Friday, July 29, 2011

Guest Blogger - Nelson Camp

Nelson Camp is a pal I met a few years ago when we both, along with our spouses, volunteered in our church's creative events department. I had the pleasure of directing Nelson in a couple of skits and brainstorming with him and his wife on many scripts. From the start I was impressed by Nelson's calm presence, his ability to see the logical course in nearly any situation and his compassionate nature. It has been a pleasure to watch Nelson move from being husband/teacher/care free guy into being a hands-on, totally sold out and engaged dad. Here are a few of Nelson's thoughts on his changing role ... enjoy!

A Dad's Role
As I look through the closet, I see the dreaded Tupperware container that is dedicated to the family hats – tuques, ball caps, bandanas, wide brims, and visors – something for any kind of weather we may get. I say “dreaded” because it is so full of hats that it’s always a challenge to go through it and find the exact hat you are looking for – there must be at least 30 or 40.

There are days when I feel the same “dread” when looking at the different hats that I have to wear as a man. The hat of a husband, a father, an employee, an entrepreneur, a landlord, a friend, a son, a sibling, a neighbour….There are so many hats to wear in a single day that I sometimes find myself wearing the wrong hat in the wrong situation. For all the wonderful changes that have taken place to women and the roles they play in society, it is important not to forget that a man’s role has also changed as a direct consequence. Men are no longer seen as simply being the provider and protector of the household; we need to be able to cook, wield a broom or mop, be adept at serving a bottle to a baby, being a comforter to our spouse, while still being able to cut the lawn, take out the trash and coach the little league team.

More and more, we are seeing men take paternal leaves to care for children and even being a “stay at home dad” in some cases. The cliché James Dean macho role that was status quo for so many decades has gone the way of the dinosaurs as men learn to take on more responsibilities at home in raising children and tending to domestic responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t hold any animosity towards vacuuming or washing the dishes, but sometimes, adding all these duties to a full-time career fills a 24 hour day with a 40 hour to-do list.

Although I haven’t yet figured out all the intricacies of scheduling a day where I can be the perfect husband, dad, and professional all in one, I have discovered how important it is to stick to the priorities; putting first things first, and leaving the details aside. At the end of the day, when I tuck my kids into bed and kiss my wife good night, I know that I did my best to make these precious gifts the most important part of my day.

Now, off to prepare tomorrow’s supper in the slow cooker….

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Blogger - Rachel Elizabeth Cole

 Rachel Elizabeth Cole and I bonded at our online writer's group over our mutual Canadianness. She is a writer, a mom, a wife and rabbit submissive. More than all that she is funny, talented and a real pal. I hope you enjoy reading a little 'Rachel' ... I always do! If you want more rachel check out her Website!

I admit it. I’m addicted to using coupons. I didn’t use to be this way. Sure, I thought I was a savvy shopper: never buying items at regular price, buying in bulk, waiting for the best sales, etc. Then I discovered couponing. (Yes, coupon has become a verb.) Now I wouldn’t dream of paying even the lowest sale price without using a coupon. $1.50 cereal? .99¢ laundry soap? .50¢ deodorant? .09¢ soup? Free toothpaste? You betcha!

I’ll be honest, couponing isn’t easy. You have to find the coupons. And where I live there are a lot of other couponers, so that can be a challenge. Tear pads at grocery stores disappear within hours of going up. Flyer inserts never make it to your front door. And as couponing becomes more popular across the country, online coupons disappear just as quickly. Shelves get cleared. Clearance items vanish.

So I find myself waking up early on recycling days to walk my neighbourhood, looking for coupon inserts and cereal boxes with coupons inside before the recycling truck can come take them away. (Or worse yet, another couponer gets there first!) I plan my shopping trips around the days when the sales start. I shop at three different stores instead of just one. And I carry my coupon folder, flyers, and shopping lists with me everywhere. After all, you never know when or where you’ll find that next deal.

I’ve learned stores’ coupon policies, how to understand the small print on the coupons, and what terms like SCOP, rain check, price match, overage, and stacking mean. I’ve made friends with other couponers and started trading coupons.

I’ve also learned to ignore the people who sigh loudly and switch lines when they see me pull out the coupons. Or the ones who whisper a little too loudly, “It’s just like that show.” (You know the show I’m talking about.) And what to do when a cashier says, “I’m sorry, this coupon says one per purchase.”

So why do I go to all the effort? Well, the first reason is obvious: the savings. Grocery prices are going up and are expected to keep going up. I’ve only been couponing a few months, but I’ve already seen 25-30% savings to my monthly grocery bill. And in the months to come, when I don’t have to buy laundry soap, dish soap, toilet paper, shampoo, body wash, cereal, soup, pasta, etc. I expect to save even more.

