Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pancake Day!

Today is Shrove Tuesday.  The school stank of cooking oil - the kindergarten classes were all making pancakes this morning.  Of course, we had to come home and have them for dinner, too (I tried a new recipe for whole wheat blueberry pancakes and they were yummy!)

It's always a challenge to explain Shrove Tuesday to the kids.  I have lots of Christian students this year but very few who celebrate Lent or Ash Wednesday.  We read about it but since I am Presbyterian and it tends to be a very Catholic way of doing things, I really don't have much to say about it.

It occurred to me this morning when I was talking to the students that I hadn't given Lent any thought this year.  In the past, I have given something up - usually chocolate or caffeine.  There have been times when it seemed a good exercise - it helped to focus me on Easter's impending arrival and since Easter really should be the highest point of the Christian year, that has always seemed to be a good idea.   I don't know when I started giving something up or even when I learned about it.  I seem to remember my father doing it - as mom said tonight, he always gives up coke and chocolate (and always goes right back to them on Easter).

The timing is good because fasting has been on my mind.  We are doing a Bible study at church (Untapped Miracles for Tapped Out Christians) and this week, the focus has been on fasting.  While food has been the focus of most fasts in the past, I have been considering whether another kind of fast might be more appropriate for me at this point in my life.  I am not sure that giving up food is really all that useful an exercise for me.  I have been pondering whether there is anything in my life that a) I have become too reliant on and b) that takes my focus away from God.  I have actually wondered whether a kind of fast that takes me away from the computer might actually be a good idea (other than that it would keep me away from my blog and my online Bible study group).  Just think, if I didn't spend so much time on the computer, I would have much more time to read, to rest and to do all those jobs that need doing and cause me stress when they don't get done.   There was a stage in our lives when Michael and I used to try to actively keep the Sabbath - we didn't use any media on Sunday, we avoided computer, t.v., video games and telephone and tried to spend our time together.  That might be a nice compromise.  
I haven't decided on whether I will give something up or not.  If you have any good suggestions, I would love to hear them!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sick (again!)

Since I went back to work, Pk has been sick repeatedly. Between her going to daycare (where they seem to trade germs back and forth on a daily basis) and the fact that dh and I are both elementary teachers, this poor kid has lost the health lottery, that's for sure. I just hate how little control I have over it. I feel so ineffectual - there is so little I can do and I worry that if I take her to the doctor/hospital/walk-in, I am wasting time and money but if I don't, I am being a negligent mother.

This weekend, we have gone through it yet again. Last week, she got sniffly, seemed like she had a fever and had a runny nose. Her eye teeth look like they are on their way through so I didn't worry too much. Then, Saturday morning, the cough started. It sounds HORRIBLE. It's a heavy bark and she cries after every cough. She was flushed and warm so I started her on Advil. It just got worse and worse. By Saturday night, I was wondering whether it might be croup. She was miserable and wouldn't sleep (such a surprise LOL) and felt like she was burning up. At around midnight, I threw her in the car and we went for a drive with the windows down (the cold air seemed to be helping). I debated whether to go to the hospital and finally decided after an hour of driving and a drive by the hospital, decided to wait.

Yesterday morning, it was bad again. I agonized over what to do. My doctor has asked that we not go to walk-in clinics (she hasn't forbade it but has "asked" us not to - we are registered patients which means that we get wonderful access to her by email and we don't pay for things like notes but she get charged a large fee whenever we use walk-in). I was worried because mum is watching Pk for me this week and I didn't want her worrying about something awful. I didn't really want to take her to emergency because I didn't want to waste time. I HATE these kinds of decisions (I know, I know, I am blowing it all totally out of proportion).

