Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Organization - keep it where you use it!

Organization is key to a clutter-free home. When you live in a small space, it becomes particularly important. And if you're a little compulsive about organizing to begin with, it becomes absolutely paramount.

There are so many amazing organizational products on the market - customizeable shelving units and decorative boxes and coordinated containers and pieces of furniture that open up to reveal storage space within - and endless experts on home shows and in decorating magazines telling us how to declutter our space and cleverly disguise anything we own that's unattractive or utilitarian. We're constantly shown images of picture-perfect homes filled with carefully clutter-free shelves, coffee tables containing a single photography book and an objet d'art, gleaming expanses of clear kitchen counters with nary a blender or dirty dish in sight, closets with shelves and rods and shoe racks organized down to the last inch - and no sign of children, toys, remote controls, family photos, meals being served or eaten, or clothes being strewn about.

Don't get me wrong - obsessive compulsive as I am, most of my house does mirror these magazine spreads most of the time. Organization is kind of a hobby of mine. Almost a passion, really. But I am even more passionate about enjoying my life and making an enjoyable life for my family - and when the ideas of keeping a pristine home and a comfortable home clash, family comfort wins. It's far more important that our home is comfortable for us, and part of that means being realistic about how we use our home.

Our home is designed and organized for us - not to impress the people we entertain. We keep things in the rooms we use them, because that's where they're the most practical. I have friends who have a drink with dinner every night but store their alcohol in the cold cellar and their good glasses in the dining room, who bake every day but keep their mixer in the pantry cupboard, who are avid readers but keep their books in an upstairs home office, who watch TV every day but keep their big television in the basement. This just doesn't make any sense to me.

Designers tell you not to put a TV in your living room or to hide it so it's not a focal point. Well, we use our televisions - the boys watch a show while I make dinner every day, they play Wii before soccer practice on the weekend, we have a family movie night once a week, my husband and I snuggle up to watch something on the rare nights we manage to have all three children in their beds at the same time. For us, it's not practical to make the living room television-free and relegate any electronics to the basement - space in our home is too precious to waste any on "show space." Yes, remote controls are ugly, as are video game consoles and stacks of games and DVD collections - but what's the point of having a home if you can't use and enjoy every square inch of it the way you want? We spend our whole lives in this space.

The same is true for children's toys. Of course toys need to be kept somewhere when they're not being used - but they need to be kept somewhere convenient for the kids to access them. There are all sorts of fabulous colourful storage boxes and bins for toys, but that doesn't mean we have to relegate all toys to the basement or playroom or the kids' bedrooms where they won't clash. Be creative with how you store them - an ottoman with a hinged lid looks the same as one without, and can also store dozens of board games and books and DVDs. In our home, most of the toys live in the playroom - for our family, it works the best when all the toys are shared rather than separating them into certain toys for each boy kept separately in their bedrooms. And we have a LOT of toys, so they need to live somewhere. But our house is very well-loved and lived in, so every room houses the toys we use there.

shelf styling, decluttering, organization

Our living room is styled to our own taste and is very carefully organized and clutter-free. As guest-ready as it may look, we use this room for playing, reading, video games, TV and movies. Yes, that's a TV in the middle of the shelving units. We also have a DVD player, two video game consoles, and all our video games and DVDs right there under the TV - because that's where we use them.



Suede storage box, organization, toy storageA couple of luggage-look fabric storage boxes on the bottom shelf of the coffee table house everything, and they're within arms' reach when we need them. Suede storage boxes that fit exactly underneath the sofa side tables look like nesting tables but store more of the kids' stuff - one box holds a collection of Baby's favourite books and toys, the other a bunch of the bigger boys'. Everything we use this room for is at our fingertips but easily hidden away.

Baby likes to be underfoot while I'm cooking, so we put the play kitchen in the real kitchen rather than in the playroom and now when I'm making dinner or washing the dishes he keeps just as busy in his own kitchen. Though we have a craft table set up in the playroom, we end up doing most of our crafts in the kitchen so that's where the craft supplies live. Board games are played at the dining room table so we keep them in a large storage bench kept under the buffet shelves. Why run up and down stairs or dig through a closet every time we need something?

Just because you live in a small space doesn't mean that keeping things organized has to mean keeping things packed away or hidden in a standard shelving unit or storage system in the basement or a closet. Think about how you use your space and commit to keeping things where you use them - then decide how to make that work with whatever storage solutions you can come up with.


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Living room before & after
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Impromptu playroom redo


Home decor, playroom organization, toy organization, brown drapes



I am sooo happy with our impromptu little playroom redo!