But then there are those moments that really make it worthwhile. The look on the face of the frazzled young mom standing in the baby aisle after you’ve handed her a $5 off coupon. The sincere “thank you” from the little old lady picking through the discount bread rack after you’ve given her a Buy One Get One Free coupon.

That really makes it worth the effort.

 Be sure to check back next Thursday for part two of Rachel's couponing adventures where she'll teach us her sacred, secret ways of Canadian couponing!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

While Mother's Away...

Its halfway through the summer and I feel as though I am just starting to find my way back to myself. By the end of June I was fried. Although it was a really good school year and I really enjoyed the projects I had worked on, I was just done, finished, spent. I was done with teachers and meetings and planning but mostly I was done with thinking and caring. I had drained my emotional bank and I was so done. All I had left was a pulse and oatmeal brain ... not a lot to work with, really.

For the first couple weeks of Summer Break I indulged in lazy mornings, crossword puzzles and fluff TV. I did crafts with the kids, watched every Harry Potter movie there is and read four books just for fun. I intentionally did not read the newspapers, watch CNN or even read my regular blogs and parenting forums. Honestly, I knew that if I saw something, read something, that mattered I would have to care and at that point I didn't think I had it in me.

I checked out for three glorious weeks and although I needed the break my writing suffered for it. Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a distinct drop in passion and creativity in my writing for the last few weeks. As I read over my posts from earlier this month I was sad that my writing had become so sad and lifeless. I had already booked a couple of weeks of vacation but I had planned to prewrite for the period of time that I would be away but one look at those posts changed my mind. I need to step away so I can refresh and recharge properly.

Starting tomorrow I will be on vacation and you all will be in for a real treat. I have lined up some of the best and the brightest pals I know to guest blog for me while I get a little R & R with the family. My pals will be writing about who they are, what they are passionate about and life as they see it. I am so excited for this opportunity to show off that talents of some of the best people I know. So while I am hiding from the sun in a cabin full of relatives and animals please stop by and enjoy these little bits of word candy from Rachel, Cat, John and Nelson.

I hope you're enjoying your summer and I'll see you all back here on August 8th!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Great Reads for Kids - Summer Break Edition

Aside from our Smart Folders, this summer the kids have been given the chance to earn Book Bucks. They get one 'buck' for every 15 minutes they read and at the end of the summer they'll be able to cash in their book bucks for a gift card to Chapters.

They have each been busy reading and wracking up the 'bucks.' We have been combing through thrift stores, garage sales and our own shelves to find new favourites and old friends to help them earn their bucks. Here are some reviews of their favourites ...

By Mischief (for boys age 5 to 7 years old)

Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak)- This book is about this kid who dresses up like a kind of monster, wild thing guy. His name is Max. He scared the dog and got into a lot of mischief so he got in trouble from his mom. He gets sent to his room without any supper. When he was there his room turned into a jungle or something and there was this boat that sailed him away to where the wild things are. He gets to be king and stuff but then he misses his family so he goes home.

I like this book because it has lots of imagination and I know all the words. I even have a Max costume. The pictures are pretty good to.

Other favourites are:
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Corduroy by Don Freeman
I Can Read 'Spiderman' series by Susan Hill

By Dude (for boys age 9 to 12 years old)

100 Most Dangerous Things on the Planet (Anna Claybourne)- This book tells you about 100 of the most dangerous things on the planet. It tells you about volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, tornadoes, lightening storms too. There is also a lot of information about animals and bugs too. The book is in two parts; nature stuff and human stuff. It is very interesting because it also gives you good information on how to survive these very dangerous things.

Other favourites:
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Knights of the Round Table by Gwen Gross

By Crafty (for girls age 7 to 10 years old)

Ivy and Bean (Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackwell) - These books are about two girls who become friends. They do lots of stuff to bug Bean's older sister, its kind of funny. They do stuff like play tricks on her with money and they also through worms at her. I like these books because Ivy and Bean are kind of like my best friend. These books are funny and interesting.

Other favourites:
Cam Jansen by David Alder
Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osbourne
Little Women by Lousia May Alcott
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstien

To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one.
~Chinese Saying

Thursday, July 21, 2011

He Thought of Me: Revisited

Today I was scrolling through an old blog that I am archiving and shutting down. As I read through my writings of years passed I marvelled at how I have grown as a writer and a person. Most of the entries are heavy, serious and awkward but there are a few in the pile that were decent ... this is one of them. In fact, this post is among my favourites and its a message I need to remind myself of often ... No matter how messy my day is or how unkempt I feel, He still thinks of me!

Image is they say. Whoever ‘they’ are, they’re idiots.

