Nathalie’s Parenting Hack: Google Calendar

It’s not a hack at all, actually, but it’s my most useful tool: Google calendar.

Our online family calendar is the alpha and the omega of all our planning.  It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing at night.  It’s the first thing I consult when making plans, and it’s the most-used app on my phone.  I’d be totally lost without it.

61lvzl2H+2L__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I used to love my Filofax and my Sandra Boynton Family Calendar.  I loved the ritual of writing in all of the lessons at the beginning of each term, and seeing the months spread out before me.  I will not lie: the stickers in the Sandra Boynton calendar were a definite highlight.  The Kate Spade refills for the Filofax made my heart go pitter-pat, and I loved handwriting all of the birthdays of friends and family each January, when I replaced my Filofax pages.  The way the pages would gradually warp and soften as the year progressed was so satisfying.  All of that tactile and visual joy.

BUT, once the boys started hockey, not only did it become a challenge to actually fit all of the information in the little boxes, it became impossible to stay on top of it all, to effectively communicate it all, to make sure that something did not get missed.

So, while it gives me a lot less tactile and visual pleasure, my google calendar gives me enormous peace of mind and security.

The Almighty Schedule is its own entity, and we all feed it information constantly.  Between three boys, we have five hockey teams (two play House League and Select).  We subscribe to all five teams’ online calendars so that the information gets uploaded automatically.  Games, practices, meetings and tournaments all appear (in different colours for each team, no less, and with links to the maps to the arenas–double plus bonus).  Eldest’s school events and school sports teams also each have on-line calendars to which I subscribe, so those also appear automatically.  Lessons, after-school activities, swimming, playdates, doctors and dentists–they all go on as soon as I book them.  All of the Things are collected on that calendar, and if they aren’t on the calendar, they don’t get done.

Those of us with computers subscribe to the main family calendar, so everyone has access to all of the information all of the time.  This, by far, is the biggest advantage of an on-line, shared calendar.  I do not have to be the person responsible for reminding everyone else where to be and when.

It’s not very pretty, and it does not come with 500 nifty stickers or Sandra Boynton’s wonderful humour, but it gets the job done better than my beloved pen and paper.

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Parenting Hacks

time-488112_1280We get it. Life is busy. Everyone knows it and everyone is trying to manage it. This week we are bringing you our favourite simple, time-savers and sanity soothers. Let us know what you’re really doing to keep the wheels on. No judgment here, just real and honest parenting-hacks that make life a bit easier and free up time for what really matters to you.

Summertime Margarita

This post by Beth-Anne was originally published last summer, but as everyone knows a good margarita is timeless.  Enjoy!

This summer we’ve been all about margaritas! They are so yummy and can easily be made without alcohol. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not comfortable in the kitchen and I have a tendency to “wing” it (insert disastrous result), and I do the same when it comes to mixology too. I like to go by taste, so every measure that I am about to give you is an approximation. Let your sense be your guide!

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Start off with some limes, both regular run-of-the-mill juicy limes and those flavour-bursting key limes. Juice 2 limes per glass. This is where the math comes in. If you’re going to make a pitcher of 8 drinks, you’ll need sixteen limes. It’s a lot of squeezing but it will be worth it.

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Pour the lime juice into the pitcher and add some club soda (1:1 ratio). Now add a healthy dose of tequila. I prefer white (or clear) and I figure about 1.5 – 2 shots per glass. Again with the math.  Squeeze in some agave nectar. This is where it gets personal. Sweetness is subjective, so be sure to taste and add accordingly.

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Pour in a touch of orange juice. That’s a very technical measurement. Don’t screw that part up.

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I’ve sampled several versions of this recipe over the summer and each time I tweak it slightly. I know nothing for sure, other than this drink tastes best served in a tall glass over lots of ice and a thinly sliced key lime.

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Guest Post: Kristina Cerise

Husband cookies

Husband cookie (noun): small, flat and round baked treat which, for any number of reasons (e.g. unintended merger, over-cooked edges, contact with kitchen floor) has been compromised in a manner that makes it unsuitable for guests and available for consumption by spouse.

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Kristina Cerise is a Seattle writer, editor and mom trying to find meaning in the madness. Her essays have been feature on Brain, Child’s blog, in Working Mother, and most recently in Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness (Second Edition). She blogs about words and what they mean to her on Defining Motherhood.

Juicer

FullSizeRenderjuicer (n): an intensely delicious kiss on the cheek whereupon the lips of one are pressed firmly into the cheek of another lasting for at minimum 5 glorious Mississippi-seconds.

