Packing it in

013We took ourselves off to the first Toronto Flower Market of 2014 as the first stop on my Day Before Mother’s Day Extravaganza.  The idea was to spend the whole day together in vacation mode.  I planned a full day of events with my beloved and our boys, stopping off at various places around the city:

  • the flower market
  • Type Books
  • (unplanned detour to) the ER at Sick Kids with Eldest who broke a bone in his hand the day before, the swelling of which I could no longer ignore, though I had managed to ridicule his claim that it was broken on Friday night.  (“Hell, no, I’m not taking you to the ER on a Friday night.  It will be packed.  If that hand was broken you’d be writhing in pain, child.  Put some ice on it.”)
  • ate falafel and humble pie for lunch
  • bought one-handed food for Eldest who is now sporting a cast (see above re: humble pie)
  • the Science Rendezvous at UofT, where the kids exploded gummie bears, crawled through the blood vessels of the heart, and made frothing toothpaste
  • street basketball
  • gelato
  • soccer in the park
  • dinner at Sports Café to watch the Habs game

It occurred to me that I was packing an enormous amount of fun into a single day, and that aside from ignoring my children’s broken bones, I am quite possibly the most amazing mother on earth, but then I realized that, minus the ER, some folks just call that an ordinary weekend day.  Some folks just head out the door in the morning, and don’t come home until the day is done.  These are People Who Know How to Have Fun.

I enjoyed being one of those people for a day, packing it in.  Not my usual speed at all, but that’s what holidays are for.

Guest Post: Roseanne Carrara on Ruins & Mezes: Touring the Eastern Mediterranean and Morocco

Each year, for March Break , I adapt a famous story for the kids, substituting animals for the title characters, and changing the settings as need be. Each tale sets us longing for travel. One dream: to trace the faces of Easter Island’s Moai statues beneath the moonlight, as do the bears in our version of the Bible’s Jacob & Esau story, The Coronation of the Easter Bunny Bear. Another: to visit the churches, greens, and pubs of Ireland frequented, secretly, by A Study in Emerald’s leading snake, Sir Lochrann Holmes and his buddy McUaitson. Three: an eco-tour of B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest, whose funds would support the health of the wild salmon population while opposing the trophy hunting of bears, black, white, and grizzly. Maybe, we’d even glimpse a rare white mooksgm’ol, the inspiration for Ahma, the Spirit Bear, our treatment of Jane Austen’s Emma.

Nothing, however, has gotten me closer to phoning a travel agency or booking online than this year’s Bearicles, our take on Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The kids and I spent hours mapping the eastern cities of the Ancient Mediterranean (Tyre, Antioch, Ephesus, Tarsus), comparing them to a current map (Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Turkey), and plotting a long, eventful trip of our own! Forays into Mediterranean cooking inspired us all the more. To complement the story, we made Lebanese manakish (flatbreads), Syrian ma’amool cookies, Turkish pide (pizzas), lemony Greek calamari , and baklava! I even went “West” one evening by myself, making a complicated Moroccan tagine. For the kids and I, it was “ruins” and “mezes” (little tastes) all week.

So if money, vacation time, and social and political upheaval were nothing to worry about, my ideal family get-away would be a historical and culinary tour of the Eastern Mediterranean (Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jerusalem) with an extended lay-over in Morocco on the way back home!

1. First stop, Greece, for a view of the Acropolis  and an Epitourean experience in Athens. We’d have a taste of loukomades, a wind around the spice and seafood stalls of the Varvakeios market, and an Ancient Greek dinner. Our next sleep might be in Mytilini, Lesvos , where we’d tour the Medieval Castle, the Ouzo factories, and have a fish feast in the old harbor.

Ephesus

Ruins of Ephesus

2. Then, Turkey, where the perfect tour has already been planned for us by Truffle Pig. We’d get lost in the streets of Istanbul, visit the Blue Mosque and Topkapi palace, balloon around Capadocia, and visit the ruins of Ephesus, especially the Temple of Artemis, featured prominently in Bearicles. Then, off to Gaziantep for cooking lessons and lots of experimenting with Turkish flavours and food!

