt by real human beings in real life during a real war. The good people of the world fought and either died, or spent the rest of their lives living with their memories of that conflict, to end it. People fought and died to preserve our way of life before that war, and they have fought for democracy in many conflicts since. The least we can do is continue to protect the freedom they've earned for us, and honour their sacrifice.
Please remember them today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's All About the Moola

This morning I was thrilled to attend Firstborn's very first Kindergarten performance. With it being a Remembrance Day service, and knowing the disruptive mischief Rosemary's Baby would get up to, I booked him in for a couple of hours with a local babysitter I use from time to time. She's another stay-at-home mom just like me, and she takes kids in during the day to help make ends meet a bit. Rosemary's Baby loves it there and I never have to worry that he's doing anything dangerous because I know in my heart that he's in great hands. But I have one major issue with the Sitter, and here it is: she charges 3 bucks an hour.
If you work out what that'd cost for an average workday plus travel time, here in Western Manitoba, the sum is comparable to what you'd pay for one child in a daycare centre. In short, it's perfectly average for where we live.
Here's what bothers me. If I need my car, computer or refrigerator fixed, my labour cost alone is anywhere from $30 to $75 an hour. I may grumble about paying that kind of cost, but I pay it anyway and accept that that's what things cost these days. At least my car mechanic is making a living wage.
Do you see what I'm getting at here? I pay more for an oil change than I do for a day of safety, security and emotional health for my own child. I may claim he is the spawn of Satan, yell at him for doing stuff I won't even remember tomorrow, and whine that I have no "me time" anymore, but when it comes down to it, when I look at the big picture that is my existence on this planet, my children are the most precious things in my life. Since having them, I've been able to let go of stupid little things like owning nice stuff, taking fancy vacations (okay, okay, I never did that anyway, but one can dream) and having the all-important career that exhausted and frustrated me every single day anyway. Life isn't all about me anymore. I don't fear my own death like I used to. I fear theirs like nothing I ever experienced before. Life is just bigger now.
Why, then, am I resigned to the idea that it's normal to underpay the people who are put in charge of the most important things in my life? All I hear on and on from my working friends is the horrendous cost of childcare, and I agree that if you have to (or want to) go back to work, the cost is heavy, and often not worth the trouble. I frankly don't know how people manage it. But this is where the government should be stepping in. Other countries have national childcare programs that recognize the need for quality educational experiences before the age of 5, and every study done on this tells us the cost to the taxpayer is worth it in the long run. But the nearsighted leadership in this country is unlikely to ever see further than the next four years, so the point is moot. Let's move on.
Recently, a column in my local small-town newspaper suggested that teachers should be designated an "essential service" so they couldn't inconvenience parents and students by going on strike. Having done the job myself a few years back, my hackles were raised. I whipped off an email taking the offending columnist to task. I then deleted the email without sending it because I didn't want to become known as the town crank. But that's not the point. What got my back up was the suggestion that it's okay to manipulate an essential services designation to limit the very basic right of public educators to take job action against a system that routinely short changes both them and the students they strive to teach. No one dies when a teacher doesn't go to work. They're important, they're necessary, and they're very often unforgettable. But they're not essential in the technical sense of the word. And they take enough crap year-round not to be begrudged a decent wage and reasonable working conditions. Enough said.
After leaving Rosemary's Baby for about 90 minutes, I handed the Sitter a $10 bill and refused to take any change. It was still less than she'd get working at McDonald's. In my perfect world, people who take care of our kids would be compensated based on the importance of the job they do. Good educators and child care providers shouldn't come cheap, and we shouldn't be electing people who expect them to.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My Milk Carton Baby