Home decor, playroom organization, toy organization, brown drapes




The playroom hasn't been changed since we moved in a year and a half ago - we literally dropped the furniture and toys in to the existing room and haven't touched it since. The entire rest of the house has been redone - all new paint, all new light fixtures, all new appliances, we tore out the carpet and installed wood floors, we painted the pickets and stairs, we pulled out cabinets and reconfigured the kitchen.


home decor, playroom organization, toy organization
Playroom before

It's not that we particularly liked the decor in the playroom - there was yet more of that icky cold blue-grey the previous owner painted throughout the house, a light grey carpet, and (wait for it...) vertical blinds across both the large double window and the enormous sliding door. That's right, vertical blinds. Like, 1984 rec room vertical blinds. I actually rather hated the look of the playroom. But it's separated from the rest of the house enough that we don't see it from every other room, and somehow I've just managed to ignore it.


We had no plans to redo the playroom at any point in the near future - we're installing a new walkway and garden in the front yard and two new decks in the backyard this spring, so that's where our renovation dollars and energy are going this year. The project sort of started by accident. Almost the entire back wall is glass - a large double window and a sliding glass door - and as such the room can get chilly, particularly in January. Vertical blinds, on top of being hideously unattractive and several decades out of date, do not provide much in the way of warmth or insulation.





The conversation went something like this:
"It's so cold down here. We should put up some nice thick drapes for extra insulation."
"We have those gorgeous brown ones from the old place in the closet. Too bad they wouldn't go."
"Well we could paint. There's leftover paint from the living room."
"Would it look ok with the carpet? It's sort of grey..."
"Wait, is it grey? I think it's kind of off-white, I think it just looks grey with the wall colour..."

Home decor, playroom organization, toy organization
Playroom after

And suddenly there I was with a can of paint and a brush in my hand.

No home project is ever as quick and easy as you think it will be, but as projects go this one was pretty quick and painless and inexpensive. And we're so happy with the results - from a cold, drab, outdated blue-grey space to a warm, bright, cozy space for my angels and I to play in.


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Living room before & after
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Monday, 28 January 2013

Sports-themed boys' room

My boys are getting older, as tends to happen, and their tastes are changing and growing with them. Like many little boys, they're super into sports - especially soccer. So I wanted to bring that into their bedroom decor. They're getting a little too big for, say, a wallpaper border with cartoony footballs and baseballs and soccer balls; they don't follow any professional teams particularly, so athlete posters or team logos wouldn't work; and, as always, we're on a budget so I didn't want to go crazy with a massive decor overhaul.

kids bedroom decor, boys bedroom decor, hanging sports jerseysOperating on the "work with what you already have" principal, I went sifting through the kids' closet and the stuff we have stored in the crawlspace. It took about seven seconds before my eyes fell on the stack of jerseys way up on the top shelf. Paid for as a part of their (very expensive) team fees every season, well-worn and well-loved for the few months of the season and then replaced by the next team's jersey a couple of months later, never to be touched again. We keep these jerseys for sentimental value, but we don't ever see them when they're folded neatly away and piled up on the highest shelf of a closet. Why not pull them out and display them somehow?

vanity wall, sports trophies, sports-themed decor, kids bedroom decor, boys bedroom decorSports bars have star athletes' jerseys hanging on their walls for theme and decor - why not a kids' bedroom? They are our little superstars. (Is it wrong that I'm using pub decor as the inspiration for my little boys' bedroom?) So - after a little bit of obsessing over how to organize them and an afternoon with push-pins, we now have a "vanity wall" of our little athletes' sports careers to date. A small shelf for their trophies, a pinboard for their medals, and a collection of their team photos - and voila! We have a sports-themed bedroom for our little soccer (and sometimes baseball) superstars.





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Friday, 25 January 2013

Bedtime talks

One of my favourite times of the day is the boys' bedtime. Not just for the obvious reasons (oh-thank-God-they're-finally-asleep-the-house-is-quiet-maybe-I-can-sit-down-for-five-bloody-minutes) but because bedtime is when we have our little talks.

Our bedtime routine is pretty standard. We do something as a family before bed - Monopoly, Scrabble, cards - on nights we don't have sports. Then it's bedtime snack, feed the fish, showers and baths, brush teeth, jammies on, bedtime story, hugs and kisses and tucking in the older boys. They are allowed quiet reading time in bed while I go put Baby down - he nurses or snuggles to sleep, so how long that takes varies from night to night - and once he's asleep I tiptoe back into their room for bedtime talks and snuggles.