The wheezing got worse all morning and I finally decided to call the walk-in clinic and see what they would suggest. Given Pk's age, they wanted us to go to the hospital. Once dh got back from Home Hardware (a subject for another day - why is that so important that it must be done BEFORE taking a sick child to the hospital????), we went into Uxbridge to the cottage hospital (someone at the hardware store told dh to go there). After two hours of waiting, we saw a very nice doctor for all of 5 minutes. I gather that yes, she does have a fever, yes, her upper chest is very tight, yes, she is wheezing terribly and yes, she does have a "croup-like" cough but no, we don't have anything to help (what I suspected anyway). It's back to the old standbys - the humidifier, running the shower, propping up the head of her bed and basically just wait it out.

On the plus side, I don't have to be worried about pneumonia, I don't have to worry that I am not doing something that I should and I can leave her with mum in good conscience. It just wasn't the best way to spend Sunday afternoon.

Bring on spring and cleaner outdoor air. PLEASE!

Saturday, February 21, 2009


At this time of year, I always start to dream about gardening.  I know when I have hit my emotional end with winter when I find myself having trouble walking by seed displays and pondering going to gardening workshops (which I never seem to actually do).  I am so there right now.

My gardening career started when I was about 8.  My "Auntie Marion", a family friend who had lived through some very bad financial times, was an avid gardener and harvested and preserved with a frenzy every year.  She didn't have a lot of yard and so she was actively involved in a community garden.   If you know Toronto, she was part of a gardening club that had a spot in the Sunnybrook estate.  All of the members had a plot and went several times a week to care for it.  She took me with her every Saturday for much of one spring, summer and fall.  I had my own plot and I was so interested by it.  I imagine that they (she and Uncle Jim) must have done a lot of work on it because I don't remember it being overrun with weeds and I certainly don't remember working all that hard.  What I do remember is my first radishes and beets being ready and how exciting that was to me.  It set me up for a lifelong fascination with growing things.

There really hasn't been the time and space for much gardening in my life.  We had a tiny plot out front of our house in Toronto and I tried year after year to grow crocuses - they are the true harbinger of spring to me.  They are such a happy flower  - they make me feel so optimistic when I find them peeking out of the snow.  Sadly, the squirrels adored them when I tried to grow them and I can remember several years being very excited to see them coming up and then coming out one morning to see that they had all been pulled up and shredded.  Poor dh didn't know what to do with me standing out on the front lawn in tears.

Now, we have a large if awkward garden space - there are several flower beds around the house but they are irregular shapes and not terribly great light levels.  I adore herbs, roses and the slightly wild look of English gardens.  I have planted a variety of things over the years.  Every spring, I get excited to see things coming up but I lack the courage to prune - I am terrified of killing something or doing something wrong to it.  Out the back, my hostas and bleeding hearts are very, very crowded and I suspect they need attention but I am not sure what to do with them.  There is the herb bed - I adore lavender and I have quite a bit of it, along with mint, lemon balm, thyme and sage.  Of course, the chives and lemon balm have taken over and I wage a war with them every year (which is a struggle because I won't use herbicides).  I was wise and kept the mint in its own bed and we love using that summer and fall.  We always have rhubarb and tomatoes and I love to put in basil and parsley, too.  I am such a city girl - it is so pathetically exciting to me to cook with something that I grew.  Dh has caught my gardening bug - he dreams of a big vegetable garden and eating from our own bounty - we had better be careful or we are going to turn into the people from "The Good Neighbours" - a British sit-com from the 1970's about a couple who decided that go back to the land, the only problem being that they live in suburbia and their neighbours are appalled.  We dream of having Pk help us to pick the things we have grown and hope that she will feel the same sense of accomplishment that we do.  

My greatest love is English roses I adore my David Austin roses with their slightly lemony scent and heavy blooms with such generous petals that they remind me of peonies (which I also have - love them too other than that once they get beaten down by rain, they just don't ever bounce back).  Each spring, I announce that they have all died over the winter and then I have huge pleasure discovering that I am wrong sometime in June.  I love cutting flowers from my garden to have in the kitchen on the window sill and between my roses and the sweet peas that I try to plant (thanks, Fiona, for introducing me to their beautiful scent), I usually have something to enjoy from July to October.