Variations:
-the kisser’s hand cradles and presses the head of the receiver, creating counter-pressure to intensify the kiss.
-the kisser’s lips attach to the cheek with an open-mouth creating a suction seal, producing a delicious, slurpy sound when pulled away.
-rarely, but much loved by the receiver, the kisser, while lips attached to the cheek, vocalizes Muuuuuu-wah!

Theme Week: The 4mothers1blog Illustrated Dictionary (By Way of Several Books)

I’ve been on a reading adventure of late: books that take as their subject British landscape and its lore and vocabulary, a trail that led to the idea for this week’s posts.

plotIt all began with The Plot: A Biography of an English Acre by Madeleine Bunting.  The book is an attempt at a biography of the author’s father, a very difficult man, through a biography of The Plot, his sacred acre of land.  A sculptor, devout Catholic, and Arts and Crafts adherent, John Bunting built a chapel by himself and by hand on a remote acre of land in Yorkshire.  He decorated it with religious sculpture and devoted it to fallen soldiers, but he excluded his wife and children from his obsession.  Madeleine Bunting is full of ambivalence as the biographer of this acre of land, and she approaches The Plot sideways to try to fathom what it was that so absorbed her father.  She comes up with so much more rich detail about this acre of land than he would have known, and it feels often as though she may have done so to subvert his own interests.  It was a fascinating read for its tension between biography (by proxy) and local knowledge.  The sheep that graze on the Yorkshire moors, for example, symbols of England’s pastoral identity, are more expensive to keep than the wool they produce.  It’s illegal to burn or bury wool, though, so there’s a massive glut of wool.  The sheep’s grazing is what is necessary to keep the moors looking like moors, though; otherwise, there’d be shrubs and trees instead of heather, and heather attracts tourists, so sheep are actually more valuable in a tourist economy than an agricultural economy.

shepIn one of this year’s surprise hits, A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape, James Rebanks makes the same observation.  Rebanks, a shepherd in the Lake District, has, of all things, a hugely popular Twitter following (@herdyshepherd1), and on the strength of that success, he wrote this book about his work on the land.  He also remarks on the unprofitable cost of shearing a sheep, and he is eloquent on the value of the enormous work that goes into the care of the herd.  He is wonderfully acerbic about the disconnect between Romantic literary notions of land and landscape and his own experience of it.  As a teen not quite old enough to leave school to work on his family farm, Rebanks recalls chafing under the requirement of school, but deciding to tune in one day when he realizes that a guest speaker at their school assembly had begun to talk about the Lake District, where his family had farmed for generations.  The subtext of her talk is that to want to leave school in order to farm was to be more or less an idiot:

The idea that we, our fathers and mothers, might be proud, hard-working and intelligent people doing something worthwhile, or even admirable, seemed to be beyond her.  …  I listened, getting more and more aggravated, as I realized that curiously she knew, and claimed to love, our land.  But she talked about it, and thought of it, in terms that were completely alien to my family and me.  She loved a “wild” landscape, full of mountains, lakes, leisure and adventure, lightly peopled with folk I had never met.  The Lake District in her monologue was the playground for an itinerant band of climbers, poets, walkers and daydreamers … people whom, unlike our parents, or us, had “really done something.”  …  I realized then, with some shock, that the landscape I loved, we loved, where we had belonged for centuries, the place known as “the Lake District,” had a claim to ownership submitted by other people, based on principles I barely understood.

In large part, his book is a corrective to this teacher’s brand of condescension, and it positively glows with the author’s pride in his work and heritage.  It is uneven–some parts are beautifully crafted, and others needed more polishing–but a very enjoyable read.

meadowMeadowland: The Private Life of an English Field is a similarly structured book.  Limited, as is Bunting’s book, by a tiny parcel of land, John Lewis-Stempel writes a season-by-season diary of his meadow.  He also takes issue with the Romantic notion of wilderness, but is happy to quote Wordsworth for his epigraph, in which, he says, the poet gets it right:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things

We murder to dissect.

To rationalize the natural world, he says, is pointless, so he offers a detailed and charmingly disjointed journal of his observations of the flora and fauna on Lower Meadow.  One wonderfully self-deprecating observation that he makes is that while the English have a rich and varied lexicon for place names and features of the landscape, their imagination runs dry when it comes to naming the parts of individual farms.  Every farm in England, he says, has a Lower Meadow or a North Field: “hardly ever do they lift themselves above the ultra-prosaic. …  People needed to know field names, which were their places of work.  Children and wives needed to know where to take men their ‘elevenses’ and ‘fourses,’ their cider or tea, their bread and cheese.”