‘They’ spend millions of dollars and countless hours trying to sell you on the idea that if you just bought this brand of yoga pants, this style of boots, this kind of hair product you will finally be satisfied, popular and happy. You would be a person of substance, a person to be valued. Not true. Its a scam, folks.

Growing up my parents always made sure we looked nice and had the things we needed. We weren’t deprived by any means but designer items rarely saw their way into our wardrobes. When I complained about the lack of labels in my closet my parents would remind me that what I wore didn’t matter as much as who I was. Then mom would rearrange some numbers in the budget and take me shopping.

She wasn’t sending mixed messages. She understood what it was like to be a teenage girl. The clothes don’t make the person but sometimes once we feel like we fit in its easier to take a stand for the things that are truly important. Sometimes when you blend in you are able to stand out.

What is important is that your inside life matches your outside life. Meaning you can dress yourself up all you want on the outside as long as you are spending the same amount of energy, time and effort dressing up your heart. Your heart is the substance of who you are.

Just as God spent time creating your body He spent time creating your heart, mind and soul. He thought about you, the person you would become. He dreamed of who you would be and planned for all the possibilities of who you could be. He planned for your talent, your humour and even your dorkiness. He planned for you to touch people’s lives, to make an impact in your world, to be an ambassador of His love.

He thought about you before the creation of the world, He thought about you as you were forming inside your mother and He thinks about you still. He knows the truth of who you are, the substance of your being and He sees you. And He loves you still. He loves you more.

God sees your substance. He knows that there is so much more to you than the house you live in, the brands you wear and how you style your hair. He knows the true value is not measured by what you have but who you are on the inside. What a relief!

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they were all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
~Psalm 139:16-18

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Slow Ease into Summer

As I have been lamenting, complaining and bemoaning the heat wave in our part of the country something funny has been happening in our house and those of you who have loved ones from Planet Aspergers will totally get this.

Dude has always had issues with seasonal transitions. When he was wee dressing to go outside in the winter took an hour long negotiation that usually resulted in a WWE wrestling event. His meltdowns got so bad when he was about 5 years old that we looked into moving to a different part of the country that did not experience the same temperature extremes that the prairie provinces do; we were at our wits end and ready to do anything to make life easier!

We stuck it out and as he has matured the transitions between seasons has gone a little more smoothly. We have learned a few tricks along the way that have helped too. For instance, a few years ago I started shuffling his wardrobe as per the season. Anything that was not seasonally appropriate is moved to the top shelves of his closet, far out of reach and we also starting leaving his bedroom window open in the Spring and fall so he could feel the temperature change. Although it took him longer than most kids to move into shorts and t-shirts, he usually got there before the end of June.

Not this year.

Even though the temperatures this week have been in the high 30C range, my Dude is still wearing jeans and long sleeve shirts everyday. No matter how much I remind/nag him about dressing for the temperature he emerges from his room, day after day, ready for the first snowfall of the year. For the first week or so of Summer Break I fought with him to change his clothes but this week I changed my strategy. I have let him be, thinking that once he gets outside and feels the full force of the 30C heat he'll come inside to change. No dice.

This kid rides his bike, has NERF wars and wrestles with the dog in jeans, socks, runners and long sleeve shirts, not to mention his shoulder length ultra thick hair, everyday! While I am hiding in the shade, wearing as little as decency will allow, he is frolicking in the sunshine, dressed for mid October rather than mid July! I just don't get it!

So last night as I was tucking Dude in he commented on how hot it was. Laying there on his bed with him, staring at his closet full of neatly folded t-shirts and shorts, I launched into another conversation about summer clothes. We talked back and forth for a while until I started to get chilly ... then it hit me.

"Dude, when you get dressed in the morning, how do you feel?"

"I feel good."

"I mean are you hot, cold or comfortable?"

"Usually cold."

"And what clothes do you reach for?"

"The warmer ones on the shelf."

"Aren't they too hard to reach?" I asked looking at all the jeans, shirts and sweaters on his top shelf.

He got out of bed, stood beside his closet and easily out his hand on the top of a pile of sweaters, "Nope."

So we took a few minutes to devise a basement-dwelling-tall-kid friendly plan for easy summer dressing. We covered up the winter weight clothes and made them off limits, made a shorts only rule and committed to checking the weather every night before bed to make sure our plan was still appropriate.

 Welcome to Planet Aspergers Lesson #1374.

I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn't itch. ~Gilda Radner

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Worst Place on Earth

Once again the temperature today has made all outdoor activity unbearable. I went to the grocery store this morning and thought seriously about setting up a lawn chair in the freezer section and waiting out the summer there. Its cool, clean and it has an abundance of ice cream; what more could a person want?

