Posted in Friday Rambles

The Best of Times; The Worst of Times

This week, my son is attending overnight camp for the first time.  He packed his bag, and then I re-packed it for him (i.e. folded up the crumpled clothes that had been stuffed in).  I did a mock set-up of his camp bed with him on the basement floor, because I was worried he wouldn’t know what to do with his sleeping bag once he got there.  I reminded him about sunscreen, and to drink plenty of water.  He just finished another level of swimming lessons, so if he falls in the river by accident without a life jacket, he should know what to do.

As he boarded the bus, I wondered what had gotten into me: allowing a stranger to drive my child all that way.  Were there even seatbelts in there?

I followed him onto the bus to make sure he’d found a place and looked comfortable.  There he was, smiling and bright-eyed, sitting beside one of his cabin leaders (another stranger…he seems like a stand-up guy, but still).

Truth is, I do believe that he’ll be fine.  But there’s another question afoot, underneath all of the careful preparations, and the making-sure-he’s-ok’s: What about…me?

It has gotten me to thinking about an empty nest.  Somewhere down the road, the day is coming.  I do look forward to, hopefully, having more time for myself.  Pursuing ambitions and leisure activities.  Hanging out with my husband the way we used to (if we will still know how).  Maybe, I’ll even keep a clean house.

But, along with the sacrifices I made when I became a parent, I also received something that has been extremely fulfilling.  I became a little child’s favorite.  There’s just nothing like it!  Teachers, babysitters, and even grandparents don’t necessarily receive that distinguished place in a child’s heart.  I may not acknowledge it every day, but being a parent has given me a great sense of purpose.

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About a year ago, I remember walking back to our car after a day at the beach with my two boys.  I hung on to a circular floatation toy and fought the wind to keep it, while carrying life jackets and a bag of gear in my other hand.  My youngest, who was one, toddled away and I attempted to reign him back in.  My oldest, who was seven, cried and screamed to stay longer, and I tried to appease him by saying we could come back another time.

A middle-aged couple eyed me, chuckling, and the man commented, “Oh, I remember that.”

“Ah, yes,” I replied with a sigh, “I suppose, when it’s done, I’ll miss it.”  I was anticipating the usual “this is the best time of your life”/ “enjoy it while it lasts, they grow up so fast” commentary.  (Which is mildly guilt-provoking, no?  Because honestly, this doesn’t always feel like the best time of my life.)

To my surprise, the man shook his head and said assuredly, “No.”  And they went on to say something about their grandchildren, whom they obviously loved and enjoyed.  But there was no guilt-ridden speech.  They loved their kids, and remembered when they were little.  But on that particular day, they were quite simply enjoying the fact that they didn’t have to take care of anyone but themselves.

I found this encounter refreshing, and encouraging.  Because when I’m told that this is the best time of my life, and in the meantime I’m exhausted, frustrated, frazzled, living in a mess that doesn’t seem to stop, and can’t even remember who I was before this all started…it seems a hopeless thing to say that this is as good as it gets.

Every season, I suppose, has its joys and aggravations.  Thank God that the blessing of children is so indescribably beautiful to a human heart, because otherwise, how would we put up with the perpetual discomfort and inconvenience that they cause?  And when the season of raising them is over, we gain back some of our old freedoms and luxuries.  But we lose something, too.  Something that sparkles brighter, in our memories, than all of the things we gave up: We were their favorite.  Taking care of their needs, and sharing thousands of moments with them, infused our lives with greater meaning.

And perhaps that is why, when the season ends, empty nesters may watch frazzled young parents with a degree of envy.  And sigh, and say those ridiculous things.

Who knows?  Maybe, one day, I’ll say them too.

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’  For it is not wise to ask such questions.”  Ecclesiastes 7:10

What’s your favorite thing about being a parent?  Are you an empty-nester?  (What’s that like?)  I would love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Free Printable Chore Chart for Kids (Pre-schoolers and Pre-readers)

Hello, friends!  Today I am sharing another free printable: a chore chart for kids.  Since it uses only picture symbols, and there is nothing to read, it is best suited for preschoolers and pre-readers.  There are 3 duties on the chart, which are to be marked off with either a check-mark or a sticker, each day of the week.  The 3 duties, represented by the picture symbols, are:

  • feed the pet,
  • pick up toys, and
  • obedience and respect towards parents.

