We 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.
Spending time together as a family can be a daunting task. Between activities, commitments and crabby attitudes, it’s tough to find the time (or in some cases the want) to spend together.
I know that it may seem painfully Rockwell-esque but getting outdoors has proven to the recipe for success for my family. Without the confines of space, everyone has room to breathe (but not on each other) and stare at nature (but not at each other) and we’re less tempted to look at our texts or make phone calls.
Apple picking may not be tops on everyone’s agenda but it’s a pleasant way to spend the day and the spoils can be made into pie, or strudel, or sauce.
If you live in Toronto or are a short drive, Evergreen Brickworks and Todmorden Mills are rich with history as well as greenery. The farmer’s market never disappoints and Cafe Belong makes for a unpretentiously delicious lunch spot.
The Islands. Toronto has them and they are underrated. Go and explore them. Biking, sailing, kayaking, strolling, eating, riding – check!
Three weeks before the university drop-off date, I bumped into a girlfriend, Sue, whose son went off to an out-of-town school last September. She asked me how I was feeling….”Are you ready for drop-off?”
I quickly dove into a confident explanation about how I had my “breakdown” during the university tour process in March. My 18 year old son, Chris, would be completely creeped-out to learn that I would go into his room at night, stand over him, and stare at him until dime-sized teardrops fell onto his face, causing him to stir. Never before in my life had I cried such massive, heavy teardrops. After confidential disclosure to other parents, I discovered that I am not the only mother who has done the creepy-nighttime-bawl-over-your-kid’s-face thing. Chris is an amazing young man and we have always been close, even through the challenging but typical ups and downs of the mid-teen years, because we have always respected one another’s needs. Chris has been a significant source of my personal happiness. I pointed out to Sue that of late, Chris has been very pumped about going off to Queen’s to study his passion, engineering. I also explained how I have taken on a healthy, positive, and upbeat attitude as my feelings of sadness have been completely overshadowed by sheer excitement for Chris. Sue looked back at me, expressionless. After an uncomfortable five seconds of silence and solid eye contact, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “You’re going to be a disaster”.
Two weeks before drop-off I was sufficiently distracted with “the list”. A pile including bed linens, toiletries and organizer bins was slowly growing in our hallway, looking more and more, as each day passed, like a mountain of disaster relief supplies. I was definitely becoming obsessive about “the list” and panicked at the thought of overlooking something. It was like Chris was heading off to a remote land far away for an entire year, with no money and where there were no stores. I also seemed to be imagining that Chris would be living in a room the size of a gymnasium with ample space to store “necessary” extras such as emergency medical supplies (the Kingston General Hospital is literally steps away from his residence), cold temperature survival gear, a full selection of dried-good food inventory, and of course, the spare, extra-padded desk chair. I was also collecting lists from other moms for comparison. My work paid off as I discovered I had forgotten about zip-lock baggies. (Yes, this is how crazy a peri-menopausal, over-protective, control-freak mom can get when her first is leaving the nest). One day, I found myself in the grocery store, excitedly texting Chris, “I found 3-ply tissues for you…3 ply is the best you can buy…and I searched for ones that come in non-flowery boxes”, to which he replied with the all too-familiar words, “Oh gaaawwwwd, Mom…STOP! ” Yes, I was sufficiently distracted by the list.
One week before drop-off, I began collecting advice from “experienced” university parents. The resounding opinion about drop-off day was, “Have your breakdown in the car…not in front of your child.” I also learned, for whatever reason, that all “newbie” university moms were obsessed with the whole bedding situation (I mean linens…not “bedding” as in the verb…to which I could dedicate an entire separate article covering moms’ concerns). Early Saturday morning, I announced to my husband that our goal for the weekend was to find a good mattress topper for Chris’s bed. “A WHAT?”, he replied, “Are you serious?…I went to university with a duffle bag full of clothes and a blanket…he’s going to get laughed out of the residence” (Fast forward to drop-off day…the garbage bin was full of mattress topper wrappings.) Yes, things had changed in the world of mom-preps-child-for-uni. Chris was nicely set-up with a vinyl-free, non-dust-permeable mattress pad, two sets of organic cotton sheets (500 thread count, no less), a 3” memory-foam mattress topper, down pillows, down comforter (extra-warm), and a duvet cover set. I still don’t quite understand why it was so important for his bed at university to be significantly more comfortable and exquisite than his bed at home…it just had to be. In my mind, this was somehow going to be the substitute for my comfort and care.