I am so not a summer person. I hate the heat, I get wicked sunburns, even through shade umbrellas and hats and there is no worse place on this planet than the beach. Its sun and sand and bugs. You have to slather yourself with sunblock and then the wind picks up a bit and suddenly you are stuccoed with sand. The water always looks dodgy, the bathrooms are primitive and there are far too many people wearing far too little fabric for my liking. There is not one thing I like about the beach, nope not one!




Well, okay ... there's one thing I like about the beach. I like that my kids are fearless water babies. I like that they can play and swim and use their imaginations for hours. I like that they all turn honey brown, from head to toe, after a day at the beach. I also love the fantastic pictures I take of them every summer as they ride the waves and hunt the sharks of their imaginations.

Here are a few of my favourite pictures of my beaching wee ones from over the years.

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. ~Russel Baker

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sweet Procrastination

Since today is about five degrees hotter than hell I have decided to spend the day hiding in the basement. Under the guise of being productive I have locked myself in the storage room to sort through some boxes from our move. I have been putting off these last few boxes because ... well, I don't really have a good reason. I just have a strong tendency to procrastinate but I have decided that today is the day that will change!

Last summer when we moved, I was an unpacking machine. Our garage was full of boxes and my mission was to have the garage cleared before October. I spent day after day sorting, tossing and putting away the 'treasures' we had accumulated during our 13 years of marriage and parenthood. I tried to look past the mislabelled boxes and all of the broken bits and pieces in each box but after three weeks of frustration and disappointment I stopped with the boxes. Whatever had not yet been unpacked I stacked, shoved into closets or hid in the garage rafters, promising myself that one day I would get back at it.

Fast forward 11 months and everything is still stuffed, stacked and hidden. The odd box has been pulled out and rummaged through but for the most part everything is just as it was a year ago ... maybe even worse. Our storage room (that was supposed to be my writing hide-away) has become the graveyard of procrastination. Every project to be finished later, repair to be made when I have time and odd and sod to be put away properly tomorrow -but somehow tomorrow never came - has landed in that room ... including a fully decorated Christmas tree!

So, today is the day. The time to reclaim my space and organise the mayhem is now! I am going in that room and I'm not coming out until its done ... except to grab a coffeejuice, use the washroom, answer the phone, play with the dog, make lunch, make a phone call, send an email, write my blog ....

I was planning on procrastinating today but I think I'll do it tomorrow.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Running Free and Flipping Out

Last week when we were at the park another mom was watching Mischief run and flip and jump from play structure to play structure. She could not get over how fearless he was and commented that she might be looking at the next Freerunning Superstar.

I had heard of free running before but I wasn't exactly sure what it was so I went home and googled. What I found astonished and terrified me. These crazy kids jumped from building to building, doing back flips, inverted spirals and handstands. They jumped from buildings to cars from statures to stairs, down railings, over benches and bike racks ... it was absolutely incredible what they were capable of.

I found several videos that featured one guy named Ryan Doyle. He has won many competitions and now runs a business that trains aspiring urban artists. I like how he has trained in martial arts, gymnastics and break dancing. He is deliberate and calculated in his movements and although he suffered a traumatic injury a number of years ago he kept going. Ryan Doyle got better, stronger and more focused in his art. I also like how he clearly does not take himself too seriously.

Here's a video of Ryan Doyle Free Running at a park. What I like about this video is that it includes the outtakes because not even the professionals are perfect!

I don't know if Mischief will grow up to be a Free runner, stuntman or guinea pig hunter but whatever he does I know he will do it will passion and dedication. He will have fun and seek adventure. He will push himself physically and mentally and no matter how hard it is, he will keep trying until he gets it because that's the kind of kid he is. He will laugh and love and live his life to the extremes because to him, every new day is a chance to scheme and dream and try new things. Every day is a whole adventure on its own, just waiting to be discovered.
Remeber, the world is our playground ... so have fun!
~Ryan Doyle

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I Shoulda Been a Hoarder!

Last September, when Mischief started school full time I lamented about missing my buddy. I was sad that I would no longer have a pal to run errands with and hang out with ... WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

I very quickly adjusted to my kid-free days and developed a solitary routine of chores, errands and writing. I adapted to the silent house, playing my choice of music in the van and wandering up and down grocery aisle, comparing prices and brands at my leisure. I ignored the wailing children and the harshly whispered threats of discipline; not my kids, not my problem. I would leave stores, smug in my solitude, grab a latte and head for home, pleased as punch that I was able to complete my shopping in record time, without raising my voice or in fact, speaking to another person the whole time.

Enter Summer Break.