(It should be fairly obvious which duties correspond to which symbol.)

There is also a column in which you may tally up the week’s total of check-marks/stickers (or the amount of allowance/reward earned) for each particular duty.

I made this chart several years ago, when my husband and I decided to start giving an allowance to our son, as a motivator to keep his attitude in check and help in small ways around the house.

According to my foggy recollection of learning about behavioural psychology all those years ago, this would qualify as a classic ‘token system.’   Teachers, parents, and therapists use these kinds of techniques all the time to motivate children, and they can be quite effective.  However, they’re not fail-proof.

With my son in particular, we ended up phasing out this system after a time.  Initially, it was successful.  But eventually he came to realize that, along with the possibility of being rewarded, there was a possibility that he could fail.  This seemed to cause him stress, and his behaviour worsened.  When we removed the chart (actually, he tore it in two) and stopped harping about it (but still required the same behaviours), he became more relaxed and obedient.  Perhaps, by then, we had made our point.

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If you are looking to introduce your preschooler or kindergartner to the concept of having a few daily responsibilities, a chart and reward system such as this one could provide the small amount of structure and inspiration that you need.  However, it is important to carefully observe your child’s responses, and shift or modify your strategy when needed.

The preschooler whom I designed this chart for is now 8 years old.  I no longer give him an allowance.  He is required to pick up his toys at least once per week, but other than that, he probably helped more with cleaning when he was little than he does now.  When you’re 3, it can be great fun to put dishes away and play around with a mop bucket.  Not so when you reach school age and the novelty of such things has worn off.

However, he’s been reminding me repeatedly in the past few days that he would love to have a skateboard.  His birthday is not until next spring, and Christmas is still a ways off, so I’ve suggested that maybe we should dust off this old concept of ‘allowance’.  Saving up for a skateboard seems like a perfect motivator to learn more advanced household skills, such as:

  • vacuuming the floors,
  • folding laundry,
  • loading the dishwasher,
  • cleaning the bathroom,
  • taking out the garbage, or
  • dusting.

While discussing this possibility, he asked me if I could make him a chart!  So perhaps the old one had made a positive impression, after all. 😉

Once again, here is the link to the chart if you would like to take a look or use it:

Chore chart for kids

Do you give your kids allowance?  What’s your system?  I’d love to hear your perspective in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

Vitamin D O.D.

I love summer.  I love the warmth, the sunshine, the vitamin D, the fresh fruits and vegetables, the activities, and the scenery.  I love the time with my kids and making memories with them.  (You can read more about all that in this post.)

But here I am, just over a week in, and feeling completely overwhelmed.  My head is swimming with everything I am trying and wanting to do.  I’m stressing about whether I’ll miss something on my summer ‘bucket list’ and deprive my children of some grand experience.  I’m trying to stay on top of my cleaning schedule in the midst of it all.  And did I mention that I’m potty training my youngest this week?  (We’re going hardcore this time – cold turkey on the diapers.  I suppose I’ll let you know how that goes.)

The biggest problem with becoming so overwhelmed is that my kids usually bear the brunt of it.  This morning, I certainly wasn’t the patient mama that I strive to be.  Sure, they were misbehaving, but I could have kept my cool a lot better if I hadn’t been feeling so stressed out.

Amongst the many things I am trying to do, I’m keeping a few plants in my backyard.  I have two planter boxes for vegetables.  Today, it was time to thin out the carrot and dill plants.  I’ve learned in my short years of vegetable growing a simple yet profound truth: less, is more.

I absolutely hate thinning them out.  I’ve watched them from before they were sprouts, and now, they’re perfectly good plants.  However, by the time I am done, I will have uprooted more than half of them.