I curl up on the bed with each of the boys for five or ten minutes and they snuggle in. I try not to give any direction to these little bedtime talks. We talk about whatever they want - whatever's going on in their heads. Sometimes it's a game they played at recess or a toy they and their classmates are currently obsessing over. Sometimes it's something they're looking forward to - a birthday, a holiday, a playdate with a friend, a family outing. Sometimes it's about something that happened to them or that they've been thinking about all day, trying to work out and understand the world around them from their own unique perspectives. Sometimes it's something they've been worrying or wondering about, and these quiet little one-on-one bedtime talks are when they feel comfortable enough to ask. And sometimes it's nothing more than a silly story they've imagined that they want to share.

I love these moments with my boys. I love learning about what goes on in their heads and I love sharing in their lives as they grow and learn and become their own people. I'm so glad my boys trust me enough to want to share everything with me, and I hope that little traditions like these bedtime talks will help keep our relationship open and strong enough that when they're older and less inclined to snuggle up and share secrets with Mommy they'll still be able to talk to me about the big stuff.


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Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Little mother-son letters


kids printing, kids writing, mother-son letters

My eight-year-old and I have started a new little tradition in an effort (on my part) to keep the lines of communication open and avoid secrecy as he gets older and closer to those dreaded teenage years.

We write letters to each other.



I bought a notebook (as an aside, there's something about a bound notebook that makes me really happy) and on the first page wrote a little letter telling him how much I love him, how proud I am of him, and why I was writing him a letter when we could just talk instead - so we could share things that were more private, or that we didn't have a chance to talk about during our busy days, or that we weren't sure how to say out loud . I invited him to write back, if he wanted. The next day the notebook was flipped to the second page and started with "Dear Mommy."

It was pretty superficial at first, a lot of "I love you's" and "today at school I did this or that." But after a few weeks of writing back and forth every couple of days it started to become a little deeper, particularly once I started sharing things like something that had made me really happy that day, or something I felt like I had messed up, or stories about when I was a kid. He's started to share little things that are bugging him, or how things make him feel, and this seems to be an outlet for all the stories he imagines and tries to tell me during the day but loses track of in his excitement to get them out.

I love this chance to get to know my little boy even better. I love learning about what's going on in his head. I love that this notebook will one day be a record of these moments in his life. I'm so happy with the idea of these little mother-son letters and I hope we're able to keep it up as my boy gets older and communication and honesty between us becomes even more important.

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Monday, 21 January 2013

One-on-one time with my boys

It sometimes feels like most of my time as a mom is spent on maintenance rather than enjoyment - making meals, cleaning up from meals, packing backpacks, signing notes and tests and agendas and writing cheques for school, helping with homework, folding laundry, making beds, picking up toys, tidying messes, breaking up arguments, getting snacks, pouring drinks, taxiing to and from playdates and sports, picking up new shoes and socks and sports gear, keeping little hands from touching things they shouldn't, herding the children from one task or activity to another in their busy little days. I'm an at-home mom, so I get to spend a lot more time with my kids than most parents do - but sometimes it feels like quantity over quality.

I do make an effort to make as much of the time count as I can. I do most of the cleaning (and anything else I can put off during the day) at night after the boys are in bed so I don't waste our precious time together on mundane tasks. When they ask to play cards or a board game or build Lego or play outside I do. When they just want to play a video game or watch a show I sit down to battle them in Mario Kart or snuggle up on the couch for an episode of Mickey Mouse or Transformers. When they tell me stories about their day or something that happened at school or the details of how they played superheroes and Jedis with their best friend at recess or give me a blow-by-blow of what just happened five seconds ago on their television program or tell a meandering, making-it-up-as-they-go story I listen and ask questions.

I'm constantly planning activities, whether it's one of our epic craft projects or going for a hike through the ravine or playing at the park or swimming at the community centre or skating at the pond or meeting friends at the indoor playplace or going to the zoo or the Science Centre or the library. I think I'm doing a pretty good job of maximizing my time and attention on all three of my boys - but at the end of the day, despite having spent the entire day with them, I often feel like I haven't really had any quality time with any one of them at all.

And I think that's because there are so many of them.

How can I have quality, focussed time with any one of my boys when there are two others right there wanting the same? Even when I'm having a nice cozy moment with one or the other of my special little guys, it's always in the middle of multi-tasking all three. I can sit at the dining room table doing homework with my oldest while he tells me all about everything that happened at school that day and talks about his friends and what he played at recess and the book he's reading and the dream he had last night - but I have Baby in the high chair next to me and I'm passing him crayons, picking his book up off the floor, and hopping up and down every few seconds to grab him a handful of grapes, some crackers, a sippy cup; and though I've set Middle child up with a snack and an activity to keep him occupied for the few minutes I'm occupied with his older brother it's "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" every few seconds. To survive in this house I've literally had to learn how to have two or three conversations at a time.

