When Your Kitchen Goes from Functional to Diva in one Afternoon

You know how it is: you are expecting guests, baby shower guests, for instance, and all of a sudden, your house begins to appear … less than perfect.  There’s nothing like the expectation of company to make you see your house in a whole new light; you are suddenly hyper-aware of the many faults and foibles of your kitchen.  And guest bathroom.  And back door.  And front steps.  And….

There’s the kitchen faucet which works perfectly until someone new comes along and tries to move the spigot.  Then the aerator just pops right off, and he or she gets drenched.

And the freezer, which has to be closed with Velcro because it pops open every time the fridge door closes.

And the back door out of the kitchen, which only opens on alternate Wednesdays, unless there is a full moon, in which case you have to wait until the next solstice.  Its handle went missing for three whole months once.  Just flew off.

And the powder room toilet which flushes perfectly well because you’ve paid to have the plumber come back three times, and each time he’s told you, “It’s fixed!” And it is fixed, unless you forget to manually lift the flusher after you’ve flushed, in which case, you end up with a flood in the basement, like last weekend, for instance, when there were 30 kids running around the house.  At least shower guests can be depended upon to be able to read the sign about the proper care and feeding of the Temperamental Toilet.

And the front porch steps, which you don’t ever notice from day to day but which look absolutely dreadful when company is coming because they are crumbling and have lost all their paint after a winter of having hockey bags dragged up and down them.


In some ways, I take a quiet joy in knowing just how to negotiate my diva kitchen sink spout that has to be handled just so, and, yes, even in knowing how best to care for The Temperamental Toilet.  I know the sound of that toilet when it is well and when it is ailing, and we rush to its aid when it’s ailing.  It’s just what we do.

And really, it’s not so different from having kids with diva tendencies that you don’t notice, until you do.  Some things you aim to change, others, you live with.

The last of the shower guests left at 5:00.

At 6:00 the doorbell rang.  A painter to give us an estimate for fixing the front steps.  I take no joy in peeling paint.

The Warehouse, The Next Generation

My Dad used to call my mother’s handbag The Warehouse.  I grew up certain that entire episodes of Mission: Impossible and MacGyver could be filmed using the contents of my mother’s purse.

Mine is nowhere near so capacious or fun, but I do have a few tricks in my bag.  Nothing sharp, after forgetting The Rules and having my wonderful Swiss Army knife taken away at the airport.  Sigh.  No bottles with more than 100 ml of liquid, ditto.  Luckily, my favourite hand lotions come in small vessels, and it’s a delicious luxury to have that fragrance on hand.  What mother’s bag is complete without first aid?  I’ve got a complete wee kit.  Hockey arena stubs, naturally.  I have more lip gloss than I can use in a lifetime; three travel with me.  The keys to my Dad’s condo, on a key ring from Egypt, where we lived once upon a time.  A picture of my kids in my wallet, because apparently wallets more often get returned if lost when there’s a picture of kids inside.  Love notes from the kids.  Sticky notes, because you never know when you might have a page-flagging emergency.  A book; always a book.  Today, it’s Cold Comfort Farm, because Samantha Ellis made me want to reread it.  A deck of cards for hurry up and wait rooms.  And, pen addict that I am, I travel with several choices of pens and ink.

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OK, I’m totally kidding about the ink wells, ink pot and and quills!  But that pencil case is full of pens.

Unmet Needs

483px-Poligraf_PoligrafovichWe are considering getting a dog.  Shoot me now?

It was not long ago (last week, actually) that I thought that I just could not face the unmet needs of another living creature.  Then my three little living creatures went away without me for a while, and the space that opened in my day and in my mind began to welcome the idea of a dog.

(I would much, much rather have a cat.  I like their independence, their aloofness.  I like that they don’t need picking up after.  But we have allergies in this house that will not permit feline company.)

For so long I felt swamped by the needs of my children, but I have begun to look up and look about me.  I can do more.  I can take on more.  I don’t feel in constant need of rescue, and, in fact, I feel perfectly able to help others.  A tip of balance has taken place, putting me up above the morass of maternal obligation, giving me a wider view.  I could welcome a dog.  I could do it.

And then a little voice inside me says, “It’s a trap!  The kids are nearly all at school full time.  This is your time.  Do not take on the burden of another young thing.”

When does the balance tip between feeling burdened by the dependence of a loved one and so enriched by it that you forget the obligation?