After two weeks of summer break our cupboards had run bare. I had depleted my freezers, been creative with meals and even resorted to take out a couple of times. I needed groceries but I was afraid. It had been almost ten months since I had stepped foot into a grocery store with my children and I was not looking forward to it! All I had to do was think about the days of chaos and mayhem (aka shopping with preschoolers) and I would break into a cold sweat. I spent days trying to figure out if I could make a bag of frozen hashbrowns and three cans of soup stretch over the next six weeks but there was no way around it, I would have to go grocery shopping and I would have to take the kids.

The night before the 'Big Trip' I made my grocery list and planned my route while I watched TV. The show was Extreme Couponing and I have to admit it, I was envious of those people and their hoards of groceries. They would not have to drag their kids into Superstore for months, maybe even years! I kicked myself for my lack of forethought. Had I planned better, been a better hoarder, I would not be in the situation. If I had only hoarded noodle soup and laundry detergent we would be set for the summer.

That night I fell into a fitful sleep, my dreams filled with images of cases of Kraft Dinner and dish soap and a thousand foot long receipt weaving its way through our house like a snake. I dreamt of towers of soup and crackers and freezers over flowing with frozen dinners and the constant beep, beep of items being scanned. When I awoke the next morning it all seemed so real that I was confused and disappointed when I opened my pantry to find the same three cans of soup and stray boxes of jello and crackers that had been there the day before; just those things and nothing else.

Since the mountain did not come to Mohammed, this Random Mother will have to go to Superstore ... with all three kids in tow!

You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance. ~Franklin P. Jones

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Modern Parenting

For the past several months I have been active on a parenting forum. I was drawn there for the strong Asperger/Autism community on that site but I have stayed around for the other conversations, on the other boards. I have had a really good time connecting with other parents over issues that are common to us all. I've realized that no matter where you live, everyone has the same challenges, worries and frustrations when it comes to parenting.

The conversations have been interesting and entertaining ... until a few days ago. Late last week I stumbled across a couple threads that nearly drove me around the bend. What I saw in thread after thread were parents who were afraid. They were afraid to upset their kids, to deny their kids something everyone else had and to put limits and expectations on their kids. They were hovering, worrying and creating panic in their lives over things that were no-brainers for our parents when we were kids.

For instance, this one mom posted this note/question about how worried she is for her child in the fall. She went on and on about how she doesn't know how she's going to manage to get him and his sister to school because they go to schools in opposite directions and she's not sure that her son will qualify for the bus. Turns out her kid is nine and the school is six blocks away. Then there's the single mom who is thinking of IVF treatments because she is worried about her daughter growing up as an only child and let's not forget about the many moms who think it is perfectly appropriate for their 10, 8 or 6 year olds to have cel phones. They say it’s a safety issue, so their kids can call from a friend's house or school anytime they feel the need to.

I know I have written/ranted about this topic before but I am still amazed and annoyed by what parents see as needs vs. wants. I hate how I sound like I'm 110 years old during these rants, but seriously, when I was a kid we played at the park, we rode our bikes and if we needed to call our parents we used the emergency quarter we kept in our pocket or asked to use the phone at the corner store. We had watches and check in times and our parents knew our friends. Most importantly we were the kids and they were the parents, they made decisions based on what was best for the whole family, not out of fear of 'upsetting' us.

I'm not sure how or why my generation went from being well rounded, active kids to being hypochondriac, obsessive, helicopter parents. When did we decide that measured independence, obedience and respect were bad for kids? When did we realize our childhood was traumatic because we were required think of others, understand our place in the world and be aware of our surroundings? When did we decide it was better to be friends with our kids than to parent them?

I'm not a perfect parent and I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, have it all figured out but the one thing I know for sure is that my kids need me. They need me to use my life experience, my big-picture view of our family, to guide and direct them. They need me to teach them boundaries, respect and independence. They need me to be the grown-up and let them be the kids. They need to hear 'no' and 'I love you' more than they need heaps of toys and gadgets. They need to know I have their best interests at heart and that I am okay if they don't like me in the moment if it means that they have learned a lesson that will stay with them for life. They need to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am fiercely in love with them, will always be there for them and that I am their parent and I take that responsibility very, very seriously.

If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent. ~Bette Davis

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The B Side

I have a huge family, on both sides. My mom is one of 9 kids and my dad is one of 14. I have more aunts and uncles and cousins and second cousins than I can count. We have family from coast to coast and beyond!

On the K side, my mom's family, we have all (for the most part) grown up geographically close and therefore we became relationally close. We all spent holidays, birthdays and summers together. I can remember countless Sunday afternoons at my grandparents house playing tag in the front yard or raiding my Nanny's sewing room for treats. My childhood was filled with everyday moments of just hanging out with my K cousins.