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My itty bitty garden

And why do I do this?  So the few that are left can flourish, have room to grow, and bear more fruit than they would have if they were crowded out by countless others.

Life is a LOT like that.  If I try to do too much with my kids over the summer, we won’t have room to enjoy any one thing to its fullest potential.  Stress, exhaustion, and worry will crowd out the fruit that I am trying to grow: joy, positive interactions, rest, and renewed health.

Tomorrow, I will have to tell myself to simmer down.  I know I’ve got to let some stuff go.  I pray that I choose well – what to keep and nurture, and what to uproot.

How’s your summer going?  Do you have a ‘bucket list’?  Are there things that you are having to let go of for the time being?  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

It’s Summer in Manitoba!

Ah…summer.  We’ve dreamed of it all year.  Planned for it.  Reminded ourselves wistfully that it actually does exist, when the 6 months of winter have seemed too much to bear.

Vegetable seeds, planted with joy, have begun to sprout.  Anything seems possible!

Tents and supplies are hauled out and dusted off, as we all compete for prime camping spots.  We will clamour to live as sun-burned, homeless, mosquito-bitten nature-lovers for as long as we can possibly endure.

We’ve gleefully collected plastic 4 litre pails all winter (a great excuse to buy ice cream), in anticipation of strawberry picking season.  $10 a pail: fill ’em up, and shake ’em down.  Rounded – no…heaping on top.  “Don’t eat breakfast, kids!  We’re going to the strawberry patch!”

Mamas everywhere will wear themselves out with beach trips and bucket lists and litres upon litres of potato salad.  We’ll observe with wonder the gradual bronzing of our children’s skin, and the fading of their hair.  We’ll lovingly count their freckles as they appear.  We’ll watch proudly as they remember long-forgotten skills – bike riding, tree climbing, and flailing around in the water.  We’ll cackle with satisfaction at the wild little creatures they will become.

The privilege of manual labour will be re-discovered, when paired with hot winds, cold drinks, and copious amounts of vitamin D (aka sunshine).

Smelling of soil, sweat, smoke, and sunscreen, we’ll forego our make-up but look nicer than ever.  We’ll linger outside, and watch the sun setting over the lake at 10:00 pm.  We’ll wonder why the kids are still up, and then let them stay up a little bit more.

For, we know how brief the summer is.  Soon, the nights will grow longer, and darker, and cooler.  We will sigh, and lament the seasonal change…outwardly, at least.

But the truth is, we’ll be tired.  Our old routines will beckon us, and we’ll quietly welcome back the casseroles, hot drinks, and comfy sweaters.  We’ll wash off the sticky sunscreen.  The sunburn will fade and the bug bites will heal.  We’ll winterize: our homes, our yards, our cars, ourselves.

Survival mode will kick in as we brace ourselves for winter.  The first cold snap and the first real blizzard will carry an air of excitement that nobody wants to admit. 

Because: we’re in it together.  For the long haul.  The same people we sat with in the sun are the ones we will huddle with, over steaming mugs and frosty clouds of breath.

Wherever you live, and whatever the season, it is the people in your life that give these moments their meaning.

What’s the weather like where you are today?  Who are you spending the day with?  I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

Posted in Friday Rambles

The Driveway Rumble

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is hang out on our driveway.  We moved to the town from the country, so a paved surface is kind of a novelty.  They rumble around on bikes, scooters, and ride-on toys, while I sit with a coffee or tea at my bistro set.  (Or plant myself at the mouth of the driveway as a human barrier between them and passing cars.)

For me, it’s a rare opportunity to soak up some warm sunshine while the short summer is here.  I relish the chance to sit for a while and sip on something while enjoying the beauty of my children as they play.  For them, it’s a chance to motor around together and have the full attention of a happy mom.  A mom who is happy because, quite honestly, she is meeting her own needs while simultaneously meeting theirs.

This, I believe, is the true nature of play: it’s fun for everyone involved.

As a younger mom, I nearly wore myself out with all the “playing” I did with my son.  I thought that I should do whatever he wanted when we spent time together, because he was the developing child and it was his needs that were most important.