Both of the older boys are constantly vying for my attention - interrupting each other when they're talking with "Mommy Mom Mommy Mommy Mama Mama Mom Mom Ma Ma Ma Ma...I love you" because they actually have nothing to say. (That Family Guy episode was eerily accurate.) Baby requires constant attention because he's a baby. Everyone wants a snack, a drink, to ask a question, to tattle on each other. It's hard not to feel pulled in a half-dozen directions at once, and it's hard to feel like I'm focussing enough individual attention on each one of my boys.

(Family Guy - courtesy of YouTube)

Baby gets plenty of one-on-one time with Mommy when his older brothers are at school. But it's the older two. It's so hard to squeeze quality alone time in, despite how much time I do spend with them.

I try. I take one or the other of them out for a little one-on-one mother-son coffee date every few weeks while my husband hangs out with our other two sons, and I cherish these special little private chats. I also take one or another of them swimming just the two of us every couple of weeks - a little less chat and a little more play, but special nonetheless. When one of the boys has a playdate with a friend - whether they're playing here or at the other boy's house - I make sure to do something special with the other boy, even if it's just the two of us playing a game of cards. I do try.

But with three little boys at home - and one still a toddler - Mommy only has so many moments to spare. My hope is that as the boys get older - and as Baby becomes less of a baby and more of an independent little boy - there will be fewer hours in the day devoted to caring for "the kids" as a package and more time free to care about them individually as their own little people with more one-on-one time for each little boy.


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Friday, 18 January 2013

Free days home with the kids

A couple of days ago, Ontario teachers announced a one-day strike. Emails were sent out to parents that night, the children were informed in class yesterday and brought a letter home that afternoon. Parents everywhere scrambled frantically to find a babysitter or booked a day off work to deal with the last-minute change - not so much in this neighbourhood, since the majority of families here have a stay-at-home mom, but most parents throughout the province felt the pinch of emergency childcare coverage.

I looked at it as a bonus day - the kids were excited to have a long weekend and an extra day at home with Mommy and I looked forward to an extra day of play with my boys without the early morning scramble of a normal school day.

We didn't sleep in (wishful thinking on Mommy's part...) but had a lovely lazy morning eating breakfast in the living room watching movies and planning out our day. A few hours later I went online to check on an email I'd been waiting for from the office and read the news that the strike had been called off at four o'clock in the morning and the kids had school after all. It was nine o'clock at that point - fifteen minutes after the school day started - and we were all still in jammies. I put about five seconds' worth of thought into it - frantically stuff the kids into clothes, gather up their books and homework, pack a couple of quick lunches, bundle Baby into the stroller and rush them off to school, ridiculously late and very upset at losing their day off? Or let them stay home and give them the day they'd been promised? Obviously, I decided to keep them home. I called the school to report their absence and we had a glorious free day just me and my boys.

After our morning movies we baked a batch of banana bread. While it was in the oven we pulled out the new Christmas Lego sets and put in some serious building time. When Baby got bored of colouring and watching us, we had ourselves a massive Wii Sports tournament - bowling, golf, tennis, and boxing. I lost. Then an intense pirates vs. Jedis match with the play swords. I lost that too.

After lunch we headed outside, lamented the fact that all the Christmas holiday snow had melted, and headed to the park for some playground time and monkey-in-the-middle soccer. Back home, we pooled all the little dribbles of bubble solution left over from the summer and had a bubble-blowing battle in the backyard. Then back inside we had some hot chocolate (I don't believe hot chocolate should be exclusively reserved for snowy days!) and a lengthy Monopoly tournament before my husband came home for dinner.

Such a fun day. And such a nice treat to have a free day home with my boys!



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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Kids' allowances

It's important for kids to learn about money - the value of money, the understanding that it has to be earned, learning to balance out wants and needs and priorities - and the best way to do that is for them to have money of their own.

My kids started to get a weekly allowance when they were four years old. A common recommendation seems to be one dollar a week for each year of their age, so that's what we started with. When we first started it was a system of weekly chores in exchange for compensation. At that age, their chores were things like making beds, getting dressed and putting clothes in the laundry hamper, and using table manners, all without being asked or reminded. I put a dry-erase board on the fridge with columns for check marks each day, and they had to earn a certain number of checks each week to receive the full amount.

