The Mother of Adventure

January blues & flus

Cold and fluSo it would seem that I definitely didn’t miss my calling as a nurse.

Last week, my husband Ian came down with a bad cold (although with hot and cold chills thrown in, it probably qualifies as a flu). I felt really bad for him. I rifled through the meagre offerings of our medicine cabinet, and offered painkillers. I hit Shopper’s Drug Mart to fulfil his requests for Gatorade and halls. I adjusted the fireplace and let him nap…I offered backrubs.

But by day four, I was tired of playing nurse. Admittedly, I was irritated that I was the sole parent to handle the kids’ morning routine – again – while he stayed in bed. I racked the whole thing up to a “man cold” and felt bitter that he couldn’t just get over it already.

And then what happened? Then I got the cold myself, of course ; it would seem karma has quite the twisted sense of humour.

So here I am – on day five of my own cold – finally feeling a bit better (I pause here to salute the good folks at Nyquil). Let me just say that functioning – let alone parenting – when you’re sick is not fun. Suddenly, all my uber-cool ideas to rent snowshoes or go cross-country skiing with the kids went out the window, and I was just trying to make it through the weekend.

Inside looking outAs luck would have it, it was a three-day weekend (thank you, PD day – perfect timing!), and Ian was working all three days. I muddled through it – taking the kids to see a matinee of The Nut Job and bringing them to their art classes. Aside from that, there was a whole lot of time at home (yawn!), which I hadn’t really planned for.

I find January a challenge. If you’re not caring for sick family members or feeling sick yourself, you’re struggling to decide if you need a sled or skates to get to school, on account of the snow and freezing rain.

I do try to plan for fun outings, like tobogganing and other outdoor play, but sometimes the elements overwhelm me and I just end up indoors, hoping for spring (yet knowing that it’s still months away).

How does your family embrace the winter? What are your favourite activities to fill the long, snowy days – whether you’re inside or out? I’d love to hear about them.

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Dreamcatcher

DreamcatcherNothing motivates the creation of a poorly-made craft like the prospect of a good night’s sleep.

It’s 8:07 p.m., and my kids are eating a bedtime snack. The conversation goes something like this:

MOMMY: You have to stay in your own bed tonight, Lily. Daddy is pretty sick with a cold and we can’t have you coming in our bed again.

LILY: Well, can you at least put a sleeping bag down on the floor??!?

MOMMY: (*Sigh!*) Kiddo, you’re six years old…you need to be able to sleep in your own bed at night!

LILY: But last night there was a spider in my room!

MOMMY: But why were you even awake at 4 a.m. to SEE the spider in your room??

LILY: (Pouting) I get bad dreams…I need a dreamcatcher.

Moments later, I’ve sprung into action. I’m in the garage…rummaging around in the frigid recycling bin for a plastic lid (where the heck is the ricotta container from last week’s lasagne?). If the dreamcatcher works…if it makes her feel safe, thus preventing a middle-of-the-night wake-up call (*again!*) it’ll all be worth it.

Container lid located, washed and cut. I proceed to dig up some plastic string from the craft cupboard; our stuff might be a jumble, but at least I know exactly where to find it during these moments of dream catcher crisis!

I ask Lily to think up three things that she’s had bad dreams about; she comes up with: scary dinosaurs, vampires and zombies (she seems to have to think pretty darn hard to come up with vampires and zombies, but I let it go). We pick a different colour of string for each scary thing – red for dinos, yellow for vampires (she tells me it represents the garlic that repels them) and green for zombies (natch!).

Several frustrating minutes later, I have an ugly, tangled mass of string wrapped and taped around a piece of bendy red plastic. Perfect! I ceremoniously tie it up with a piece of gold Christmas ribbon, explaining that the good dreams will “slide down the sparkly ribbon, and sprinkle gently over her face in the night.” (Damn, I’m good!).

Two muskateersI can’t say this is totally off the top of my head…last year, Lily’s older sister studied Native culture and they made dreamcatchers as a project. I seem to recall Elissa’s dreamcatcher looking a lot better than this…but we’re closing in on 9 p.m. here, so this will have to do.

Miraculously, Elissa offers to help put Lily to bed – and tell her the full story of the dreamcatcher (hey…is it working its magic already??).

A few minutes later, I shoo Elissa to her own bed and snuggle in to say a final goodnight to Lily.

“Mommy, does the tooth fairy come to my room every night?” she asks, staring up at her new dreamcatcher.