Two days before drop-off, I felt remarkably calm and content. Chris gave us our instructions…“Mom, please don’t make a scene. And when we get to my room, just leave everything…I will set it up myself”, to which I replied, “I won’t make a scene, but there is no way I am leaving without making your bed…no negotiation on this, Christopher”. We had a deal.
One day before drop-off, I started to unravel. At precisely 4:00pm, while setting the table for dinner the tears started. I hid from Chris most of that evening and got extra hugs from his younger brother and sister.
On the day of drop-off, the excitement on campus was palpable. Chris’s room was cozy and everything was organized in an hour although he left the zip-lock baggies in the trunk of the car when I wasn’t looking. It was a quick goodbye. I was so excited for what lay ahead of him and gave him a tight squeeze. He pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head to cover my eyes, for fear of a scene. As I got in the car, the tears flowed. My sister called during our drive home to check on me (an experienced mom who knew the exact moment to offer support), but I couldn’t speak to her. That first night was utterly dreary and depressing. I texted with other newbie moms and they were all upset. I realized that for the first time in 18 years, I would no longer have any idea about what he was doing, when he would make it back to his room to sleep at night, and I no longer had the right to text him as frequently, to ask. It was the strangest feeling – a complete loss of control. I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I already missed him. My husband was very quiet. He asked me not to talk about Chris being gone because he didn’t want to think about it. I’m pretty sure I saw him wipe a tear from his eye before turning over in bed to go to sleep that night. The next day came and went exactly the way experienced moms said it would. I was upset when I woke up, and then I was fine for a bit, and then I would spontaneously cry, and then I was fine. There was simply no pattern or trigger; instead, it was random sobbing and sadness. The only thing I came to expect was that I could burst into tears at any moment.
My world brightened after Chris called for the first time…on day two (I know…it was frosh week and we were lucky). After I heard his voice, full of excitement, and his rambling words highlighted by “amazing”, “unbelievable”, “so much fun”, “party”, “so dope”, “party”…and the clincher “absolutely everyone is so incredibly warm and friendly”, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. My son was happy. I could trade not seeing him for a month or so for that happy, happy voice. And before he hung up, he exclaimed, “oh ya mom…my bed…it’s SO comfortable!”. I knew then, that “drop-off” had gone incredibly well and I would join the ranks of “experienced” moms who survived.
As I get ready for all the fresh faces to enter my classroom this year, I can’t help but be completely distracted. “Distracted” might not be the best word. How about FREAKED OUT!
You see, my 3 ¾ year old daughter is going off to Kindergarten for the first time this September. My little, precious, bright eyed, feisty Beatrice is heading off on her own educational journey, and I will not be there to hold her hand at the very beginning. Instead, I will be greeting children who have done this before, many times. I have been an educator for 10 years, but it was not until or only when I had my child that I realized the amount of trust that parents put into my hands each and every day. For 10 months I see their children more often than they do, and it is my job to provide a space where the students will continue to grow and develop their love of learning. I need to make learning magical.
As Beatrice heads off to school, I am looking at that job and that magic from a new angle. Will my daughter enjoy learning at school? Will she find it exciting? Will she struggle? Will she develop a sense of trust with her teachers? Will her teachers see what I see and nurture her strengths? Change is huge for all of us, but I can’t help thinking how monumental this will be for Beatrice. As I said before, I can’t be there to hold her hand on this first day of school, but hopefully she knows that I am there to support her and set any teacher straight who doesn’t meet my standards come parent-teacher interview time. My husband has already said that I won’t be allowed to attend.
Laura Brown-Bowers lives live with her husband, daughter, and 4 month old baby bump in the west end of Toronto. She loves to paint, walk in the woods, and eat good food.
Brandie Weikle, a long-time parenting editor and writer created The New Family to speak to a new generation of parents. The blog is a resource for today’s modern family and the 1,000 Families Project was born from Brandie’s own modern family and is an inspiring collection of stories highlighting the many ways we can be a family.
Today my story is featured on The New Family and I am grateful for the opportunity. Writing this essay allowed me to reflect on my experiences as a mother and how I define motherhood for myself. Thank you Brandie!
I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mother until my first son was 5 months old.
I was a child of the eighties and early nineties. Latchkey kids were commonplace; I can’t remember a single mother who wasn’t juggling work with raising a family. A frozen pizza pocket and a reminder note to take the dog for a walk is what greeted most of us after school. The few moms who were not bringing home the bacon were buried deep in text books studying for a Masters degree in nursing, social work or education.
When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was heady, simply thrilled that I was growing a life, a little boy half me and half my husband. While I debated the merits of cloth diapers versus disposable, and formula feeding over breastmilk, I never once doubted my plan to return to teaching the fifth grade just ten months after my son was born.