My memories of The B Side, my dad's family, carry with them a whole different vibe. The B Side has always been a family geographically divided, with about half the family living in Ontario and the other half living in Manitoba, so when I think of time spent with The B Side I think of weddings, Christmases and Summer Holidays, all the special occasions of life. I think of driving to Thunder Bay for sleepovers at Auntie Eileen's, barbecues at Auntie Debbie's and running wild through the gardens at Auntie Marie's or the anticipation of cousins coming from Ontario to visit with us! B Side family gatherings were always an event and in the center of it all was Grandma.

My Grandma was a force of nature. She was all business and little play. She ran a tight ship and proclaimed to have little patience for nonsense but we all saw the twinkle in her eyes as her boys teased and joked and rough-housed with each other. She would half heartedly threaten to pull out the rolling pin for something other than progies and the boys, her boys, would hug her and kiss her cheek in response and she loved every minute of it! For the record, 'her boys' were not just the ones she gave birth to, her boys were her sons or grandsons or any other stray friend who need a place to sleep and a few good meals. Although she had very little, she always enough room, food and love for one more person.

She loved us girls just as fiercely as she did the boys. I remember countless sleepovers, card games and cooking lessons at Grandma's house and each memory is filled with smell of her delicious cooking and the sounds of laughter. Her house was always overflowing with people and pets. You couldn't move through the house without stepping over babies and cats and dogs and running into grown ups playing cards or sneaking a spoonful of perogy filling! It was a busy little kingdom and Grandma was the queen, holding court from her favourite chair in the corner of her kitchen.

This past weekend a bunch of us from The B Side were together to celebrate my cousin's wedding and amid the hugs, laughter and chatter I noticed something. I noticed something or rather someone was missing. Last year, at the age of 92, my Grandma passed away and this weekend, at this very special occasion, I missed her. As I watched my dad and his brothers tell family stories and tease each other incessantly, I missed her. When my cousin grabbed the sprinkler and chased the next generation around the yard, I missed her and as we all stood on my uncle's driveway to say good bye to the out of towners I missed her.

Last night, after the kids were in bed and the house was quiet, I logged on to Facebook and scrolled through pictures from this past weekend. It wasn't until I was halfway through the pictures that I realised that Grandma had been there, at the wedding and family barbecue the next day; she had been there the whole time. She was in the middle of all her boys, horsing around on the church lawn, she was in the bell tower as my cousins rang the church bell and she was in the mischievous giggles of the little kids as the danced and ran and played. She was there with us, amounst us, in us.
We are my Grandma; all she worked for, sacrificed for and lived for. She lives in each of us, from the kids she gave birth to all the way down the line to the generations she will never meet. I see her in my uncle's laugh and in my baby niece's smile. I see Grandma in the hugs and plates of food that flow freely from the kitchen of each of her children and grandchildren. But mostly I see Grandma in the unwavering devotion to this family that each one of us has. She gave that to us ... and it is more valuable than buckets of gold could ever be!

If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, July 8, 2011

Timing is Everything

The first week of Summer Break is drawing to a close and surprisingly my sanity is still in tact. I miss my 'alone time' already and so do the many projects that are collecting dust. I am finding that Summer Break is the archenemy of MY productivity but I can't complain about how much the kids have accomplished this week. Everyday they have worked diligently on their Summer Smart folders, have tidied their room and kept their zones clean ... mostly. What I can complain, rant, rage and go mental over is the amount of bickering they do!

I'm not sure if its like this in your house but here it has been a constant flow of nattering. They can't spend more than five minutes together without yapping at each other. Seriously, I thought I was going to lose my mind at many points over this week. The only thing that has saved my sanity and their young lives is their wit. All three of these critters have quick minds and impeccable comedic timing.

At different points this week they have each saved each other's lives with a well timed bit of humour. We are used to Crafty's little golden nuggets of wit and Mischief's well told jokes and stories but Dude has, unexpectedly, been the headliner this week.

The other night at dinner the kids were being really rowdy and had horrible table manners. I started lecturing them about how I'd see better manners at the zoo than what was going on at our dinner table. It had been a long day and my nerves were shot. I was pretty annoyed and probably overreacted to the situation. The kids ate in chagrined silence for a few minutes when Dude, seeing the need to break the tension, whipped off his shirt and declared, "I'm a porcupine!" Then he turned around, made a metal on metal sound and stuck out his shoulder blades. I took one look at him and broke out laughing ... and so did the other kids.

Earlier in the week we had a family meeting about our Random Acts of Service Challenge and our plans for the summer. We did some planning and brainstorming for fundraisers and talked to the kids about budgeting for our summer vacation. We gave them a pretty stern talk about 'the gimmes' and how when we put out money for one thing it means we have to take it from somewhere else. We told them that they need to curb their impulsive-buying whines and be thankful for what they have. There were a couple of sour faces in the room but I was surprised when Dude flopped back on the couch and grumbled, "But I wanted it!"