“No sweetie – only when you’ve lost a tooth,” I reply, cuddling up to her.

“But Elissa says that all of the fairies will come into my room at night to take the bad dreams out of the dreamcatcher, so that means the tooth fairy would come, too.”

“Oh!” I say, clearly caught off guard. “I didn’t know about that part!” It seems the ability to extrapolate on the stuff of legends and dreams is being passed along quite nicely to my first-born child…perhaps we should compare notes next time we team up.

Moments later, Lily’s breathing deepens and her eyelids droop, as her dreamcatcher sways gently over her head. Sweet dreams, little one…sweet dreams.

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Spin it!

Happy placeIt’s January and, like everyone else, I’m back at the gym. No…for real-zies this time! Honest!

This time of year is notorious for drawing out all of the keeners – the New-Year’s-resolution-makers who have vowed to make this year THE year of fitness, and I’m right there with them.

Now I’m an optimist (sometimes), but I’m also a realist. I get bored with the gym. Truth be told, I would much rather be outside – running, riding my bike, walking a nice trail…doing all those things that I enjoy so much they don’t really feel like exercise. Unfortunately, I live in Canada…and I’m a cold-weather wimp. So…enter the gym.

One of the excellent features of our gym is that they offer classes. Lots and LOTS of classes…all included with membership. I’ve tried out a couple of them, but until recently, with my youngest only in school part-time and my husband travelling up to 50 per cent of the year, I found it really tough to stick to anything consistently. Well, as of this past fall, that all changed – not only did Lily start Grade 1 (sob!) but my husband traded his crazy travel sked for a new gig here in town (yay!).

SpinningSo bye-bye, excuses! If variety is the spice of life, I’m determined to mix it up and keep active, which is how I found myself – along with my fitness-conscious hubby – at a spin class this morning.

The first thing I noticed is that they had new bikes…not too surprising considering the last time I did a spin class, our six-year-old did not yet exist. Ian and I struggled for a couple of minutes to figure out how to adjust the tension/level of difficulty on the bikes; by process of elimination we figured it out (there are only so many bright-red knobs…this one moves the seat, so that’s not it…we’re a bright pair, indeed). Oh, and that seat…wow. That’s small! Did these things get smaller, or did I get…oh, just forget it. But seriously…where is the padding on these things?

The instructor enters, and I’m feeling fairly confident. He’s young, but not exactly…um, buff. Let’s just say I can tell the guy enjoys the occasional evening brew-sky. And I respect that – I’m right there with him. Feeling good about the class – I can do this.

So the class begins. We’re keeping up, doing well…though Ian complains about his seat. It seems his bike seat, too, is smaller than the last time he tried this. I concur. Over the music, I try to tell him that he could invest in some padded bike shorts. “What?” he yells back. “Padded bike shorts!” I yell back. “WHAT??!?” he responds. The music is really loud. Dance music. When’s the last time I heard dance music?

The room is freezing cold, plus there’s a massive fan blowing. I’m wearing shorts, but I have no desire to part with my sweatshirt. After a while, I look at the clock. Seriously…only eight minutes have passed? I’m certainly not cold anymore. I take off my sweatshirt and reach for my water.

The next time I reach for my water, I glance casually at the clock. Good Lord – how has it only been 15 minutes?? I’m really sweating now. I’m a runner – shouldn’t this be easier? Something smells…I’m really hoping it’s not me. Did I put on deodorant? Now I’m not so sure.

The instructor is up and down in his seat. For a guy with a spare tire, he sure seems to be handling all of this no problem. Perhaps I’ve underestimated him. He’s yelling again, “Come on, team! Don’t quit on me!” How does he have the lung capacity to talk, let alone yell? It’s all I can do to take in enough oxygen. I feel a bit winded and start breathing deeply. Very deeply…and when I catch my breath I let out a bit of an audible growl. I do this when I’m really working hard – the difference is I’m usually running with my headphones, so I can’t hear myself. The girl to my left turns and gives me a bit of a look.

We soldier on. We’re closing in on the end of the class now – just a few minutes to go. But there’s no rest for the wicked – or the chubby. Our fearless leader drives us forward, continuing to simultaneously bark commands and smile. How is this guy still smiling?

Forty-five long minutes later, it’s all done. Just in time, too – my water bottle is all but empty. Ian is smiling and sweaty.

Damn, that was tough, but I loved it.