Rosemary's Baby has started playing hide-and-seek. While this is usually occasion for a few motherly ooh's and aah's of adoration, another little milestone for my rug rat, I have other ideas running through my head right now. I'm just plain alarmed.
Last fall, my little munchkin, then under 2 years old, pulled out all the stops. I have a friend, who is a great cook, a fun mom and a divorcee. I'll call her the Karaoke Queen, because she's that too. In September, the Karaoke Queen decided to move in with the Boyfriend, and because friends like to help each other out (and gab while the men do all the heavy lifting), I buckled the kids into our rusty old tin-can of a truck and headed over to her place to help haul a few loads for her. We put the kids in her living room with some toys and some kid-friendly cable programming, closed the french door so they were contained, and went to work. After 5 minutes of lugging a large entertainment centre up the basement stairs, we found Firstborn standing at the top, french door open, front door also open, and Rosemary's Baby nowhere to be found.
Naturally, panic ensued. The Karaoke Queen's soon-to-be-vacant house backed onto a river, so our maternal minds automatically summoned up the image of a floating baby. Thank god the Boyfriend was a little more logical. A father himself, he knew a small child who likes to wander would want to go as far as he could as fast as he could, and followed the first big, open space he could see. While the Karaoke Queen ran up and down the river crying and I ran from house to house on the street, frantically looking for him in random yards, pulling my hair out the whole way, the Boyfriend took the gravel road up to the main street and found my little horror happily chatting away to a bewildered passer-by who couldn't imagine what mother would let such a small child wander the streets alone.
In the course of under 5 minutes, Rosemary's Baby had made it the equivalent of about 3 city blocks on a gravel road in his socks. And he was as pleased as punch with himself. I'll never forget the relief as I saw my child come into view, in the arms of my friend's cool-headed Boyfriend, grinning from ear to ear at his most recent thrilling adventure. I kissed him about 40 times before the urge to throttle him kicked in. But if there's one thing Rosemary's Baby has given me a lot of practice at, it's keeping my homicidal urges in check.
On a quick side note, someone was looking out for me in more ways than one that day, as I had used up some fruit that very morning making a sangria recipe I'd seen the night before on a repeat of 30-Minute Meals, and left it in the fridge for that evening. If there was one night I needed an entire jug of sangria, that was it.
I wish I could say that this was the only time Rosemary's Baby has caused me a moment or two of hysteria. After that incident, I was careful to lock doors and check in on him frequently, but the nature of the toddler is that he is always learning new and exciting skills. And this past spring he outdid himself.
One pleasant afternoon in May, I was working away in the kitchen while the kids played in their playroom in the basement. At some point, my instinct to check that all was well kicked in and I headed downstairs to find, once again, Firstborn exactly where I'd left him, but Rosemary's Baby most definitely gone. At first, I thought he'd headed off to another part of the house and I wasn't too bothered, but when I came up the stairs and had a passing glance in the direction of the front door, something unusual caught my eye. The door was unlocked. And at this point, I knew I had trouble. I swung the door open to see my worst possible nightmare played out in front of my eyes. Rosemary's Baby had figured out how to turn the lock on the door, run a couple hundred feet up the driveway and was standing by the side of the highway, watching the transport trucks blow by at 100 km/hr. I screamed his name, kicked off my sandals and performed an olympic sprint (seriously, I think I broke the world record) up the gravel in my bare feet. I hobbled for days afterwards.
When Rosemary's Baby heard me shriek his name and saw me coming, he was, oddly, not inclined to run to me for a hug. Instead, he gave me a demonic grin and started running down the gravel shoulder of the highway, looking back every few seconds to see if I was gaining on him, and laughing his wicked little head off the whole way. Even after I'd caught him, and was carrying him back up the driveway, giving him hell, he was visibly overjoyed at the fun he'd had. Actually, as I recall, the dogs enjoyed joining me on my run, and Firstborn stood in the doorway, jumping and clapping the whole time. So, I guess a good time was had by all. The 10 years subtracted from my life that day would probably have just been spent in an old folks home, eating tapioca and complaining about kids these days anyway.
And in case you're wondering, we now have alarms and deadbolts on all doors leading out of the house.
But this brings me to Rosemary's Baby's new amusement. He's discovered that hiding behind chairs and in closets while I run around yelling his name is a fun game. Usually it would be, but of course when he suddenly disappears like this, my brain habitually travels to the terrible scares he's given me, and I see his picture ending up on a milk carton.
Does anyone know where I could get one of those electronic tracking devices you clamp around the ankles of convicted criminals under house arrest? Now there's a toddler safety product that'd fly off the shelves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