3. After a look at the Roman ruins of Apamea , Syria, we might tackle a week-long tour such as this : a taste of baklava and a visit to the souk al-Tanabel market in Damascus, a Bedouin dinner in the desert near the ruins of Palymyra, and dinner and a few cooking tips in the “gastronomic capital,” Aleppo.

4. Next up, Lebanon, with a sure stop at the Temple of Jupiter in the ruins at Ba’albeck. This Taste of Lebanon Culinary Journey offers what we’re after: a seven day journey in which we’d sample Lebanese cuisine, learn how to make sujuk sausage, kibbeh, and Arabic bread, and pay a visit to both a sweets castle and spice fields for za’atar.

5. Our last stop in the East is Israel. First, a glimpse of the ruins of the Knight’s Castle in Arsuf. We’d follow this up with a serious tour of Jeruslaem, including, of course, the Western Wall . We’d love to finish up with one of Tali Freidman’s culinary tours of Jersualem’s famous Mahane-Yehuda market.

Turkish Spices6. Last stop, a long lay-over in Morocco, North-Western Africa, where we’d visit the famous Casablanca, ride camels, explore the ancient medinas of Fes, get lost in the spice markets. This would be the ultimate place for a serious family culinary tour, hosted, ideally, by the inspiring Peggy Markel . In Marrakesch, the Atlas Mountains, and Essouaria, we’d learn to cook in the famed tagine, bake bread in wood-fired ovens, eat figs, and see how argan nuts are collected and used for oil.

I can just see us passing through customs after a few good months of travel: bags full of spice jars, pockets filled with sand and rocks, four sizes of tagine, a selection of metal tea pots and cups (for the bears, of course), bottles of ouzo and olive and argan oils, dried salted fish wrapped in paper, silk scarves, wicker hats, sketches of ruins and the sea, stretched waistbands, tanned, happy faces, yes, and hands, four pairs of them, blessed with the ability to re-create most everything we’d tasted in the Mediterranean we’d come to know.

::

Roseanne Carrara blogs at The Lunchbox Season  and Summer of Funner . These also have a Facebook Page. Her professional site is In Defense of Burning .

 

 

Vacation of our Dreams, Times Three

untitledEldest wants to go to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Middlest wants to go on an African safari.  Youngest wants to go to Disney.

Me?  Any and all of the above, with just one child at a time.

If time is a parent’s most precious resource, quality time alone with each child is even more hard to come by.  In the vacations of my dreams, I get to take one child on his own on a life-changing adventure.  And since I’d be more than happy to do all of the above, I’ll let the kids decide.

I am a traveller who is pretty well wed to her itinerary.  I like to plan carefully, cover as much ground as humanly possible, and leave with no regrets of opportunities missed or sights unseen.  One of my favourite passages from Jennifer Coburn’s We’ll Always Have Paris comes after she and her daughter have decided on a whim to do things out of order, swapping the days for museum visits.  After going through the Museum of Modern Art in Rome, she says to her daughter,

 “There isn’t a piece in here that I am not one hundred percent in love with….”

“Aren’t you glad we changed the days?” Katie asked.

“We didn’t change the days; we let the days change us.”

Days that change us is what I’m after.  I’m willing to step outside of my safety zone to do that.

I’d also love to step out of my usual roles.  I am the voice of Chores and Homework and The Almighty Clock.  I am the Referee.  I’d really like not to be The Referee.  Yes, a dream vacation would free me up from the roles that pin me down.

Aside from the benefit of not having to be on sibling rivalry duty, time alone with each boy would make the vacation our own special thing.  I love having our own special thing.  My boys all know that I love them, but there’s no substitute for a private joke, a special treat or an amazing memory for cementing that love.