My gardening passion has only two big drawbacks.  The first is a lack of endurance.  Every spring, I have such great plans and work very hard but sometime in July, I usually lose interest.  By August, that loss is evident in my weeds and how tired things look.  The weeds start to take over and usually by September, I am feeling pretty embarassed about it all but going back to school doesn't leave me any time to repair the damage.  The second drawback is a lack of design skill on my part.  Every spring, I think things look bare and fill in the holes.  By July, things are choking.  I look at Martha Stewart's gardening issues and dream but spacing plants is truly an art and one that I entirely lack a talent for.

In spite of my failings, though, I never fail to feel that little bit of excitement at the sight of a seed pushing through the soil, the signs of the first blooms, the bit of purple hiding in a bed in early April or that first red tomato in the summer.  I hope that we can figure out how to convey our excitement to Pk.  I can totally understand why God's paradise was a garden.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Furkids

Our "Sadie Cat", as Pk likes to call her.  She is a very sweet cat.  You can see why we wanted something orange and white.

Lucie, our playing fiend.
There is an evil glint in Lucie's eye that has been there since she arrived.
She was an adorable but very spunky puppy.

Chelsea is truly my "heart dog".  She feels like a piece of me.

The Furkids

While parenthood has taken up a lot of life these days, our four-legged friends bring a lot of joy to us in our house. We share our home with three furkids and since I am thinking a lot about them right now, I thought I would introduce them.

Our veteran, literally, is Chelsea (a.k.a., Am/Cdn Ch. MischiefJaci's Chelsea F.C. FD CDX). She came to us in 2001 and is almost eight. That is hard to believe. We got her on the suggestion of a good friend of mine - I have always been a dog person but losing the dog who got me through my adolscence, Flora, was so tragic that at that point, I said I would never have another. I was suffering from really awful S.A.D. and a good friend, Liz, suggested getting a dog. At first, I thought she was crazy but the more we talked about it, the more we thought it was a good idea. We have never looked back.

Chelsea ("Miss Buns", Princess) introduced us to all kinds of things - dog parks, endless hikes, dog shows, hunt tests, obedience, theft at a new level and love beyond compare. She is calm, easy, soft, affectionate without being needy, gentle, stoic and the world's worst thief. With her, we fell into so many things that we thought we would never do - if you had told me ten years ago that we would be going inoto the middle of nowhere so that dh could plant birds for dogs to find, I would have laughed in your face. She introduced us to the secret society that is dogwalkers in the city, we were invited to a dog birthday party (seriously - there were games and a cake from Three Dog Bakery and treat bags), we began to travel to dog shows in the U.S. and we made friends we would never have otherwise met. The most wonderful thing about Chelsea is her ability to just "be"with you. She loves a walk in the woods but she is equally happy lying on the couch beside you, having a cosy afternoon nap. I haven't figured out how to post pics yet (anyone who can help me with that, it would be appreciated) but she has the loveliest, old-style Brittany head and she even has her own page on a website:
My good friend borrows her for obedience (since motherhood, the competitive dog stuff has had to get a rest) and my friend has given her a page on her site.

Our second addition is Lucie (Cdn Ch. Tonan-Rao's Night at the Opera FDJ). She is the absolute opposite of Chelsea. She is what some people picture as a Brittany. She is hyper, wild, rude, noisy and frustrating beyond belief. I feel for Lucie, I really do, she tries so hard but she just doesn't get it. She is a hunting machine and has done really well in the field so far and may end up being a great field dog if we don't kill her first. She has had as much obedience as Chelsea did at that age but to no avail - the only way to walk her without a dislocated shoulder is a pointer hitch (we really have tried everything) and her manners are appalling. She has done really wel li the show ring with very limited showing but that says as much about her breeder as it does about her - while Lucie has her good points, Chelsea is much truer to what a brittany should be. She is usually friendly but has a knack for deciding she has to pick a fight with the biggest, meanest, roughest dog around (at her last dog show, she was totally fine with everyone other than a Giant Schnauzer - a death sentence for sure). My father says he needs to wear a jock when Lucie is around - enough said. We love her and she has been great with Pk for the most part but she really does frustrate us.