You Barack My World, Mr. President


Let me begin by mentioning that I generally don't talk politics too heavily, and certainly not in a public forum like this. And being Canadian, I'm even less likely to be heard discussing things like an American presidential election. But I do have family in the States who voted for the future of their nation yesterday, and I think we can agree that what goes on over there does end up affecting all of us the world over. So, with apologies to those who don't give a damn, I give you my comments on the events of last night.
Let's be honest, I could talk about the economy, the war in Iraq, or the environment. I could talk about what a historic victory this is for liberals and African Americans alike. I could talk about the changes that are to come, that it's a new day for America, and that the future looks so much brighter than it did a few days ago. But it's been done. Everyone's talking about that. As always, what I have to say is far, far more superficial.
Damn, if Barack Obama isn't the best looking man ever to be elected to any office in the history of this planet!
I've been saying for years that the average voter in any nation is just dumb enough to elect the best-looking guy for the job (except in Canada where, with the notable exceptions of Jean Charest and Bob Rae, all our politicians look like they belong in a wax museum) but I don't think that's what happened here. Because Barack Obama ain't just handsome, he's smart, an advocate for the underdog, and just incredibly interesting, as well as being the obvious best thing for America right now. And, while all "perfect" men actually have that one flaw, even his vice is kind of sexy. The man was a smoker. This, of course, is not to imply that a life-threatening addiction is hot. It just kind of suggests there's an inner rebel there somewhere. It's sexier than if his fatal flaw was, say, collecting Porcelain Dolls of the Colonial Era.
Now, it may be that I'm missing the Captain, or that my TV doesn't pick up Prison Break and I'm suffering from Wentworth Miller withdrawal. Maybe it's hormones. But I don't think I'm alone in thinking this man is the political heartthrob we've all been waiting for (dare we dream of shirtless sunbathing shots from Camp David? Time will tell). So, for those of you who have reason to celebrate this historic event, for reasons serious and otherwise, I wish you a happy, eye-candy-filled next 4 years.
The evening news suddenly got a lot more interesting, ladies.

Friday, October 31, 2008

BOO!

Halloween greetings, all! Firstborn has just gotten on the schoolbus in his Superman costume and I'm preparing for an early evening of trick-or-treating before handing out a few treats myself. Frankly, I can't wait for November 1st.
As a kid, I didn't really start trick-or treating until I was about 11. Before that, we lived in England, where that sort of thing just isn't done. But it didn't take long to figure out that it was the greatest candy-grab anyone could've ever come up with, and for the couple of years I was still young enough to participate, I looked forward to it, eagerly planning my costume from the first day of school in September. These days, I can't help but see it as one more thing to get through. It's a hassle having to put kids into costumes and strap them into the car (because we can't walk anywhere from here), then walk them all over some little neighbourhood, all the while having to rein-in Rosemary's Baby as he attempts to wander into the street, or dig up the dirt under someone's rose bushes. And after that, it's finding a nice quiet place to toss the dogs so they don't scare someone's kid to death while I hand out candy on the front steps until all hours. Not to sound like a Halloween grinch, but I'd rather make myself a cup of decaf and spend a quiet evening in front of the TV, further acquainting myself with Tony Soprano.
However, making the most of this short period in my life is all about embracing motherhood, and all the little inconveniences that come with it. So instead of focussing on the annoyance that is Halloween, I will choose to rewind a few years and concentrate on the stuff that made me look forward to it way back when I could never have imagined it being anything but plain old good fun. So, without further adieu, I present to you my list of why Halloween rocks.

1. Candy. Well, duh! This is obviously the reason every kid in North America looks forward to All Hallows' Eve. I think it's probably also the reason Weight Watchers continues to be so successful throughout the fall (followed closely, of course, by the ultimate season of overindulgence, Christmas). I, myself, have a box of 75 chocolate bars. Last year, we got 4 trick-or-treaters. You do the math.
2. Costumes. Okay, okay. So, I admit that I hate having to dress my kids up, but how cute are they when they get into their costumes? And, I must confess, seeing a baby dressed up as an animal creates certain gurgling in my reproductive system.
3. Pumpkins. My favourite fruit/vegetable is the gorgeous orange gourd we call the pumpkin. There's just something about it that ushers in fall for me. And once fall is here, there's the neverending possibility of new fashion choices...scarves, jackets, boots (and boots, and more boots!). In conjunction with the gorgeous colours on the trees, the pumpkin screams "AUTUMN" for me. And I haven't even gotten to the cheesecakes, pies, muffins, soups and pastas you can turn the pumpkin into. We grew 4 pumpkins in our garden this year, so I'll be eating lots of it come November. And what could be more comforting when the snow starts falling?
4. TV and the Movies. Okay, I don't go in for any of that blood-and-gore stuff and I think, looking at some of the junk being churned out today, it's safe to say that moviemakers of yesteryear were far more adept at striking terror into our hearts (see Rosemary's Baby, of course, The Exorcist, The Shining and The Omen, just to name a few of the best, and never underestimate the brilliance of the late greats, Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock). TV, on the other hand, seems to get better with time. If you have cable (and, sadly, I don't), you can watch all manner of creepy true-to-life stories of ghosts and hauntings. Of course, with the Captain gone, and me living in the middle of nowhere, there's no way I'd actually sit by myself and watch any of this stuff, but I can dream of an autumn in the future when the Captain and I can flop onto the couch with a bowl of popcorn after the kids are asleep and scare ourselves silly.
5. The Halloween Tree. I'm talking about the most excellent novel by Ray Bradbury, not to be confused with the fairly lame cartoon adaptation. The Captain introduced me to this book during my last year of teaching grade 6, when I wanted to find an age-appropriate story that dealt with Halloween but also touched on another area we were studying, Ancient Civilizations. And this book was no disappointment. Through this novel, my students learned that Halloween is so much more than trick-or-treating. There are cultures around the world that honour their dead in the most meaningful and interesting ways. We, as North Americans, have taken these traditions and manipulated them into an opportunity to hit up our neighbours for candy, then toilet paper their trees if they refuse to comply. Meh. It's what we do. But there's no reason we can't educate ourselves, and this book is one entertaining, eye-opening way to do it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