Oh, I’m loving this dreaming so much I just want to go off and plan it!  Not Kilimanjaro, maybe, but local hike.  Not a safari, but a trip to the zoo.  Not Disney, but Canada’s Wonderland is on our doorstep.  Some in-our-own-back-yard special things.

Acts of Kindness: We Followed Through

015Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

In the spirit of the holiday, we decided to write briefly today about acts of kindness we have been meaning to perform, and have recently finally performed.  If, as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, we took a few steps heavenwards this week by following through on our good intentions.  We met in January to discuss our editorial calendar for the next few months, and thought that planning this post would put into motion all of our good intentions when it comes to committing random acts of kindness.  Resolutions met!  Here are some other wonderful stories of random acts of kindness.

Nathalie

For two years I’ve been carrying around a bookmark from The Children’s Book Bank, a charity close to my heart, but, apparently, not close to the top of my to do list, because for those same two years I’ve had bags of books waiting, waiting, waiting to be taken to them.  The Children’s Book Bank collects and distributes gently used children’s books and distributes them free of charge to children who might not otherwise have a chance to own their own books.  Today, they are getting a few dozen more to distribute.

Since Valentine’s Day also happens to be International Book Giving Day, won’t you please join me in hauling a bag of books to your local book bank, school, shelter or charity?  It will make my terrible procrastination feel a bit less weighty if I know I have at least added to my haul by encouraging others to give, too!

Beth-Anne

I find the term “random of acts of kindness” difficult to define.  Buying an unsuspecting person a cup of coffee is both random and kind and not to mention surprising for the recipient.  I am sure that the receiver goes about their day with an extra spring in their step, not from the caffeine but from the generosity of a stranger.

But in my books most random acts of kindness fall squarely in the “be a good human” column and sadly, being the receiver of a “good human act” is often just as random, kind and surprising as someone buying you a cup of coffee.

Being a kind human isn’t that difficult.  It’s the little things: shoveling a neighbour’s walk, bringing in your neighbour’s trash bins, sending an out-of-the-blue email to a friend letting them know how fabulous you think they are or waving a polite thank you when someone gives you the right-of-way.  These are the things that make people feel appreciated and feeling good is contagious.

In the midst of the polar vortex, with the sidewalk slick with inches-thick ice, I happened upon an elderly woman pushing her grocery buggy tentatively on the sidewalk, using the handle for balance.  I pulled my car to the side, much to the confusion of my son, and rushed to the woman’s side.  Together we navigated the buggy to a stretch of cleared sidewalk where it was safe for her to make her way home.

The woman was shocked that I had stopped my car to help her and her thank you was so genuine, it reminded me of the weight those words can carry.  However, it was what she said next that filled me with a deep sense of gratitude: God bless you!

I am not an overly religious person, but it was the way she said those words, with such feeling and authenticity that made me feel worthy, appreciated and valued.

Carol

I’m into honesty (maybe a bit too much), so I’ll tell you that I googled “random acts of kindness” when 4Mothers decided to write about it.  At first I considered this a testimony to how lost the art of kindness may be, that I needed to “research” examples.  As it turns out though, most suggestions for performing random acts of kindness is just a long way of saying “good”.

To put a little extra intention into “good”, I took into account the distinction of today, and tried to think of who might benefit from a good valentine but wouldn’t ordinarily receive one from me.  Two people came to mind:  a friend whose husband has gone overseas to say goodbye to his ailing sister, and a friend whose long-term relationship is ending and for whom the day will not be especially celebratory.

With the help of my oldest son, I made a three-layer peppermint bark (not nearly as well as the first time I tried it, I might add), but with enough heart that I hope it’s decent enough to be given away.  I have no idea whether this sugar treat will be eaten by the intended recipients, although their children may enjoy them well enough.  But it almost doesn’t matter; in truth, it’s me who needs to give them something, and whatever its contents, I hope the package tells them that someone is holding them in their thoughts.