hawkAnother surprise hit from the past year is Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk.  The book is a curious mix of a grief memoir, a hawking history and handbook, and a biography of T.H. White, and these disparate themes are expertly woven together by an author who is in total command of her material.  Winner of many prizes, including the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Costa Book Award, H is for Hawk is one of those rare reads that does all of its work well.  When the author is blindsided by a crippling grief for her father, she begins to dream of hawks.  As a child she had been an avid student of falconry, and in the midst of her grief she revives that passion and sets out to acquire and train a goshawk that she names Mabel.  It is an admittedly silly and old-fashioned name that comes from the Latin amabilis, meaning loveable or dear.  In hawking circles, the sweeter the name of the hawk, the more fierce it is likely to become; nominative language here works in opposition to its goal.  The name is not meant to signify.

landmarksNames do signify in Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks, however.  This is also something of a genre-bender.  Part essay and part dictionary, the book is a celebration of land and language.  “This is a book about the power of language,” he writes on page one. “It is a field guide to literature I love, and it is a word hoard of the astonishing lexis for landscape that exists in the comparison of islands, rivers, strands, fells, lochs, cities, towns, corries, hedgerows, fields and edgelands uneasily known as the British Isles.”  A book driven in large part by a desire to defy the inevitable death of language when urbanization makes redundant the rich variety of words for natural things, this book is also a call to get back into the natural world and experience first hand the places and phenomenon now made rare by modern life.  This book does not murder to dissect, but it does attempt to give verbal shape to the beauteous forms of things.  It’s a book to dip in and out of, to use as a resource and as a missal for those devoted to the natural world.

And, finally, Landmarks brought me to Uncommon Ground by Dominick Tyler.  Tyler’s book is also a dictionary of words that describe places, but his is illustrated with breath-takingly beautiful photographs that illustrate the words he defines.

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This is clitter or clatter depending on whether you are in Devon (clitter) or Cornwall (clatter).  It is a word to describe the piles of granite boulders that litter and clutter the hillsides.  I feel so incredibly tender about that perfectly apt word.  How many people actually use it today?  Well, if we don’t use it, at least we make a few more who know what it means and can conjure this image to define it.

It was the tender desire to protect and the contagious zeal to revel in language that gave me the idea for this week’s posts.  In keeping with photography month, we thought we’d take the opportunity to share with you some words and their definitions that are entirely idiosyncratic to our families.  This week you will see illustrated definitions of words unique to us.  Unless, perhaps, they aren’t!  Will you see any words you use?  See any that you will adopt?  Play along this week and share words unique to your families.

We are thrilled to welcome, once again, Kristina Cerise, who’s own mothering dictionary is a delight and an inspiration.  Defining Motherhood is one of those blogs that makes you grateful for this world wide web of goodness.

Guest Post: Kerry Clare on Her Grandmother’s Rolling Pin

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I come from a long line of people who knew how to make things. I wouldn’t even believe it, were it not for the evidence in my living room—a chair built by my great-grandfather, a tall bookshelf my grandfather built years ago for my mother. Whereas I consider it an achievement that two weeks ago I pieced together a Canadian Tire bistro set. A table and two chairs that will no doubt fall apart in a few seasons, cheaply made and sold in a flat pack.

But of all the solid wooden things that connect me to my family’s past, the most important is my rolling pin. It was my grandmother’s, and I acquired it after she died. At the time, she was living in a retirement home suite with a kitchenette, a mini-fridge, no oven to speak of, so it seems surprising that she still had her rolling pin, but perhaps it was something she wanted to hold on to—as you do with a rolling pin.

It is a beautiful object, but heavy—it’s extraordinarily painful to have it roll off the counter and land on your toe. Made with smooth wood with intricate grains, and I can count the rings of the tree it used to be. The handles are moulded for a good grip, and excellent hardware inside ensures a steady roll as I push it across a sheet of pastry. And did you know that when rolling pastry, you only roll outwards in one direction? Not back and forth at all, like a steamroller, but just push it out once, perhaps again. Flip the pastry and do the same thing on the other side.

I didn’t know anything about pastry until I was in my late twenties when I was suddenly struck by the New Domesticity bug endemic among women my age. Though the time was right—I’d recently gotten married, I finally had a real kitchen, and a canister full of flour. And suddenly, I was itching to make things from scratch. To make pie. To claim my inheritance, I suppose, and prove that I too could make things. And also so that I could eat pie.