"Wanted what?" I asked.

"The Bunny!" he whined and flopped some more.

"What bunny? We are NOT getting another pet so you can just forg-" I started.

"The bunny, the bunny, oh I want the bunny," he said. Then he stood up and started to do a little wiggle dance and sing 'The Bunny Song' from Veggie Tales. He had us all in hysterics in seconds!

Whenever he breaks out in a Scottish accent or his Golum impression to coerce a laugh or break the tension I marvel at how far this kid has come. I see miracles everyday and I am always amazed. A kid that isn't 'supposed' to pick up on social cues, understand conversational subtleties or empathize is doing it. He is constantly learning, asking questions and figuring things out. He still has his challenges but he never gives up and that whole list of 'won'ts' we were given by the psychologist four years ago is slowly being transformed into 'yes I cans.'

It has taken time and maturity and a lot of consistent effort but Dude is sorting things out and life is not only becoming easier for all of us but more exciting and more 'normal.' Dude is such a gift to us,  and I cannot wait to see what he teaches us next!

At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. ~Jean Houston

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making Families McHappy

Crafty is a reader. She constantly has her nose in a book and, heaven forbid, she forgets to take a book with us when we go out, she'll read anything she can get her eyes on. While we're driving around Crafty is always asking us to explain what that sign means or what this word is. Sometimes those questions can be a little awkward, like when we're downtown at the doctor's office and certain boutique that is not very discreet is right next door, but other times Crafty's questions lead to great conversations.

This Spring when we were making one of our many dashes into the city we took the kids through McDonald's drive through. As we were waiting in the line to get our food, Crafty noticed a sign that advertised the upcoming McHappy Day and of course she asked what that was all about. We explained what Ronald McDonald House did for families and she said 'cool' and ate her supper.

Months later when we started discussing our Random Acts of Service Project Ronald McDonald House came up in the conversation again. As we discussed the support that this charity gives to families, Crafty got a little teary. When I asked her what was wrong she sniffled and said, "Those moms and dads must be so worried! I want to help them too." So she is. Crafty chose Ronald McDonald House Manitoba to support and here's why in her own words ...

Ronald McDonald House is for families who have to go away from home to take their kids to a hospital. Lots of times kids get sick or hurt and they either don't have a hospital close to home or not there's not the right kind of doctors at home to help them so they might have to travel kind of a long way to get help for their kids. I think it must be scary to have a kid that is so sick, there must be a lot of things to think about especially if you have to travel to a strange city.

Ronald McDonald House helps parents to not worry about finding a place to stay or paying for a hotel when they have to bring their kids to the hospital. Families can make their own meals and relax while they are still close to the hospital. It makes it easier for them to visit their kids whenever they want. The one in Manitoba can fit up to 14 families at one time. It must be a pretty big house. The House even has a van for the families to use so its easier to get groceries and do other errands. The people who run the house like to have movies and games and toys for the brothers and sisters who stay there too. People can also donate tickets to movies or sports games so the families have something to look forward to.

I chose Ronald McDonald House because they help families. Families must feel pretty worried when their kids get sick and Ronald McDonald House helps to take some of their worries away by giving them a place to stay that is really close to the hospital.  We're going to make some jewelery to sell and probably do a pancake breakfast too. I hope that I can help families to feel a little bit better while they are waiting for their kids to get a lot better.

Aside from the 12 houses that Ronald McDonald Charities Canada sponsors they have also established Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in three hospitals to ensure that families with serious ill children have a place to relax, refresh and wait to hear good news about their child. By 2014, ten of the houses will be undergoing renovations or rebuilds that will bring the total room count from 217 to 478, more than doubling their capacity to support families of sick children. Because McDonald's Restaurants of Canada covers all administration costs for this foundation, 100% of donations received goes directly to Ronald McDonald Houses and their programs.

The House in Manitoba is located just five minutes away from The Children's Hospital and provides a place of comfort and compassion for more than 550 families each year, with more than 100 families on the waiting list at any given time. The Family Room in The Winnipeg's Children's Hospital is the largest room of its kind in the world. With more than 3,500 feet, this space offers a place to rest, clean up and keep in touch. It has Internet access, laundry facilities and a washroom with showers as well as three sleeping rooms. This room is open to any family with a patient at The Children's Hospital, no referral necessary.