It’s this that makes me wonder whether an act of kindness can ever really be random.  What creates the kindness is the intention behind it, whether it’s long pre-meditated or spontaneous.  It’s the difference between good luck (also nice) and a good turn.

And the icing on the peppermint bark is realizing consciously and joyfully how much kindness is sent my way, be it an unexpected card in the mail, the woman at the restaurant who commented on how well-behaved my boys were (true story), the pediatrician who cast no impatient glances when those same boys crawled all over her office and my youngest threw a slipper at (and hit) her, and the driver who didn’t honk even though I probably shouldn’t have made that turn.

With this in mind, we wish you lovely valentine vibrations that we hope will carry you through the day and well beyond.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Stuffed Pork Chops: Skip the restaurant and stay home this Valentine’s Day

Untitled4Mothers welcomes Jillian as our guest for the day.  Jillian is a mother to her 10 month old daughter and an Air Force wife.  She is currently taking a year long break from her job as a news anchor.  Jillian blogs about her love for food, entertaining, travel and fitness at News Anchor to Homemaker.

My husband and I will be celebrating our seventh Valentine’s Day together this year.  I’ll never forget our first.  We were in college and I came home to a home-cooked meal…it was awful.  He made a shrimp dish, but he must have forgotten every spice in the recipe because it was pretty bland. To be honest though, I was so head over heels I didn’t care.  After dinner, he took me to the surprise part of the date at his apartment complex.  We pulled up to an outdoor fire place and  taped above it was a note that read, “Reserved”, signed by management.  He informed me he was “management.”  He was afraid someone would take his idea, so he made it look more official.  Smart guy!  He opened the trunk of his beat-up 4Runner and took out a blanket, champagne (one of his older friends must have bought it for him) and an assortment of chocolates.  It was perfect.

Thinking of our first Valentine’s Day together got me thinking about our favorite restaurant in our old college town, Athens, GA.  If you’re ever in Athens, then you should stop by The Last Resort Grill.  They used to make a dish similar to this.  It would be a great option for you and your sweetheart this February 14th.  Just my humble opinion of course!

Spinach Stuffed Pork Chop:

Prep: 10 Minutes

Total: 20 Minutes

2 Pork Chops, with a pocket cut

8 oz. Spinach, chopped, cooked and well-drained

Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

Splash of Chardonnay, divided

2-3 Tbs. Butter, divided

Directions:

Drain your cooked spinach and pat very dry.  Toss into a pan with a splash of chardonnay and about 1 tablespoon (or less) of butter. Cook for a couple minutes then stuff the pork chop with the spinach. Season pork chop with Sea Salt and Cracked pepper.  In a pan, melt more butter and add a more chardonnay. Cook your pork chops for several minutes on each side.

Sweet Potato Mash:

2 Large Sweet Potatoes, peeled.

2 Tablespoons of Butter

1 Tablespoon of Maple Syrup

1 Tablespoon of Brown Augar

1/4 Cup of Milk

Directions:

Boil sweet potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and mash in butter, syrup and sugar, then mash with milk until desired consistency.

Untitled

Valentines Day Crafting – Sweet and Easy Bookmarks

009Something has to be done about February, yes?  This short but immovable month that asserts spring is yet a good way away.  Enter Valentines Day, for we could do worse than a day dedicated to love  and friendship.

When love and friendship means 20 or 40 cards though, for all the kids at school and/or daycare, one must keep her head to keep Valentine’s Day fun rather than fanatical, especially when walking the homemade path.  I found the simplest solution this year, and homemade can’t get much easier or quick.

We made bookmarks made from paint chip strips.  Pretty, and possibly useful, if like us you actually use them in your reading!

Once you’ve picked up the colours shades that you like (I stuck with reds, but no need really), trim off the edge with the printed paint names (I did this, but an older child could too).  Punch a hole in one end, and string through some pretty ribbon or yarn.  Bonus:  kids love using a good hole punch.