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Magic carpet ride

Sledding hillOne of the greatest perks of parenting young kids is having the occasional opportunity to act like a kid again yourself.

I had one of those moments today – when my husband and I took the kids sledding at Mooney’s Bay in Ottawa. Now, you might be thinking, “Big deal…we’ve all gone sledding. What makes this excursion so fun?” Well, today was outstanding for a few reasons:

  1. For the past several days, the weather has been cold. As in really, REALLY cold…like south of -35 C type cold. So, as you can imagine, we’ve been mostly hibernating in the house…and Mommy has been going slightly stir-crazy. Today, the cold spell broke – for a few magical hours before morphing into freezing rain.
  2. For over a week, all four of us have been taking turns coughing, sneezing and generally feeling sorry for ourselves. We draw straws as to who gets the humidifier in their bedroom each night. No huge illnesses, but just your run-of-the-mill, slight misery-inducing winter colds. Today, we all woke up feeling relatively well-rested and healthy.
  3. For the past nine years – since Elissa was born – our sledding excursions have been limited to the little pimple of a hill that’s around the corner from our house. But today, Ian and I decided that the girls had graduated to the BIG HILL!

E in the snowIt’s awesome to be able to participate in an activity with your kids that you truly enjoy, and the beauty of this hill was that you actually got a bit of a rush out of it. It probably had an elevation of about 60 feet, but with a nice, gradual slope so that each long trek to the top was rewarded with a good, long toboggan run.

On one run in particular, Lily and I hit a few good bumps and caught some air. We hung on tight and started screaming in startled delight. When we finally tumbled off the sled in a snowy, laughing heap at the bottom, I gave Lily a huge high-five; I was pretty proud of my gutsy six-year-old for doing that with me.

A set of parents smiled over at me as they pulled their own sled past. “I’m not sure who was having more fun there…you or your daughter,” the woman commented. “Based on the screaming, I’d say it might have been you!”

It reminds me a bit of a quote I’ve always loved:

“Growing old is compulsory; growing up is optional.”

– Bob Monkhouse 

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Smooth operator

SadeI have a confession to make…every time I make a smoothie, that old 80s song, ‘Smooth Operator,’ pops into my head.

Do you remember the one? I actually looked up the video today, since the obscure tune kept spinning in my brain. I think today might be the first time I’ve ever actually seen the video – performed by Sade – and let’s just say I wasn’t missing much…total cheese. You know you’re stuck in 1984 when they have the obligatory shot of a lounge singer reflected in a man’s mirrored sunglasses…good times.

But I digress…the song came to me this morning because I have officially revived the tradition of the morning smoothie!

I’m not new to the smoothie – my husband and I have been making them on and off for a number of years. We were prompted to try them when we first got a Magic Bullet, which I must say is a stellar little smoothie-making device. But a good-quality blender works just fine, too.

SmoothieI want to get back into a morning smoothie routine so that I can kick-start my day with fruits and vegetables. I love that the smoothie allows you to hide stuff that you might not normally consider eating for breakfast.

Take today’s smoothie, for example, which contained the following: kale, blueberries, banana, frozen strawberries, orange juice, Greek yogurt and, to get that lovely, pink colour…half a beet. I may have eaten the fruit component of the smoothie, but I will readily admit that without the veggies being hidden in this delicious concoction, I would never have eaten the veggies. That’s right – I’m not above tricking myself into eating my veggies!

What’s really great about smoothies is that they can be anything you want them to be…throw in some peanut butter and chocolate, and you’ve got a dessert-style smoothie. No recipe required…just throw in what you have available, or cater to whatever tantalizes your taste buds.

What’s your favourite smoothie flavour combo?

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Car wash

 

Car washOne of the best parts of being a parent is watching your child find joy in the smallest things – in the everyday stuff that we might otherwise take for granted.

Got a little lesson in enjoying the moment today when Lily and I went through the car wash; she was thrilled at all the colours. “Mom! It looks like a rainbow!” she exclaimed of the soapy suds. Couldn’t resist snapping this picture of her watching the colours converge on the sunroof.

“The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life and elevating them to an art.”

– William Morris

 

 

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Enrich your 2014

Happy New YearThe other day, I read a cool blog post about New Year’s resolutions. The author’s suggestion was to choose a word – just one single word – around which to build your hopes for the coming year.