I had gulped down the Kool-Aid, just as many of my key-wearing friends had done. I consumed every ounce, licked every drip.
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You guys, few things move me to violent language like packing the lunches. My husband had to listen to a string of expletives just a few moments ago, in fact, as I faced the week ahead with dread. If, like me, you dread the lunchbox-related shopping, planning and packing, here are a few ideas to get you through the urge to curse.
Ha ha! Just kidding. Seriously, if you have time to make your kids’ lunches look like this, then we cannot be friends.
My friend Amy makes every Tuesday a Taco Tuesday, and Youngest has come to love her taco salad. It’s infinitely customizable to fit your “eat up the fridge” offerings, and it’s the inspiration for these deconstructed salads.
Deconstructed salads are what, to my mind, bento boxes and leftovers were made for. Slice a few extra veggies with dinner the night before or use up leftovers. Picky eaters can keep the ingredients separate, nothing gets soggy, and the presentation gets top marks. Five or six compartments, five or six ingredients, and you are good to go.
Taco Salad: lettuce, chopped sweet peppers, corn, black or kidney beans or chicken or beef strips, and, in the tiniest compartment, a few crumbled tortilla chips. (They are like magic pixie dust! Give them two chips’-worth of crumbs to put on top of a salad, and they think they’ve hit the jackpot!)
Salade Nicoise: tuna salad, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, olives and bread sticks. Ooo la la.
Greek Salad: lettuce, grape tomatoes, black olives, feta and chick peas. Mini-pita on the side.
We tried these snack-sized Li’l Oliver green and black olives from Sardo, and they are perfect for packed lunches.
Fruit Salad: Why not?! Send it with some greek yogurt and a mini-bagel, and breakfast for lunch is done!
Back-to-school stress sometimes doesn’t allow for many extra hours to devour a good novel and the telly has to do.
Whoever said that women are not funny, is just a complete moron. Amy Schumer proves that she can hold her own in the world of Blockbuster comedies with Trainwreck. I laughed (even though I knew at times it was painfully inappropriate to do so) out loud and many were of the snorting variety. Borderline jokes aside, I think Schumer, along with fellow actors and comediennes, Lena Dunham and Kristen Wiig are refreshing to see onscreen looking unapologetically female: “flaws” and all. (Just an aside . . .it irks me that Amy Schumer’s name is nowhere on the movie poster but instead it says “From the guy who brought you Bridesmaids”)
Technically, I didn’t watch this but I did listen to Amy Poehler read the unabridged version of her best-selling book Yes, Please! I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this. My Fitbit logged serious steps as I pushed myself just one more block so that I could continue to listen to Poehler’s memoirs – often hilarious but always brutally honest. The way she describes wanting to eat her little boys leads me to believe that we’d be best friends if we met. Well, that and her unwavering dedication to raising-up a generation of women to be strong, confident and supportive of each other. She’ll have you saying “good for you, not for me” with gusto!
I just found out about Acorn TV. It’s a subscription-based on-demand British TV streaming, vintage to recent productions, all for $4.99 a month. In other words, I may never need to leave the house again. Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence are the detecting duo in Partners in Crime, the show I’m most looking forward to seeing this fall. It stars Jessica Raine (Call the Midwife) and David Walliams. As for the vintage, I can highly recommend Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect and the late John Thaw as Inspector Morse. And that’s just the mysteries!
And for some fun with the kids, how about the wild and wacky Doctor Who? I bought the boxed set of the first series of a recent incarnation ages ago, and we finally watched it Labour Day weekend. Middlest, who I knew would love it, somehow got it into his head that it wasn’t for him (thus the long delay in watching the bought boxed set). I insisted he try it, and, sure enough, he was hooked by the end of episode 1. It’s got improbable plots and cheesy visual effects, in keeping with the original series, and I suspect that I will tire of it before he does, but we’re having fun so far!
Set in Sao Paolo, The Second Mother revolves around live-in housekeeper and nanny Val (Regina Case), whose life of loyal service to another family and the social hierarchy it represents, is upset by the arrival of her estranged daughter. The cast does everything it needs to, but the film belongs to Regina Case. Foreign films can seem inaccessible to the casual viewer, but the craft, social precisision, and warmth of The Second Mother is for everyone.
Disclaimer: We did not make money for recommending these titles to you. If you choose to buy a copy of any of these titles from Indigo by clicking from this post we do receive a small (pennies, actually) compensation.