To a point I still believe this.  Sometimes as parents, we need to sacrifice our own desires to support our kids in their interests.  (No, I don’t actually feel like playing Lego/trucks/Uno/fill-in-the-blank, but I’ll do it for you, because I love you and what you like is important to me.)  However, if taken to the extreme, we defeat the very purpose of play.  It’s supposed to be fun!  For both parties.  And let’s face it: they’re kids, and you’re not anymore.  What is fun for them will not necessarily be fun for you.

I’ve also noticed that my mood really impacts my kids.  My joy multiplies theirs, and their joy multiplies mine!  Because of this, I’ve come to re-frame the way I think about playing.  I now think of it as sharing joy.

When we have a chunk of time to spend together, I ask myself, “What could we do to have some fun?”  For us, this may look like:

  • Playing on the driveway, as I mentioned
  • Walking or biking to a park
  • Skating a few laps around the neighborhood rink (the little guy just slides around on his boots)
  • Going tobogganning
  • Cooking or baking something yummy together
  • Heading to the dollar store and spending pocket change for a small toy, activity, or treat
  • Doing a special, seasonal craft (e.g. making Christmas decorations or coloring Easter eggs)

None of these activities are a drag for me, because they are things that I actually enjoy too.  When I structure our time in this way, a few neat things happen:

  • I am more patient in dealing with the inevitable squabbles and behavior problems, because I’m in a decent mood myself.
  • The kids learn that the wants and needs of other people matter too (the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that’s actually ok)!
  • I have a chance to pass on my passions, and the kids learn from what I teach them.
  • The kids experience things that are different from the usual play that would occur either on their own or with other children.

And you know what?  In the middle of these activities, I often find myself spontaneously joining in on what the kids are doing.  We’ll throw a ball back and forth, push a truck around, or dig in the sandbox.  It is still about them and their needs.  But because I haven’t sentenced myself to an hour of doing just that, I can do it cheerfully.

Quality time spent with your children is never wasted, but if it’s fun for you too, your children will feed off of the joy that you are sharing with them.

Do you like playing with your kids, or is it difficult?  What kinds of things do you do together?  I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.

Warm wishes,

Lisa

 

Posted in Momming Hard Mondays

Basic, All-Purpose, Single Batch Icing

I’ve spent a good portion of my mom life confused about icing.  It seems silly, because icing is one of the simplest things to make.  However, I’ve produced several botched attempts.  I’ve made it too buttery, too wet, or too dry.  I’ve curdled cooked icings in the pot somehow.  I’ve nearly broken my arm trying to mix it with a spoon, and then found myself in an icing sugar cloud when I turned on the mixer.

There are many icing recipes out there, but I’ve found some of them to be complicated or hard to duplicate.  (At least for an amateur like myself.)

Today I will share with you the proportions and method that I have settled upon.  I like the flavour and consistency of this icing.  It’s nothing spectacular, but when you need icing in a flash for cookies (it’s great on Soft White/Grandmother’s cookies) or a cake, and have only basic ingredients and a small amount of time – this is my go-to.  As a plus, the proportions are easy to remember.

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Basic, All-Purpose Icing

  • 1/4 cup softened butter
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup cream or milk
  • 1-2 tsp vanilla (I just pour a splash in – yum!)
  • Food coloring (optional)

Place softened butter and icing sugar in a bowl.  Mix with hands until crumbly.  Pour in the cream or milk and vanilla.  Use an electric mixer and blend until smooth.  Add food coloring (optional) and mix in.

If you find the consistency too dry, add a few drops of milk/cream.  If too wet, add a small amount of icing sugar.

To ice a large cake (or if you like a LOT of icing), you may want to double this recipe.

 

Pretty easy, right?

I love how excited kids get about icing and sprinkles.  It’s just a sure-fire way to make the day special and put a smile on their face 🙂 .

Hope you enjoy, and if you make it, let me know in the comments how it works for you!

Warm wishes,

Lisa