As they got older, their responsibilities changed to include setting and clearing the table, putting away coats and shoes and backpacks and lunchbags, doing their homework and a weekly cleaning chore - vacuuming, sweeping or dusting. Their compensation changed, too, an extra dollar each week added every time they had a birthday. That adds up quickly! At six and eight years old, we're paying them nearly sixty dollars a month in allowance altogether. I found that their piggy banks were filling up quickly and they were spending their money as fast as they earned it, so we instituted a forced savings plan for them - we started putting aside one dollar out of their allowance each week for savings to help them understand about saving for the future and saving for big purchases in the same way that we save some of our paycheques each month for things that we need (like a new car or a house repair) and want (like our annual Disney vacation).

Somehow over the last year or so the chart has sort of fallen into disuse and the children's chores and responsibilities have become more inherent and expected - it's simply taken for granted that if you're a part of this family, you will take care of yourself by getting dressed and putting your clothes in the hamper, brushing your teeth, making your bed, putting your school things away and tidying your toys when you're finished playing. You will do your homework, use table manners, clear your plate and do whatever extras your parents ask you to - set the table, watch your baby brother while I use the washroom, sweep the stairs or Swiffer the kitchen floor once a week. And this does work, most of the time.

The concept of what their allowance is has shifted, too. While it used to be a fairly straightforward compensation for work - complete your chores, earn your checkmarks, here's your payment - it is now more than that. Their allowance is tied to their chores, but also to general actions - are you acting like a sharing, contributing member of this family? - and their behaviour. Their allowance can be lost, either in its entirety or a dollar at a time, for misbehaving or not being nice to their brothers or not listening to us or not meeting the expectations we have for them. Because of this, the concept of allowance has shifted from payment earned for tasks completed to money that is automatically theirs to be retained or lost based on their "job performance" as family members each week.

I think this system works well because it removes the implied option of not doing their chores - if they're receiving so much compensation for so many check marks, it implies that they could pick and choose what to do and what not to do and where to make it up elsewhere. With this system, they are learning that they have to participate and contribute simply because they are a part of the family; they are learning that money is something they need to earn, and it's a tangible consequence of action or inaction for them.

Unfortunately, whether it's a byproduct of Baby having joined our family just over a year ago or Mommy being at home all day or general laziness on both my part and the boys', I find that since we've stopped using the chore chart some of their responsibilities are not being met and there don't seem to be any repercussions. Our school mornings are busy and rushed, and four out of five days I end up making the boys' beds later on in the day. It's easier for me to do the house cleaning after the kids are in bed so most weeks I forget to ask them to do their chore because I've already done it. And because I'm not reminding or reprimanding them for these tasks but just taking care of them myself, they're not losing any allowance for not completing their chores.

I do prefer this system of inherent family-wide expectations that we've slipped into with the kids' allowances, but I think it may be time to bring the chore chart back simply to remind us all of what the expectations are. And, frankly, if a child is earning eight dollars a week just for behaving as he should anyway, it's probably not unreasonable to ask him to run the vacuum across the floor once a week.


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Monday, 14 January 2013

Post-Christmas cash crunch

So Christmas has passed and the holidays are over. Everyone's back to work and the kids are back to school. The new toys have been organized into the playroom, the boxes and gift bags and wrapping paper have been broken down and put out with the recycling and the tree is at the curb. The decorations have been taken down and wrapped in tissue and packed away until next year.

Unfortunately, now is when the Christmas bills are coming in.

You know, for those dozens and dozens of toys that were piled under the tree on Christmas morning? That great big bag of gifts you brought to your parents' place Christmas night for all your brothers and sisters and their kids? Those couple of last-minute things you picked up because your nephew loves Thomas and your niece would adore that princess doll and you couldn't decide between serving sets for your mom so you just bought both? That last-minute flurry of shopping you did because your eldest changed an item on his wish list and it messed with your carefully-planned balance of gifts between kids so you just threw your hands up and bought them all more? Those bills.

The first step to avoiding the post-Christmas bill nightmare, of course, is not to overspend. Right. Moving on. The next step is to plan carefully. Uh-huh, done. And blown. Probably the most critical is not to spend money you don't yet have - in other words, don't use credit. That money available in your credit card balance or on your line of credit isn't actually yours - you haven't earned it yet. Unless you have the cash to pay the bill sitting in your bank account or your wallet, you don't have the money for it.

This is a hard lesson to learn.

Credit can be such a temptation, so you have to stop viewing it as money available to spend. Once you get in that cycle of relying on credit to fill the gaps or get you ahead it seems almost impossible to dig yourself out, but it can be done. Put yourself on a tighter budget for all your other expenses and force yourself to stick to it. Throw all the rest of your disposable income at your debt until it's eliminated - you won't believe how much extra money you suddenly have available each month, or how much less stressed you'll feel without that worry hanging over your head.