My five year old focused his energies on writing out the names of the kids in his class, and we made some also for family members – which meant the little fellow was writing for a good while.  We used a Sharpie, as regular markers smudged off.  He wrote the names in one sitting, but he’ll be signing his own on the reverse in a second sitting.  (A key to successful crafting is pacing – know when to end a session – there’s always tomorrow.)

They’re simple , we “made” them and without further ado, the boy has a stack of Valentines worthy of the day.

A final word:  if, once you are seated at the table, your other child ditches your Valentines craft idea and decides to create this own from plain construction paper, then sit back and enjoy the virtues of being ignored.

007

 

 

Guest Post: Kelly Quinn on Frugality, Postponed

When Nathalie asked if I could do a blog post on the debt diet in January, I thought I was all set. I positively LIKE being frugal, when I manage it. It’s not like, say, swearing off chocolate, which makes me cranky and resentful. No, frugality is, for me, deeply satisfying.

So I thought I would talk about the pleasure of a small credit card bill in January, that sort of thing. Or I could talk about January as the month in which I reign triumphant, after my husband’s relishing of December, because while I take pleasure in frugality, he, in ways I can’t begin to understand, enjoys spending. (Beth-Anne talks about the experts who tell you that cutting out some small luxury can save you $30, $60, $100 a year. In our house, I am that expert. My husband is the poor beleaguered man being barked at about how if you add this or that up, that’s $50 a year!)

South AfricaBut then, within 24 hours of Nathalie’s request, everything changed. My husband is heading to South Africa in the summer, for work, but with a more-than-generous dose of pleasure time. He went to South Africa a few years ago, and absolutely loved it. Back then, accompanying him was unthinkable: our youngest was a baby, and a challenging one at that. (Come to think of it, solo-parenting for two weeks was also unthinkable at that stage, but somehow I got through it.) But now, the children are a little older. And we have enough points for a plane ticket for me, and so for the price of two children’s fares and food and drink while we’re there, the rest of us can tag along. So we’re going. I can’t even decide whether this is a money-wise decision (enormous value for dollar) or money-foolish. But whatever it is, there it is, SPLAT, on the January credit card bill. SIGH.

February, February…

::

Kelly Quinn is the mother of two daughters and lives in Ottawa.  See one of her previous posts for us on her electricity bill.

Top Ten Reasons I’m Glad/Sad the Kids are Back in School

boyntonReasons to be Glad

10.  Silence.

9.  Three meals a day, at regular intervals.

8.  5-10 fruit and veg, protein, grains.  That’s all, folks.

7.  Middle son begins packing his own lunch.  (Squeeeee!!)

6.  The almighty and blessed schedule rules again.

5.  Snowy walks to school.

4.  Screen time goes back to weekends only.

3.  The Lego pieces will not migrate to places under my feet every five minutes.

2.  I’m blogging again.

1.  I will have the time to plan our March Break vacation!

Reasons to be Sad

10.  Silence.

9.  Three meals a day, at regular intervals.

8.  5-10 fruit and veg, protein, grains.  That’s all, folks.  (We couldn’t possibly have eaten all the chocolate up!)

7.  Lunchboxes.

6.  The almighty schedule rules again.

5.  Layers, snowpants, boots.

4.  Screen time goes back to weekends only.

3.  Less time for Lego.

2.  E-mail backlog.

1.  I have to plan our March Break vacation before I look at the credit card statements….

“Simple Living” Isn’t Always Simple, But Worth It

145A holiday designed to honour everyone who matters in your life with individualized gifts and attentions is probably not going to be simple.  Not whether you buy presents at the mall, online, your local artisanal shop, or homemake everything.  Celebrating the many people, if you be so lucky, who make your life worthwhile can be many things – a challenge, and opportunity, necessary even – but simple it isn’t.  The couple of families I’ve seen who have successfully done this – say, by sitting around a fire and enjoying hot cocoa to its fullest with no need for more – are virtual ones (and I don’t mind telling you I’d like to get a peak into their non-online lives).