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//assets.pinterest.com/js/pinit.jsOne of the hallmarks of the coming of fall and school’s return in the city of Toronto is sidewalks lined with crab apples trees in full array. Walking home from ice cream at Ed’s Real Scoop, I saw two such trees at our local park, just groaning with fruit. It was late afternoon, my boys and I had nothing calling us anywhere, the time was ours. And I thought of crab apple jelly.
The timing is perfect – school is back, which means packing lots and lots of lunches. We need jams and jellies to go with our peanut butter substitute sandwiches. Good quality jams and jellies are expensive, especially if organic, and these organic crab apples would just fall and go to waste if not snapped up for jelly-making. Plus a quick look on my handy dandy phone revealed that crab apples have natural pectin so jelly can be made without commercial pectin (which I didn’t have anyway).
It was decided. The reusable bag I try to keep in my backpack was actually there, and my boys and I set to filling it. I lifted my littlest to pick a few crab apples, but as they were otherwise out of his reach and the capabilities of my back, he satisfied himself by playing at the park. But with the help of a bench and some climbing skills, my two older sons could reach many more. They picked and picked until our bag was bursting, motivated equal parts by the promise of jelly and the pleasure of the task.
Making the jelly itself was pretty easy as far as these things go. You only need crab apples and sugar.
This is what you do:
- Wash the bounty. Admire.
- Remove leaves, stems and blossoms at the bottom of the crab apple. (You can leave the stems and blossoms on, but this will darken your jelly. I wanted mine to be pretty!)
- Halve or quarter the apples. This step is more important when you have larger crab apples. Ours were mostly about an inch in diameter, so I suspect we didn’t have to do this. But I had three crew members eager to wield knives, so I wouldn’t dream of skipping this step. My four year old insisted he could cut a crab apple with a butter knife and he could, with satisfaction, I might add. He happily chopped away alongside his brothers and their paring knives.
- Put crab apples in a large pot and barely cover with water (if the apples are floating, there’s too much water).
- Bring to a boil and then simmer until crab apples are soft (for us, about 25 minutes). Try not to overcook, as this can reduce the natural pectin in the crab apples.
- Strain juice from pulp. Cheesecloth would be ideal for this, but I didn’t have any so I used a clean muslin cloth over a fine mesh sieve, which worked great. Various recipes said to strain overnight but most of my juice was strained in an hour. I couldn’t imagine much more dripping out after that. The recipes were pretty unanimous that one should not mush down the pulp in hopes of getting more juice because this will make the jelly cloudy, so I didn’t go there.
- Return pot with juice to stove and add sugar. You will need about 3/4 cup of sugar for every cup of juice. Stir until sugar is well dissolved.
- Boil hard until jelly reaches 220 degrees. Note: it took a considerable effort for my biggest gas burner to reach 220 degrees, and only after I finally listened to my son who told me to put a lid on the pot. I thought a couple of degrees cooler wouldn’t matter, but they do. The juice only gelled at 220 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometre, or even if you do, you can test the juice for readiness by putting a teaspoon of juice on a plate that’s been sitting in the freezer for awhile (or the top of a clean frozen orange juice can, as the case may be). Put the plate/can back in the freezer for a minute, and then push the edge of the juice with your finger. If a skin forms on the juice, it’s ready to become jelly.
- Ladle the juice into sterilized jars and wipe clean any drips on the lip of the jar. For the first time in my canning life, I did this using a canning funnel and one of those magnetic wand thingies that picks up jar lids. Oh man, is there ever something to be said for these not-strictly-necessary-but-so-wonderful-tools. No cussing during this canning project, nope. Easy peasy!
- Place jars in a water bath canning pot (or other pot that can do the job) and boil for 10 minutes (that’s the appropriate time for me in Toronto – canning times can vary depending on altitude).
Ta Da!! You now have jars of beautiful and delicious crab apple jelly (and if you used organic cane sugar like I did, you can slap an organic label on there too). And if you manage to make this with your kids, they will have a different relationship to it than the jar you bought from the store or even the farmers market, and share the pleasure of it along with you.
ps. The white canning lids are made by Tattler. They are reusable and BPA-free. I had read about them before and was pleased to see them for the first time at Canadian Tire. So far, they seem to work perfectly, which means a safer and more eco-friendly way to can. I don’t think they look as nice as the metal lids for gifting though, and you probably wouldn’t get them back which defeats the reusable bit (unless gifting to a canning friend!). So I stuck with metal lids for the jars I thought would be gifts. I don’t think I’m going to have any to gift though, the boys are loving this jelly so much. Luckily we have more crab apples in the fridge for a second batch.
pps. If your jelly does not set after 24 hours, Google says no big deal, you can just redo the process – dump out the contents of your jars and start again. What the — ? A canning redo is a big, big deal for the likes of me! If it is to you too, make sure you get your juice up to 220 degrees or have some commercial pectin as a backup plan. They also say that working with smaller batches is easier when it comes to setting the jelly. The batch I made produced 6 cups, and you probably don’t want to work with anything bigger than that.