So take those credit card bills and open them up. Draw in a deep breath and look at the terrifying figure at the bottom of the page. We've all been there. Now take out your pen and paper and figure out - realistically - your monthly budget. Mortgage, house insurance, household bills, car payments, car insurance, gas, groceries, clothes, spending money, bank fees, savings. Add it all up. Write your monthly income in a column next to it. If you're short, you need to reduce your variable expenses - groceries, clothing, odds and ends. Once you have a surplus at the end of the month, take that and throw it at your debt. If you have multiple credit cards, pay the minimum amount on all but the one with the highest interest rate and put the rest toward that one. Once it's paid off, put that whole amount toward the one with the next highest interest rate and so on until they are all paid off. You'll need to commit to keeping yourself within that tight budget for however long it takes to pay off all the debt - but once it's gone you'll have all that extra money to reincorporate into your monthly budget. You won't believe how rich you'll feel having all the money you earn available to you each month.

And next Christmas, plan ahead by setting aside a little bit each month to be used for gifts. It's a wonderful feeling when January arrives without any extra bills!


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Friday, 11 January 2013

Grumpy Mommy's "The Sixteen Days of Christmas Vacay"

Everybody's sick. All five of us. Baby hasn't slept - like, at all - in days. Middle Child threw an epic temper tantrum at bedtime. Eldest Child is waking up every thirty minutes or so with a horrid cough and coming into our bedroom. Husband is snoring loud enough to bring the house down and appears incapable of waking up to help with the children or even rolling onto his side to quiet the snore. I just stepped on a plastic "egg" toy with jagged edges - can't even describe how much it hurts - because every surface of the entire bloody house is covered in toys because everybody has been home for two weeks and nobody is capable of picking up after themselves. It's four o'clock in the morning and I have yet to close my eyes and I am NOT feeling quite so warm and fuzzy about our holiday as I was earlier (see The Sixteen Days of Christmas Vacay).

Grumpy Mommy's version of "The Sixteen Days of Christmas Vacay"

(To the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas")

On the first day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the second day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the third day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the fourth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the fifth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the sixth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the seventh day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the eighth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the ninth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the tenth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the eleventh day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the twelfth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
12 hours freezing in the cold for "one more time" sledding down the hill
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
13 arguments over which movie to watch
12 hours freezing in the cold for "one more time" sledding down the hill
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
14 toys all over the floor
13 arguments over which movie to watch
12 hours freezing in the cold for "one more time" sledding down the hill
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the fifteenth day of Christmas my angels gave to me
15 days of kids at each other's throats
14 toys all over the floor
13 arguments over which movie to watch
12 hours freezing in the cold for "one more time" sledding down the hill
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

On the sixteenth day of Christmas my angels gave to me:
16 blown bedtimes
15 days of kids at each other's throats
14 toys all over the floor
13 arguments over which movie to watch
12 hours freezing in the cold for "one more time" sledding down the hill
11 expensive toys ignored
10 times a day: "Too much Skylanders! Turn off that Wii!"
9 playdates with whiny, bratty friends
8 runny nostrils and 2 cases of strep throat
7 inches added to our waistlines
6 arguments with the in-laws
5 crying cousins
4 sugar-induced meltdowns
3 lost instruction manuals
2 nights of gift-wrapping til 3:00am and
1 late-afternoon Christmas Eve wish list change

And zero minutes of alone time with my man.

Happy bloody holidays.


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Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Sixteen Days of Christmas Vacay






In honour of the blissfully relaxing, cozy-homey warm fuzzy family staycation our family has had over the last two weeks...







(To the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas")

On the first day of Christmas my true love said to me:
"I'm taking vacation, no more work for me; a two-week holiday home with the family!"

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
sis tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
eleven storytimes by the fre, ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
twelve pillow forts in the living room, eleven storytimes by the fire, ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
thirteen morning board games, twelve pillow forts in the living room, eleven storytimes by the fire, ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
fourteen family movie nights, thirteen morning board games, twelve pillow forts in the living room, eleven storytimes by the fire, ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.

On the fifteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
fifteen all-day jammie days, fourteen family movie nights, thirteen morning board games, twelve pillow forts in the living room, eleven storytimes by the fire, ten snowforts in the front yard, nine days sledding at the park, eight days skating at the pond, seven hours playing in boxes, six tons of gift-wrapped toys, five overstuffed stockings, four dinners with relatives, three batches of Christmas baking, two last-minute shopping trips and a two-week holiday home with the family.


On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me:
sixteen days of special family memories.