Over the Christmas holidays, we added a third furkid - a cat. We have had cats that we loved in the past but there is a certain amount of frustration and heartache that goes with a cat and we weren't sure that we could risk the spraying that we had with our boys. We were also a bit worried about allergies since Pk is young but, given that her sitter has a cat which Pk adores and isn't allergic to, we thought it would be a nice addition. Sadie (that's her name, we didn't name her, she came that way), joined us on Dec. 29 and she was a wonderful addition. I felt like a shallow person who wanted to match the cat to the furniture when I called the cat rescue to ask about whether they had any orange and whites. Given that all the other women in the house are orange and white, it just seemed the natural choice. Sadie is friendly without being a nuisance, playful and extremely tolerant of Pk and her constant "Saaaadieeeee Cat!" calls. Pk often starts her day talking about the cat and ends the day the same way. She came from a wonderful local cat rescue:
We are still getting used to each other but we are really enjoying her - I had forgotten how wonderful it is to sit and read with a cat purring beside you. She has developed a love for a stuffed panda that Pk has in the rec room, it will be interesting to see what comes of that relationship!

I will see if I can figure out how to post pics later today. Thanks for listening to me ramble about my loves.

Monday, February 16, 2009


As a Valentine's Day activity, our church had a "date movie night" and they showed Fireproof.  We couldn't go - no babysitter and it wasn't a kid friendly event so we decided that we would rent the movie and watch it a home after PK went to bed.  I can't remember the last time we watched a movie together.

We REALLY enjoyed this film.   I am sure that my non-Christian friends would find it trite and cliched and predictable (which is may well be but sometimes I need that in my life).   We both found it to be a wonderfully affirming and positive movie.  It had some humour (that wasn't totally over the top and kept it from being entirely depressing) and the message of hope was very powerful.  We both cried at several points and got up from it feeling so much more hopeful and happy than we were before we started.  I would like to buy "The Love Dare" and see if it has the magic of the film - I am not sure that it could live up to the movie but I loved the film so much, I would like to continue some contact with it's affirming and positive message.

It was also really nice to watch a movie and not feel like I am somehow betraying the life I want to lead.  I remember a minister who had some wonderful ideas say once that we, as Christians, need to think carefully about all of our media choices.  While we may think that it's just "mindless t.v." that once images enter our minds, they become a part of who we are, of our life experiences.  I can remember one movie in particular that I watched that I found very disturbing and lying in bed several days later with images from the film popping into my mind.Since then, I have tried to be more deliberate about the choices I make in terms of what I watch or read.

  I have no shame in making "Fireproof" part of my life experience.  I just struggle with the fact that it stars Kirk Cameron - to me, he will always be that slightly bratty kid from Growing Pains.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day

I would have to say, for me, Valentine's Day is a sadly overrated holiday, a marketing ploy to get us to spend money at a time of year when things are bleak and winter seems like it will never end.  I was reflecting on it today when one of my students asked me about the reason for the celebration (traditions and celebrations being one of the strands in our grade 2 curriculum).  It was a difficult question to answer.

When you are single, Valentine's Day is a day to feel alone.  It's all about being a couple and when you are not, you feel it more acutely.  You fantasize about how it would be to have someone to celebrate with and to have someone with whom to do something incredibly romantic.  More than anything, though, it just reminds you of what you don't have.

Then, you are with someone and you again have these crazy expectations of something really spectacular.  The first year that dh and I were together, I will say that I fell for the sappy stuff - the teddy bear, the room decorated with balloons, the chocolates and the romantic music.  More than anything, it was nice to have someone to celebrate with.  After that, it began to lose its lustre.  Dh tried to find ways to make it special but it didn't take long for him to run out of inspired ideas.  I will never forget the year that he tried to make a big red heart for me in the snow.  He went out, built up the heart and poured boiling water over it to get it to set.  The final touch was to pour red paint on it to turn it red.  Sadly, he isn't always such a detail person and he had bought powdered tempera.  He sprinkled it around and by morning, it looked less like a heart and more like a large blood splatter on our front lawn.  I only wish that I was the photo person then that I am now - they would have made some very interesting pics (vaguely reminiscent of crime scene photos).