We are close, very close, but it will not happen soon.  My eldest son, 12, just returned from a winter camping and dog sledding trip and is all enamoured of dogs.  He came upstairs the other night, after dinner and hockey practice and showering and doing homework, with a speech ready to persuade us of his ability to take care of a dog and of all the merits of having a family pet.

“Hold on,” I said.  “Before you begin this speech in earnest, have you taken out the garbage?”


“And have you, by any chance, emptied the dishwasher?”

“Good point.  I will be right back.”

I believe his speech will take some fine tuning.  I did not say, “no.”  Instead, we gave him a research project to find out the best options for breeds, adoption, etc.

In the mean time, my husband and I bring up the topic occasionally, and weigh the pros and cons.  Looking, looking for that balance, that moment when things will tip us into the realm of canine love and dependence.

Winding Through Winter with One Small Mend

needle_and_threadMost years I am a reasonable winter trooper – no wild enthusiast, but I like it and I get out.  I like the change of seasons, the prettiness of it, and the forced slowing of the pace of things.  I don’t know why exactly, but I haven’t been able to rally to the call of winter this year.  Possible explanations:  it’s been colder than usual, I haven’t been exercising, and especially I think is that it’s been not just a very cold winter but a very dark one.  To plan my garden better, I am supposed to observe sun patterns throughout the seasons, but despite my efforts I still don’t know where the sun falls in the yard because it won’t shine!  I’ve been missing the light terribly.

And maybe that’s why it’s been happening, the low energy that seems to be so often nipping at my heels this season, so much so that one Sunday I found myself at home for hours because my husband had taken our children out for the day.  He knows I need these windows to recharge, but though I was so glad to have it, I kind of found myself flopping around, not doing any of the things I know I want to do.

Enter the distraction:  I have discovered (four years later than the rest of you but whatever) Downton Abbey.  And being late to the show, I can watch episode after episode online if I choose.  And although it’s great fun, I did feel a bit defeated when I started downloading the next episode during my precious window of free time.

As it turned out, the iTunes episode took 20 min to download.  And rather than sit there doing nothing, I turned to my mending basket thinking, at least I’ll sew up that hole in my sweater while I wait.  It was a small repair that took just a few minutes.

But it was something, a little shot of productivity, and I found myself thinking, hey, maybe I’ll make a hand lotion like I’ve been meaning to do for about forever, even though I knew it would take longer than the time left on the download.  And I actually did it – melting beeswax on a makeshift double boiler and everything (a big dealio for yours truly).

Then, buoyed up by that, I did a full yoga session, after which I worked for a little while on my next blog book.
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It’s no great shakes, that afternoon, but it’s not always easy to pull oneself out of a funk and frankly I may have trouble pulling myself out of the next.  Which I guess is partly why I’m writing about this one, to celebrate small victories, and also to remember that sometimes good things begin with one small mend.

And when night came, following the day that I had wanted to have, I returned to that downloaded copy of Downton Abbey and it was great.

Manners, Boys

I’m a little … uptight about manners.  In fact, I’m so uptight that I am, ironically, not very polite to my kids when they have less than stellar manners.  Since I’m definitely a glass half empty kind of person when it comes to assessing my kids’  manners, my impolite calling them out happens fairly often.  Basically, I am regularly an obnoxious scold because my kids aren’t unfailingly polite.

Hmmmmm.  A case of the pot calling the kettle black.  I’m working on it.3A26B0E9

The good news is that although I have a tendency to focus on the negative when it comes to their behaviour, we hear great things about our boys when they go visiting friends or relatives.   Practically every time they go somewhere, my parting words are, “Remember your manners, boys.”  Usually, when they are returned to me, I hear a variation of , “The kids were great.”  My Dad, who babysat the boys one long weekend recently and who would have no hesitation in telling me if the boys had misbehaved, said there wasn’t a single problem all weekend.

Hmmmmm.  So that obviously can’t be true, but it  was close enough to the truth I think he wanted to tell me:  Nobody’s perfect, but these kids did their best, and I have no complaints.

Nobody’s perfect; no complaints.  Perfectionist that I am, this is a middle ground I’d happily tread with no fear of hypocrisy or mediocrity.

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.

Mantras to Save Money

As some of you may know, I have a mantra that I say at the till every time I am in a bookstore (weekly, at the very least):  “At least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes, at least it’s not shoes.”