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Monday, 7 January 2013

Outdoor winter fun!

We've had pretty perfect winter weather this Christmas break - just cold and snowy enough for outdoor winter fun and a lovely white Christmas, but not cold enough to be miserable and windy and wet. We've spent more time outdoors in the last two weeks than I think I've ever spent outside during the winter months in my entire life.

Children, somehow, don't feel the cold if there's fun involved, but I am most definitely not a winter person. I hate the cold, I hate the slush, I hate the wind; hats and scarves make me itchy and no matter what boots I wear my feet always freeze; I don't ski or snowboard or snowshoe or ice skate. For me, outdoor fun means swimming and biking and hiking and sitting in the sun, preferably with a nice cold drink. Slush is for margaritas, and frost is for a beer bottle on a hot summer afternoon.
Kids playing in the snow, snow fort, igloo, building with snow, winter activities, outdoor activities


The children disagree.

So, dutiful Mommy that I am, every day with snow on the ground finds me braving the winter wonderland that is Ontario in January, bundling up the boys in their snowsuits, hats, mitts and scarves and heading out for some outdoor winter fun.



Building a snowman is the first thing we tackle as soon as there's a speck of visible snow on the ground. We have a "snowman" hat, scarf and mittens on a shelf in the closet saved just for that purpose. Building snowforts and igloos is always a major project, which of course turns into massive snowball fights with teams and barricades and strategies and defences. Snow "grafitti" is always fun - we fill up a spray bottle with water and food colouring and the kids go crazy "painting" the snow in the yard.

Further afield than our own backyard we have lots of fun with the same activities we'd do in the summer - playing at the park out back or hiking in the ravine across the street - and sledding is the perennial winter favourite. My boys can happily spend three hours trooping up and down the hills with their sleds and never feel the cold. There's skating year-round at the local arenas, of course, but when it's cold enough the Town maintains the local pond for free ice skating, too.

And of course no day of outdoor winter fun would be complete without a big mug of steaming hot chocolate to finish off the afternoon.

There really is so much to do outside with the kids in the winter - it's just that it's all cold. But, on balance, it's a lot more fun - and certainly healthier for all of us - than spending the two weeks of winter vacation stuck indoors and inactive.


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Friday, 4 January 2013

Fresh year, fresh start, fresh food

Everyone begins the new year with the resolution to eat better, exercise more, lose a bit of weight, be healthier. And how often do we follow through?

Even though I didn't wake up New Year's Day with a throbbing hangover prompting me to vow never to touch a drop of alcohol again, I didn't exactly wake up feeling fresh and refreshed and ready to take on the world, either. After two weeks of lazing about with the husband and kids, eating way too much rich food and overindulging in drink - and, quite frankly, after a full year of barely half-assed working out since Baby was born - well, I'm not feeling my absolute best.

I have spent my entire adult life working in the health and wellness industry. I am a personal trainer and fitness instructor. The way I have slipped in self-discipline and allowed my body to slide into sloppiness is nothing short of shameful. And embarrassing. So - without making any official New Year's resolutions or anything like that - I'm going to fix it.

I mentioned to my husband in passing that I was going to do a detox. I meant my own version, but didn't clarify that, so he went and Googled a whole bunch of different cleanses for me. Do you have any idea how many there are out there? Or how ridiculous most of them are? I wouldn't have thought that so many people would be lacking in the basic common sense it takes to have a rudimentary understanding of how the body works and figure out what we can or cannot put into it to help or hinder its working. But after so many years of seeing people astonished when I tell them that they are not only allowed to but required to eat protein, carbohydrates and fat, or that carbs and sugar are one and the same thing, or that a "low-fat" label on foods usually means high-sugar - and sugar is what converts to fat in your body...well, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's just astonishing how very little understanding most people seem to have about what you should and should not put in your body and what those foods do to you once they're inside you.

This is not the forum where I'm going to offer nutritional or launch into a rant about diet and exercise and health and nutrition. This is my mommy blog, where I talk about house and home, family and kids and our happy little life. Let me just point out that this information is available to anyone, not only to experts. You don't need to have a thorough understanding of the inner workings of the human body to be able to figure out what your body needs. You need to be able to read and have access to a search engine.

Anyway. There are a lot of idiotic "cleanses" out there, none of which have any bearing on the cleansing/detoxing I'm doing. Mine doesn't involve pills, starvation, maple syrup, lemon juice, supplements or anything else that seems weird.