School is back in session but if you’re like me, you resisted buying anything while officially still on summer break. I loathe to start back-to-school shopping too soon, and often find waiting until after school has started to be a better time to make well-thought out and needed purchases. Whether your little one is starting pre-school for the first time or heading off to university, we’ve got a list of need-to-haves and nice-to-haves.
Preschoolers and Kindies
Jump Kids World Pre School Animal Lunch Bag ($7). Lunch containers sold separately. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
Lunch boxes just got sweeter with these School Mini Cookies by The Teeny Tiny Bakery (50/box, $70). Available at OneofaKindOnlineShop.com
Tera Gear “Doddle” Backpack ($20), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
PC Stainless Steel Containers ($7-$9). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
Everyday Essentials Twist and Clip Insulated Lunch Bag ($6), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
Heroes & Villains Notebooks ($10), available online only at http://www.potterybarnkids.com
This Mini Lazy Susan will keep all the desk accessories in one place ($29). Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com
Magnetic Bookmarks ($6-$15) from Craft’ed, http://www.craftedvan.com
Affordable and stylish fashions from The Children’s Place.
TOMS StandUp backpack ($60), variety of colours, and with every one purchased, TOMS will help stop bullying, one youth at a time. Available at Journeys.ca and www.Toms.ca
Solid Task Lighting are ideal for brightening up any homework space ($52). Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com
Getting organized and staying organized can be a challenge but the Espresso Daily System ($49) does the trick. Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com
Dry Erase Whiteboard Magnets ($11) from The Tulle Box, http://www.thetullebox.etsy.com
Storiebrooke Dipped Twig Pencils ($17.19) from Storiebrooke, http://www.storiebrook.etsy.com
Everyday Essentials 20 Shelf Hanging Shoe Organizer ($14). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
Everyday Essentials 5-Piece Bath Accessory Set ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
Life at Home 7-Piece Bed in a Bag ($54). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
The SodaStream POWER turns ordinary water into sparkling ($179). Available at SodaStream.ca
PC Cupcake Display Try Set with Pop Out Display Tower ($20). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
PC Enameled Cast Iron Pot ($60). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
PC Textured Togo Mug ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.
For many parents back-to-school is the unofficial “new year” and like January, resolutions abound. I’ve heard a lot of them from “I will not over-cram the schedule this year!” and “I will not get so involved with their homework!” to “This is the year they we’re going to keep our paperwork organized!”.
Sound familiar? I’m sure you could add more to that list.
Here is mine.
I resolve to stay calm during the school storm. Lofty ambition, wouldn’t you say? It’s right up there with the promise to cut back on chocolate that I make every January. But this year, I hope to set myself up for success by doing the following:
- Delegate more.
Lunches are no longer my sole responsibility. If you eat it, you can pack it (or at the very least help). The boys’ school FINALLY has a hot lunch program and I signed them up for two meals per week and have ZERO guilt about this. Positive peer pressure has added more foods to my son’s lunch repertoire and that’s worth it for me!
- Scheduling family time.
Adding more to the schedule sounds a bit counter-intuitive to what it is that I am trying to achieve but between the five of us we’ve got a lot on the go, and spending time “just us” is important. So important that it deserves to be penned onto the calendar. Come Sunday night, I am planning.
- Scheduling me time.
Recently I had one of those much-needed dinner with girlfriends and we all said the same thing. Our kids are not so little that the need us every second of the day – it’s time we start living! Can the excuses (can’t get a babysitter, don’t have the extra money, I’m too tired, I’ve too much to do . . .) and start living! I resolve to model to my children that my activities count too. I’m a well-rounded person who knows more than just where his socks are (under the couch) and to be quite honest, I rarely say no to the boys, so why do I always say no to myself? I live in one of the greatest cities in the world and it’s time I start exploring it. Sans kids. Nathalie recently signed up for an adult drawing class. Bravo! You inspire me.
- Giving up on the should-dos.
The Mommy Marytr thing is overplayed. I retired my cape some years ago, but sometimes, when I have nothing to wear, I reach for it. Reading The Gifts of Imperfection, Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown should be required reading for any mother whose cape is ratty with wear. When that nagging, self-loathing voice whispers to me everything that I am not and should be, I am much better at telling it to STFU and do something that makes me happy.
all images (and so many more goodies) are from http://www.annetaintor.com