Being a word girl, the idea resonated with me right away. In the past, New Year’s resolutions and I tended to have a bit of a love-hate relationship; we were “frenemies.” The structure-seeking, slightly-OCD-esque side of me liked the idea of making lists – long and detailed lists – of what I needed to improve upon to be, well, you know…perfect. Because that’s the idea, right?

Actually, I couldn’t have been more off track. Not only could I never fulfill (or even remember!) my long, nit-picky list of self-perceived, required corrections, but I felt like a total failure when I fell short.

We will fall short, you and I. This will not be a perfect year. I’m not trying to be negative here – quite the contrary. For I’ve come to realize that our own self perceptions of “perfect” and even “improvements” are merely mirages. They are not only unattainable, but they are often self deprecating and even quite boring. The challenge – and the adventure – comes out of going out on a limb and falling on your face; it comes from not always succeeding like we initially intended, but learning and growing – and in the process becoming more fulfilled, interesting individuals.

This year, my resolutions are about perspective; they are all about the big picture. Which is why I’ve selected the word “Enrich” as my theme for 2014.

I like “Enrich” for its positive connotations and for its flexibility. Upon first glance, it might imply an accumulation of wealth; you can just imagine it being used in the marketing tagline for a financial advisor service. Well, we all wish for prosperity for ourselves and for others – that’s a given. But to enrich your life is so very much more than stocks and bonds, or the balance in your bank account.

DaydreamOne of the first things that springs to my mind is relationships. How can I enrich them? To me, it means finding new ways to connect with my family. Trying new activities with my kids, reading the same books they do – just so we have something to talk about (speaking of which, I am waaaay behind Elissa on the Harry Potter series) or just taking the time to stretch my imagination to understand what they like to daydream about.

Then there are all those cool, interesting people I haven’t even met yet – virtually or otherwise. I want to enrich my writing through building new connections in the blogging community; one way I plan to do this is my giving more of my time to reading others’ work and offering feedback and comments. And what about that quiet, lonely person in my community that I’ve noticed seems so down? I bet she has a story…and she could probably really use a friend – even if it’s just giving an hour to share a cup of coffee.

Just like we can “enrich” our diets by vowing to include more nutrient-packed veggies, there are so many other applications that will make this year fuller, healthier and more interesting. What pieces of your life will you enrich in 2014?

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My big, fat Greek Christmas-decorating party

Pita & hummusNothing quite says Christmas like an order of Greek gyros and hummus, am I right??

OK, so maybe it wasn’t exactly an old family recipe, but Ian and I were in the mood for Greek food last weekend. Naturally, we went back to our fave spot – Greek on Wheels.

Now I’m probably opening myself up to more reader comments on the best Greek food in Ottawa (bring ’em on!), but to us, Greek on Wheels takes the cake – hands down. In fact, when we first got married, Ian and I actually had the downtown location of Greek on Wheels on our speed dial (now that’s love!).

Tree timeLast week, I wrote about how I’m feeling a bit unprepared for Christmas. So I decided to jump-start the Christmas spirit, and no better way to do so than to put up the tree!

At nine and six, our girls are at such great ages to help with the decorating; they really got into it. After we’d finished our Greek feast, we all got into our comfiest, most Christmas-y PJs and pulled out the decorations.

I find it so cute how the kids put the decorations on the tree; they grab one box of decorations and hang a whole bunch of them, one right next to another. The end result is a small, concentrated area of red balls, or a tight cluster of sparkly pine cones. I just don’t have the heart to openly criticize – nor do I want to shoo them away from the tree because I don’t like their choice of decorating. But I have to admit that – once they’re all done – I make some subtle shifts to balance out the ornaments.

RudolphWe have a couple of inexpensive Santa hats and a red, blinking nose that have lasted an amazingly long time. Every year, as we decorate, those items come out and get rediscovered by the kids. Combined with our homemade medley of Christmas songs (you can sometimes catch me belting out the lyrics to Boney M’s Feliz Navidad – it’s just so catchy!), we create our own, unique festive spirit in the house.

It’s the party of the year – and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

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Lucky

Police carI’m feeling lucky today. Stupid…but lucky.

I came extremely close to getting a hefty ticket this afternoon, and it’s only sheer luck – and the kindness of the officer I dealt with – that I don’t have a huge fee to pay right now.

Here’s what happened…I had pulled up to a red light – one that I’m very familiar with – that takes forever to change. So instinctively, I reached into the front pocket of my purse, and I looked at my phone to see if I had any new messages. Out of my peripheral vision, I saw a police car pull up to the light in the lane beside me. Crap.