Here's my detox:
Allowed:
Grains - organic brown rice
Proteins - organic chicken, mercury-free fish, tofu, lentils, sesame seeds
Vegetables - any fresh vegetables except mushrooms and corn
Fruits - any fresh fruits except bananas
Beverages - WATER, fresh fruit and vegetable juice (ideally juiced yourself)
Condiments - olive oil, lemon, garlic powder, any pure herbs and spices (non-salted)
Vitamins & Minerals - discuss what you need with your doctor

I do the detox for twenty-eight days. After the detox, I'll start slowly adding other foods back into my diet - some potatoes and some whole grain bread and pasta for starches, beef and eggs for protein, bananas because I like them, and milk and cheese because I love my dairy and I prefer my calcium from these sources over a pill. But that's it. A cleanse is a great time to eliminate all those foods from your diet that you don't really need and aren't good for your body. Refined sugar and flour. Alcohol. Processed foods. Food with preservatives. Food that comes in cans or boxes.

This is not to say that I'm not going to have a glass of wine with dinner sometimes or a bottle of beer on a hot summer day, or that I won't enjoy a slice of frosted cake at my boys' birthday parties. But after this holiday season filled with shortbread and gingerbread and hot chocolate and hearty dinners every evening and drinks with the husband every night, my body is simply screaming for a cleanse.

I'll let you know how it goes.

(Not intended as advice; consult a health professional before beginning any diet or exercise program)


Update:

I bought my husband a juicer for his birthday. He asked for it, I swear! We were watching a documentary over the holidays about farming, organic foods, and juicing - and what can I say. We're easily swayed by that sort of thing.

LOVE. Love, love, love. I can't tell you how much we love it. Fruit juices, vegetable juices, we're juicing everything these days.

Fruit, vegetables
This is my current favourite, and has been my breakfast every day this week.

A large grapefruit, medium orange, and small lemon. A couple of slices of ginger, a tiny handful of spinach and a half a carrot.

Healthy, energizing, and delicious. All you taste is the citrus and tang. And it's my new favourite way to start the day!



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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Family New Year

Happy New Year!

So I almost didn't get a New Year post. We were all in recovery mode yesterday. From a crazy night of drinking and dancing and out-of-control partying? Not really. More just from staying up past our bedtimes.

It's astonishing how much things have changed in just a few short years.

It wasn't too long ago when New Year's Eve meant getting all jazzed up in a sexy, slightly slutty new dress and hot high heels and hitting the clubs for a long, glittery, boozy night of partying. New Year's Day meant waking up mid-afternoon with a desperate hangover and spotty memories.

Fast-forward a few years from twenty-something to thirty-something and New Year's Eve finds us at home with the kids. The sexy sequined dress and four-inch stilettos have been replaced by jeans and a sweater. The throbbing bass and pulsing lights and thousands of sweaty bodies on the dance floor have been replaced by Top Forty radio and a fire in the living room. We still do party hats and noisemakers and confetti cannons at midnight and we put on our own little fireworks display in the backyard - it's just on a slightly smaller scale.

All right - not quite midnight. We tell the kids that they can stay up until midnight, but we fake it - a couple of times throughout the day we move the clock forward in half-hour increments. So by the time "midnight" hits, the kids believe it absolutely, we do our countdown, and my husband and I still get to ring in the new year as grown-ups just the two of us.

We make up a bunch of platters of fun, nibbly food - shrimp, brie, chicken wings, mini-quiches, veggies & dip, crackers & cheese, egg rolls, sausage rolls, assorted phyllo-wrapped-somethings, and of course the usual plate of Christmas cookies. We turn the stereo to our favourite station and dance whenever our favourite songs come on. We turn on the Wii and have a bowling tournament. We play a couple of board games. And when "midnight" approaches we put on our party hats, grab our dollar-store noisemakers and confetti cannons, crank the music and count down to the new year. My husband pops the champagne and breaks out the good crystal and everyone gets a glass. We head out to the backyard and set off a few fireworks, we toast and cheer and dance in the streamer-and-confetti-filled living room, then we send the kids off to bed. By eleven o'clock my husband and I are curled up on the couch together with a glass of champagne and the concerts and countdown on TV and three kids fast asleep upstairs.

This year we took advantage of our alone time and it was almost four o'clock by the time we went to sleep.

The first kid was up before seven.

So this year our family's New Year's Day ended up looking much like the New Year's Days of our twenties, before the kiddies came along - no sleeping in, of course, but hours and hours curled up on the couch, copious quantities of coffee and comfort food, an all-day Pirates of the Caribbean movie marathon and the whole day spent in slippers and jammies.

I can't think of a better way to ring in the new year than a family-friendly party with my three beautiful babies, a celebratory date night with the love of my life, and a whole day of lounging and lazing with my favourite people in the world.