I try to practice “simple living” as it’s called, and I’m here to tell you that while it may be simple, it’s not necessarily easy or less work.  Around the holidays, for example, I almost always incorporate some homemade gifts into the stash, and I work quite hard to involve my young boys in this process.  This year one project of what my son has called the “elf factory” was making jars of peppermint hot cocoa.  They’re lovely, I think, and the boys worked hard measuring out the cocoa, crushing the candy canes, and layering the jars with chocolate chips and marshmallows.   They also spent a lot of time trying to write out the recipe instructions on the gift tags (made from their watercolour artwork), signing them, and punching holes in the little cards.

It might be a simple activity to describe, but it’s particularly easy to execute.  It’s not so simple buying all the ingredients and the jars in bulk and setting up a big enough work station.  It’s not simple to save the watercolour art through the year and retrieve it at Christmas, or to guide the writing of two boys at different stages.  It is positively, unremittingly not simple to engage a two year old while his older brothers get to do cool stuff that he can’t quite do.   And clean-up?  Not simple.

There may be people out there for whom this kind of activity is a cinch, regardless of how many kitchen items a toddler can throw around.  I’m not one of them.  I do it because I love it, because it makes the holidays feel a bit more heartfelt to me, because I want to keep the consumerism at bay, because it’s so important to me to make things with my boys, and because I hope the recipients of our gifts can somehow feel the care that went into making them.  (I’d also do anything to avoid going to a mall at this time of year.)  But it would be much, much easier for me to click a mouse a few times and buy presents in lieu of the ones we’re making, and as I can afford this, I am actually choosing to complicate my holidays by making presents with my children.

Simplifying, or slowing down, or mindful living, doesn’t necessarily mean doing less, it means doing less of what you don’t want so you can make more space for what you do want.  Sometimes what we want is messy and spills onto the floor.  I make gifts with my boys not because it’s simpler, but because I’ve decided it’s worth it, even if the dining table is covered with mason jars and there’s nowhere to eat for two weeks.  If at some point it gets too much, we won’t do it again when the next year rolls around.

But I hope we do.

I Like the Madness

One of my favourite About Me profiles  is the one on Carrie Snyder’s blog, Obscure Canlit Mama.  It goes,

I’m mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, runner, teacher, photographer, taking time for a cup of coffee in front of this computer screen. My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more  — with depth, with care, with pleasure.

That sums up my take on Christmas.  More.  Just a little bit.  With depth, with care, with pleasure.  Bring on the chaos, but let’s make it quality chaos, the kind that memories are made of, the kind that puts smiles on faces.

P1010662I don’t want to simplify.  Not at Christmas, anyway.  I want the madness, the excess, the joy.  I want to work hard to find the perfect gifts for teachers and friends and family alike.  I want people to know that they are appreciated.  I want to bring them happiness with material or consumable goods.  I want to take the one off the cuff reference to a hobby or interest and turn it into a gift to remember.  I want to stay up late wrapping beautiful things beautifully.  I want to hand write each and every one of the 97 cards I mail out, and I want each of them to say one small, special thing.  (I’m still working on that.)

I try pretty hard to keep our lives on an even keel throughout the year.  I like quiet, order and calm.  I like nothing better than a predictable schedule, and enough time in it in which to get bored.  I do not like run of the mill rush and push.  I will say no a lot more often than I say yes.

But at Christmas, I want all that calm and measure to go out the window.  In many religious calendars, festivals around big dates are about chaos.  We temper our piety with excess and madness.

I’m an introvert, and my excess at Christmas is usually on my own terms.  I don’t go to a lot of parties, but even that I have to learn to say “yes” to more often.  I met my husband on a night in December.  I was in graduate school.  I was in the midst of writing term papers.  I would rather have stayed in.  But I didn’t.  I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, out of my tiredness, and I met the love of my life because I said “yes.”  Like Molly Bloom,”yes I said yes I will Yes.”