My grandmother’s pies were excellent, a staple of family gatherings. Usually apple (topped with vanilla ice cream), or pumpkin at Thanksgiving. My other grandmother made pies too, though hers were less crafted—her speciality was “chocolate pie,” which was Jello pudding in a pre-made crust, though she also did a mean lemon meringue. But that there was something “grandmotherly” about my pie-making didn’t immediately occur to me, not until long after I’d become a pastry maven and had been rolling my grandmother’s rolling pin for awhile. I’d been envisioning my baking as a new frontier. I hadn’t considered that my baking hobby, like the rolling pin itself, would be one of the few connections I have to my foremothers.

baking-as-biographyBut the connection is complicated. In her fascinating 2009 book, Baking as Biography, historian and folklorist Diane Tye riffles through her own mother’s recipe box to learn about how Canadian women lived in the middle of the twentieth century. That a wife and mother would bake, she explained, was simply expected, and what she baked would be dictated by her class and status, by where she lived, and how she was marketed to by companies that made things like gelatine and chocolate chips. And also what was in fashion: marshmallows, and coconut for exotic occasions.

But why did so few of these women pass their baking know-how on to their own daughters? Tye suggests a few reasons: feminism, not to mention instant baking mixes, would have made these women’s knowledge seem obsolete by the 1960s and ‘70s. And moreover, for many of them, baking was less a hobby and a passion than a time-consuming chore.

I don’t know if this was the case for my own grandmother. We didn’t talk that much, and most of the things I wonder about her it didn’t occur to me to wonder until after she was gone. That she kept her rolling pin until the end, however, suggests it was important. I always felt as though her baking was her way of showing affection, much like the obligatory letters she used to write me when I was at camp—usually imploring me to be a good girl. My grandmother was someone for whom to do what was expected of her was very important.

It was never quite as important to me, which is why it might surprise my grandmother that I’ve been giving her rolling pin such a work-out over the last decade. That I have inherited her affinity for pastry. That a part of her legacy lives on in my kitchen, with every pie I make.

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Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer, and editor of the anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published to rave reviews in 2014.  Her essays, reviews and short fiction have appeared most recently in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Joyland, Canadian Notes & Queries and The New Quarterly.  Kerry teaches “The Art of Blogging” at the University of Toronto, is editor of 49thShelf.com, and writes about books and reading at her popular website, Pickle Me This.

 

 

Family Heirlooms According to a Purger

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Yesterday,while other families spent the day outdoors enjoying the soaring temperatures and sunshine followed by a festive display of fireworks, I spent it indoors doing something that gives me great pleasure.

Purging.

Closets, drawers and cupboards that is.

I delight in giving things the toss to the donation bin or garbage bin, it doesn’t matter; the high I get is the same. Thankfully, my partner in life shares my need for clutter-free living. Some extol the comfort they feel in keeping playbills and movie stubs, bric-a-brac and dated magazines, first teeth and hair clippings. I simply can’t relate.

Years ago we moved house and before any piece of paper, item of clothing or page of a book was packed, it had to pass muster. Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Have I looked at/used/wore/thought about it the past year? The past two years?

I held up a stack of my wedding programs. Toss. The pale blue cardstock littered the recycle bin save for one. A small shoebox overflowing with cards and letters was given the once over before dumping much of its contents in with the programs. I have saved a few items: baptismal outfits and meaningful, heart-felt cards and pictures (rarely get rejected), but for the most part, rightly or wrongly, I like to attach my emotions to people and memories and not to stuff.

I am not a complete Scrooge. I do own things that I care deeply about. Our champagne flutes that I carried around Europe on my back come to mind. Recently there was a casualty and our set of 6 diminished to the odd number of 5. My husband and I both looked at the cracked glass, and for a minute there was a moment we wished we could turn back the clock and be just a bit more careful, but it was short lived and I mitigated the blues by toasting the fun times we’d had with that glass.

The pottery my boys made, the hand-knitted blankets and sweaters, and my grandmother’s ring are among the material things that I own and would be sad to lose because they are truly irreplaceable.   I like to think that I have a carefully curated collection of material items from books to clothing that won’t burden my sons too terribly when I die.

I don’t expect the boys to keep much, and I’ve made the task an easy one. Just like my mother and grandmothers (all extremely Spartan women), I have little to bequeath.

But if I am to tell the tale of our family’s history through one object, it is one that is explicitly off-hands to curious, little fingers. It is the cake topper that adorned my grandparents’ wedding cake 67 years ago.

The bride and groom are stoic, with linked arms and pursed expressions, as if knowing that marriage and the years ahead are not made of taffeta and butter cream.

This small, ceramic figurine serves as a reminder of the long marriages that make up my family’s tree. Certainly they weren’t marriages without flaws and struggle. Certainly they weren’t marriages that were perfect or even near to, but certainly they were marriages built on something to last decades and serve as the foundation for a generous number of descendants.

When the time comes, many years from now, for my family tree to add branches, I will carefully pass the bride and groom down to my boys to serve as a symbol of unity, commitment and yup, hard work.

Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

 

Iphone photos Sept 2015 1416I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffin tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.