Immediately, I put down the phone. My hands went right into the 10 o’clock and two o’clock position; I looked straight ahead as I waited for the light to turn green. Please don’t let him have seen me…I would have crossed my toes inside my shoes if I had that unique talent.

The light turned green, and I followed the line of traffic through the light. After the light, the right lane merges into the left, so I slowed down to allow the cop to merge in. Instead of merging, he slowed waaay down, almost stopping completely in the right lane. So I was forced to move ahead of him. Pulling smoothly behind me, he turned on his lights. Damn.

I pulled over on to the shoulder right away and roll down my window. I’m nervous. The last thing I need – right before Christmas – is a big, fat ticket for driving like an idiot. Why did I even touch my phone? There was no emergency, it was just a knee-jerk reaction to being bored at a light. Stuuupid.

No textingHe came over and explained that he saw me texting at a red light, and was I aware that it’s illegal to use your hand-held device while driving? I assured him that I was aware, and that the only reason I touched my phone was because I had come to a full stop at a red light (I never use a hand-held or text while the car is moving). Stone faced, he asked for my license and registration and went back to his squad car.

My heart sunk when I saw him coming back in my side mirror, holding several pieces of paper. Crap, crap, crap. Here we go.

But that’s when my luck changed for the better. “I’m going to cut you a break today,” he said. “OK, thanks,” I said a bit uncertainly. What did that mean? Half the fee? I was still looking at all the paperwork in his hand.

“I could fine you $185 today, but since you were stopped at a red light I’m going to be lenient today – you don’t owe anything.” He went on to explain that an officer could technically ticket me for even touching my phone – let alone using it while driving – and that other officers might not be so lenient.

I thanked him and drove away feeling extremely lucky. Lucky to not have to pay a ticket, but perhaps luckier still for the reminder that it’s SO not worth the risk – no matter how small I think it might be – to use a phone while sitting behind the wheel.

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Warp speed

ClockSo I have a question…how the heck did it get to be November 21??

This seems to happen to me every year – I *swear* that time actually speeds up right after Halloween. It really would be an interesting area of study for those researching the time-space continuum. I mean, everything goes along as normal in the early fall; I’m living my life, it’s status quo. Then suddenly…WHAM! It’s almost Christmas…and am I ready? Not even remotely.

I often have these good-intentioned moments throughout the year when I think about Christmas. I’ll be at the hair salon in say, mid-July, and I’ll fondly think, “Wow, I LOVE my hairdresser. She really is the greatest.” (And if you’re thinking this sounds hokey, you really must meet my hairdresser! She totally rocks.) And my next thought is, “This year, I’m going to remember to give her a Christmas present.”

At that point, I drift into a sweet daydream where I’m giving my hairdresser, the kids’ pediatrician, our crossing guard, my neighbours – hey, even stray dogs on the street – these wonderful, homemade gifts. In my mind’s eye, I have little bags of handmade fudge, artfully wrapped (with my own, eco-friendly wrapping paper) and topped with a beautiful, hand-crafted Christmas ornament.

Fast-forward to oh, say November 21 – to throw out a random date – and I’m sitting glassy-eyed at my computer thinking, “Crap…if only I had started getting organized last July, I might have had a glimmering hope of doing all that I wanted to do!”

Keep calmI’m not stressed…yet, anyway. But I do feel I’m at a critical junction where I need to get this show on the road. Making a to-do list is the first thing I always do when I want to get things organized.

I went to Google and typed in ‘getting organized for Christmas’ to see if there are any helpful, online tools. There are, but most of them annoyingly start out with, ‘Things to do 3-6 months before Christmas.’ Pah-leeze, people…if I had actually taken action after my daydream in July, I wouldn’t be IN this mess!

A little more searching and I came upon this post about how to Get Organized for the Holidays. What I like about Michele Connolly’s approach is that she clearly embraces the good old ‘K.I.S.S.’ approach; that is, ‘Keep It Simple, Sweetheart.’ Her suggestions resonate with doing less, buying less and, more importantly, stressing less. She even links to a free, printable Christmas to-do list.

So if you don’t get a perfect-looking, handcrafted present from me this Christmas, please don’t take it personally. I promise that next July – when I think of you, along with my veterinarian and the paper boy – I’ll write your name down. And someday – some sweet, sweet day – I’ll make you that fudge.

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