We gradually allowed Valentine's Day to pass almost unnoticed, other than maybe a card or a nice dinner.  We were really feeling like we were whatever the Scrooge equivalent is for Valentine's Day so about 5 years ago, we decided to make the effort to do something special.  We live in a small town about an hour north east of Toronto and we decided that we needed to try some local restaurants.  We had gotten lots of flyers through the door for the special Valentine's Day meal at a local restaurant with a fixed menu and entertainment.  The chef was listed as being a "chef to the stars" and the food was supposed to be gourmet.  The only confusing aspect was the fact that the restaurant was at a local trailer park (mostly holiday trailers) on highway 48.  We were curious and this seemed just quirky enough to be worth a try.  While it didn't end up being anyone's idea of a romantic night it, it certainly was memorable.  It was frigid outside and when we arrived, we were led just inside a room with decor that was more 1970's steakhouse than anything else - wooden captains chairs with leather seats and studwork, stucco walls with heavy wooden beams and carnations on the tables (sorry but I detest carnations).  Our table was by the door and shortly after our salads arrived, we decided to eat in our winter coats.  Our waiter finally noticed and moved us further into the restaurant.  That gave us a much better view of the 60 something huge Greek man with the comb-over with the cheap keyboard who was providing music for the evening.  When he started singing "Strangers in the Night", I thought dh and I were going to pee our pants.  Several of the entrees were unavailable and there were no desserts left at all.  Fortunately, at least the company was good.

Then, we started teaching and Valentine's Day became even more hellish.  I defy you to feel romantic after doing not one but two Valentine's Day parties with 4 year olds (the morning class and the afternoon class).  It got a little bit better once I started teaching grade 2 and only had to do one party but there is absolutely no romance left.

The awfulness of it really hit home for me this year.  Pk goes to daycare and there was going to be a daycare party so I dutifully went out to buy cards.  I had gotten some cute ones at the Christian bookstore for our church friends but I didn't think they were appropriate for the daycare families - I don't know their religious affiliations and I don't want to offend anyone.  I assumed I would be able to find something that was fairly generic - since Pk is such a dog and cat lover, I thought I might be able to find something with puppies and kittens.  No such luck.  Maybe I was looking at the wrong places but there was nothing but licensed - High School Musical, Hannah Montana, superheros or Disney Princesses.  I really think those companies get enough advertising without my doing their job for them.  As my good friend Kittenpie says, motherhood is the "death of a thousand papercuts", but at this stage, anyway, I am still really trying to stay away from the horrendous commercialism and manipulation of our children engaged in by companies like Disney and the very questionable values and statements of those companies, especially to our girls about their value as women.  I finally found one set of cards that would work but they cost me a lot and I felt kind of stupid writing them - really, does a 17 month old need to send Valentines?  I couldn't bring myself to not do it - I had a serious case of mommy guilt - it was bad enough that I wasn't going to hand make and ice heart shaped cookies to be wrapped in pretty cellophane and ribbons like one of the other mothers did.

What I don't understand is how Valentine's Day can be considered such a great celebration when people all complained last year with the Ontario government created Family Day (which is a stat holiday now celebrated in Ontario on the 3rd Monday of February).  There's a holiday I can get into.  You don't have to buy anything, give any presents or put up decorations.  There isn't a frantic pace, a long to-do list or a gut- stretching meal to prepare.  It's just a day to sleep in (or not), to hang out with your family, to go out to enjoy the snow (or not) or to do whatever your family enjoys.  You get a long weekend at a particularly grim time of year and you don't have to go into debt to do it.  We are going to spend in with some good friends and their children that we don't often get to see and since everything is closed, we don't feel any pressure to go anywhere.  I would love a few more holidays like this one.  I might even be happy to buy a card or two for it!