I love my mantra, but I do acknowledge that it is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory to “save” on shoes only to spend on books.  In the very same moment, I proclaim and undermine my virtue by pretending that my spending is anything but indulgent.  Shoes or books, whatever your addiction, if you have to have a mantra when you spend, your purchase is probably less a necessity than an indulgence.  My claim to virtue rests entirely on my perception that shoes are a frivolous indulgence while books are a sound investment.  I acknowledge that I could probably well stand to spend a bit more time and money on clothes (including shoes) and a lot less on books, but there you go.  I can easily resist one, and struggle mightily to resist the other.

I am not a big fan of diets or of deprivation; my attempts to stop buying books have not gone well.  But I have found Eliza’s Cross’s money diet challenge to be an effective and wholesome mantra: “no unnecessary spending.”   As part of her January Money Diet, in its fifth year this year, participants pledge to save money and to try to go for a month without spending cash, taking a 31-day break from all but the most essential spending.  I did not sign up, but I am observing with interest from a distance.

One of the places in which I am most guilty of unnecessary spending is the drug store at the end of my street.  I’ve been in there a lot this month, finally taking myself and each of the three boys in turn for our flu shots (hooray!), and I’m always running in for milk or bread.  We also get loyalty points when we spend, which is terrible temptation to spend more, more, more.  Well, not this month.  In the drug store, when I was tempted to replace the tube of lip gloss that ran out, the one shade out of dozens that I own, I stopped myself short by saying, “No unnecessary spending.”  When I found myself itching to try a new body lotion, in spite of the many half-finished tubs and bottles at home, I said, “No unnecessary spending.”  When I reached for a new shade of nail polish, I thought of all I had, and said, “No unnecessary spending.”   It never felt like deprivation.  It felt calming and empowering.  It made me grateful for what I already have and it made me come home and unearth it.  It was wonderful.

book cityIt did not work in the bookstore.

I have not been on a money diet for January.  I have taken a romantic holiday alone with my husband, I have gone out for decadent meals with him, and for fun meals with friends.  We consumed too many calories, we spent too much on food and wine.  But none of that spending felt wrong or indulgent.  I am a better parent, wife and friend for those luxuries, and that, I think, is what good spending should achieve: a sense of well-being, a sense of being ahead of where you were before you spent the money rather than guilt for feeling behind or in debt.

The money diet mantra has also given me a sense of well-being.  It reminds me of my life of plenty, and makes me grateful for my existing small luxuries.


Carrie Snyder, at Obscure Canlit Mama, has a tradition of choosing a word of the year at the beginning of each year.  It is a word that serves as a theme, or an inspiration, a goal or a summation.  Last year’s word, for example, was “stretch,” and here is what she had to say about it in retrospect:

Every word that occurs to me seems to whisper its shadow, its opposite, which I do find sometimes happens with words of the year — one ends up exploring the dark side of, say, stretch, my word for the past year. At times I cursed the choice, feeling stretched way beyond comfort (twisted ankle, head injury) or stretched too thin. But then I reminded myself to stretch, literally, and that felt good. And I did stretch, grabbing onto goals that once seemed out of reach. I wonder how that’s changed me. That’s what I’ve been wondering about most as I think about a new word: how have I changed, and how do I want to change? What do I fear and why? What do I want to give and why? What do I hope to accomplish and why? (The “and why” seems as important as the “what,” even if the answer is very simple, like it was with last year’s word. In order to keep running long distances, I need to stretch, I reasoned. Seemed practical at the time. Still does, I suppose.)

I have found myself thinking about this tradition of hers and her meditation on it quite a bit in these new weeks of the new year.

I love words, and to choose one, just one, seems impossible at best.  But there is something about the exercise that I can’t resist, and I keep circling back to the word “citizen.”  Of my many and diverse goals, one thing that I want for myself and for my children is for us all to be good citizens.

fluThe idea really came home to me while I was kicking myself for letting the winter get so far on without us all having had our flu shots.  I am not avoiding it, or dreading it, nor do I think it’s not necessary.  I just haven’t made the time for us all to go and get our shots.  And while I was berating myself for this neglect, and telling myself how good I will feel once it is off of my to do list, I realized that what makes me feel so good about getting flu shots is that it makes me feel like a good citizen.  I am protecting not just myself and my family, but contributing to community health.   Every year, I get a sense of satisfaction not just from having crossed it off the list of things to do, not just from having eliminated a task, but more from having contributed to something.