And there you have it. While I do look forward to getting the excitement of the day over and easing into a nice, relaxing weekend at home, I guess Halloween isn't all bad. Maybe I'll even whip us up a spooky dessert tonight and find a big bowl to keep the leftover candy in. And then I guess it'll be time to give Weight Watchers a call.
Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Taking the Easy Route


Before we had kids, the Captain and I dreamed of living in the middle of nowhere, with a big chunk of land to call our own. The idea of growing our own vegetables, chopping our own firewood and working on an old fixer-upper was our idea of heaven. But after a couple of years (and a couple of winters) out here on the farm, I've learned something about myself that I think is pretty key. I am all about convenience.
Today I will tackle the last 30 pounds of home-grown tomatoes. They will be stewed, strained through a seive, cooked down to a sauce and canned, to be stored in the pantry for those cold winter days when I want a taste of proper summer tomatoes on my spaghetti that you just can't find in a tin at Wal Mart. By the time Firstborn gets off the bus at the end of our driveway and demands an after-school snack, I will have finally finished the week-long process of canning a total of just over 100 pounds of tomatoes from our garden. And it's been hell.
Last year, it was summer squash and tomatillos. At least this year, the product is a little more versatile, but between the blisters I've gotten from forcing them through the seive, the mess of tomato juice dripping onto the kitchen floor, and the piles and piles of dirty dishes from the whole operation, I never want to see another tomato again. And it makes me wonder if any of it is worth the trouble.
Last year, we embarked on a kitchen renovation that turned into a kitchen, hallway and living room renovation. The job was a nightmare. I got stomach flu 3 times last winter, which is unheard of for me, and I'm positive it had something to do with the 2 weeks I spent having to wash dishes in the bathtub. By the time it was over, I swore I'd tackle whatever jobs around here were absolutely necessary to sell the place when the time comes, but nothing more. Well, here we are a year later, and we need a full bathroom renovation, some new plumbing and drywall in the laundry room, and a few other aesthetic jobs done on the main floor. The whole thing just gives me a headache. I now get--and I mean I really GET--why people buy those brand new show homes you just move into and live in, with never any thought about renovating, or even redecorating.
The Captain isn't here nearly as much as I am, and he doesn't really see what the big deal is. He's happy to live in the mess, with jobs left perpetually undone when he IS here. He didn't have to plant, harvest or process the tomatoes this year, but will undoubtedly think it was the greatest plan ever when he's eating homemade sauce this winter, and will have similar ideas for more of the same next summer (when he won't be here again to deal with the misery of it all). He loves to roast and grind his own coffee. He occasionally makes his own cheese. And he's had, for some years now, this crazy, half-cocked plan to make his own sausages.
It isn't that I don't like doing things from scratch myself. I've mentioned before that I'm pretty crafty. I love to cook, I make my own bread, and I enjoy refinishing wood furniture I've bought for a next to nothing at Value Village. There are many things that for me are worth the work. But I've learned the hard way that not EVERYTHING done myself is worth my time.
So, my plan is to buckle down and pay someone else to get this place finished and ready to just be lived in and enjoyed for the remaining couple of years we'll likely live here. The garden will be reduced to a manageable size for next year, and when Rosemary's Baby refuses to eat homemade beans, spaghetti or mac and cheese, I will take it as a sign that it is actually OKAY to buy that stuff, preservatives and all, ready-made in a can or box. If I feel like buying ground coffee in a can, ready-ground flour instead of milling my own, or tins of tomatoes (not that I should ever need them again, judging from the contents of my pantry) while the Captain's away, it will not make me a failure. I will embrace convenience and use the time I save to play outside with my kids, or make something pretty and fun. At least that's my plan until next spring comes. By then I'll have forgotten the hassle of the enormous harvest, the way we all forget the pain of childbirth, and decided I may as well put in that farm-sized garden again.