My definition of citizenship, then, means mostly that we think beyond ourselves and our own needs and think about the bigger picture.  It means finding out how we as individuals can maximize our positive impact on our community.  It means finding strength by thinking of others.

So “citizen” will be my word of the year this year, and it will be my goal to push out and beyond myself into something bigger.

Cell Phone Detox: A Cure For My Bad Habit?

6f5dfea45d48edbd1f20459bf6b9b4e8Like a dog that drools when he hears the biscuit bag tear open, my fingers twitch when I hear that ever-present, oh-so-distinct ping!  I reach for it first thing every morning, when my eyes are still heavy with sleep and my brain barely registering my surroundings.  It’s in my back pocket or the bowels of my purse, even on the marble counter adjacent to the tub while I soak.  It chirps at me while the boys maneuver the playground tagging their friends, while I pound the treadmill growing short of breath, and from the sidelines of coffee dates with friends.

But it wasn’t until my 3-year-old son followed me from the kitchen with my phone clutched in his hand that I had, to borrow a phrase from the divine Ms. O, an Aha! moment.

“Here you are, mommy.  You forgot your phone.”  His arm out-stretched and pudgy fingers curled around the glass.

Could I be addicted to my cell phone?

Author Ira Hyman asks the same question: am I addicted to my cell phone? in his article Are You Addicted To Your Cell Phone? for Psychology Today.  He cites Atchley and Warden’s (2012) study in which the researchers found the majority of college students were more likely to return a text message immediately and receive a smaller monetary reward rather than delay their response time for a greater monetary reward.

While I wasn’t a subject in the study, I am confident in my abilities to refrain from knee-jerk texting so this study led me to no conclusions other than the participants had more cash than I did when I was in university.

Maybe I am not so far gone after all.

However according to a recent University of Washington study researchers have identified four characteristics that may indicate concerning behaviour when it comes to the relationship you have with your cell phone.

1.    Anticipation: Frequently thinking about calls or messages you may receive.

2.      Activity interference: Choosing to spend time on your phone rather than talk to friends or family or engage in other activities.

3.      Emotional reaction: Becoming angry when someone interrupts your phone time, or feeling irritated when not on your phone.

4.      Problem Recognition: Recognizing you spend too much time on your phone and trying to cut back.

This criteria is ringing more true than I care to admit. 8957e9452d6b320d977dd4c2a1caf03a

I don’t have to panic just yet though, because these same researchers from both studies have concluded that it’s entirely possible that in this cell-phone age this is the way we communicate with each other and stay connected.  The almighty, powerful cell phone has replaced outdated methods of communication just like the cordless phone replaced the rotary phone and rotary phone absolved the need for the courier pigeon.

Nonetheless I have grown acutely aware of the amount of time that I (and others) spend tapping away on their little glass screens and I don’t like it.

While I am not one for resolutions, I have thought about what I’d like more and less of in my life and the New Year is a fitting time to implement change.

I want to be more present in my life.  Remember the days when you used to sit in the doctor’s waiting room and tried not to get caught staring at the others waiting?  Remember waking up and not grabbing for your phone?  How about the last time I went more than two waking hours without answering that familiar “ping”?

I can’t remember and this realization leaves me no choice but to go on a cell phone detox and hopefully I will find myself more engaged in meaningful activities and conversations.

Margaret Hyde, author of Breaking the Cell Phone Habit offers practical suggestions of how to reduce the minutes, err possibly hours!, spent talking on the phone, playing on the phone, returning emails and texts on the phone  . . .

Cell Phone Detox Action Plan

  1. No texting or talking while being a passenger in the car.
  2. Turn off the phone after the kids go to bed.
  3. Over-night charge the phone using a receptacle other than the one in the bedroom.
  4. When possible leave the phone inside while outdoors.
  5. Delete time-sucking apps and unsubscribe from mass mailings that I don’t read.
  6. Keep a journal noting reactions/feelings about limiting cell phone use.

Calling all cell phone addicts – do you ever cell phone detox?  Any tips?  What are your feelings on the subject – is the cell phone a necessary tool to maintaining social interactions or is it a catalyst for a social isolation?  Is there a difference between virtual social interaction and face-to-face social interaction?


All images via Pinterest.

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….