For more information or to donate to Ronald McDonald House Charities please check out their website or go directly to RMH Manitoba for more information on the House in Winnipeg.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Wish for Hope

For our Random Acts of Service Challenge Mischief has chosen the Make A Wish Foundation. It took a lot of research to find a just right charity for him but as soon as he heard about sick kids having the chance to go on adventures, trips and meet celebrities he was on board. Here's the why and the how in his own words ...

Make a Wish is this thing where really sick kids get to leave the hospital and do stuff like regular kids. They can like go to the beach or to Disney or something and forget they are sick for a little while. Sometimes this helps them to get better but if it doesn't then their family has lots of good memories of them, y'know ... after.

Even if they don't get to get better I think they probably feel happier thinking about their wish coming true when they have to go back to the hospital. I like that kids can wish for anything and really nice people try to make those wishes come true. I would like to make a wish but since I'm not sick or anything I'll have to just ask my parents or wait til I'm a grown up.

(Shrugs) Anyway, I am going to make some stuff like cool necklaces or maybe paint some pictures and then I'll sell them. I might even sell some of my own toys too ... maybe. I hope that I can make enough money so that some cool kid can do something really awesome.

Since Make-A-Wish Foundation Canada was started in 1983 more than 4,000 wishes have been granted. Kids from all over Canada have had the opportunity to leave behind the constraints and the gravity of their medical situations for a short time and just be kids. The benefit of having a wish granted goes beyond the actual experience and straight to the heart and the hope of a child.

Experiencing a dream come true, like going to Disney World or swimming with dolphins, can strengthen a child's hope and help them to believe in the impossible. Often times they return from these trips stronger and more optimistic for their recovery and even in the darkest times of their illness they can remember that sometimes wishes do come true, and so they keep fighting.

It is Mischief's wish to make another kid smile, to help a family feel better even when their child is sick and to let them know that all kinds of wishes really do come true.

For more information on how you can help make wishes come true follow this link to the Make-A-Wish Foundation Website.

Once you choose hope, anything's possible. ~Christopher Reeve

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Not Forgotten

 Our family has supported Watoto Ministries for several years. We have a sponsor child and have donated towards their many projects. We love their philosophy and their motto. They believe in Rescuing, Raising and Rebuilding the next generation of Ugandan leaders. They provide children in need with new homes, schools and medical care; but more than only meeting physical needs Watoto gives these kids love, hope and a bright future.

The last time the Watoto Choir visited our church Dude saw the video about child soldiers. Anyone who knows Dude knows that he LOVES the military. He is proud that his grandfathers were soldiers and he often plays 'war' with his neighborhood pals but seeing that war, for some children, is not imaginary play left an impression on him. In the months since seeing that video he has asked a lot of questions and has come to understand that it is important to care and to help these children how we can.

Here's the details on this project from Dude ...

Project Gulu is a program about kids that were soldiers and Watoto rescued them, gave them a school, a family, a home. These kids had to do very nasty things, some of them might have had to kill their own family and friends but now some of those kids have a great life. They have everything that every other kid has.

I chose this project because I want to help these kids to have a better life. Its really horrible what people did to these kids and I think that they should have a chance to feel good and just be regular kids. They might think that nobody loves them but that's not true, God loves them and so do I. They are not forgotten. I want them to know that.

To help raise money I am making necklaces with the names of rescued kids on them because I want everyone to know that these kids are real people. This is not fiction. I am also going to sell some of my toys and later this summer we are going to have some other kind of fundraiser. Please help me to help these kids get better and live a good life.
For more information on Watoto and their projects please visit their website or click on this link for Project Gulu

More than 20, 000 have been abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers in Uganda.
~UNICEF 2008

I am not forgotten, God knows my name.
~The Children of Watoto

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day?

Today is officially the first day of summer break. Its the first Monday of sunshine, bike riding and pals. The first day of Independence ... no mre teachers, no more books and all that. Or is it? Not in this house because today is also the first day of The Smart Summer Folders.

My kids all had awesome report cards this year. They all worked very hard and made some incredible progress during the school year. After a lot of hard work, forr the first time since grade one Dude no longer has an IEP for Math. Crafty has gained in confidence and independence in all of her work but especially in writing and Mischief has grown leaps and bounds in his reading. I am one proud mama. I am also wary of summer break.

The school battles the kids have won this year have been hard fought. They have all spend hours around the kitchen table reading, writing and mathing and I don't want those hours to be all for nothing. Every year I see the kids put in the effort all school year to learn and improve themselves but as soon as the dismissal bell rings the books get closed for two months. The result is that the beginning of the next school year can seem like torture. They are out of routine, have lost some ground and are kind of lazy in their study habits.

That's not going to happen this year, I have a plan.

I made folders for each of the kids. In each folder is a chart for the week listing four categories; Reading, Printing, math and Special Project. I have also included some grade level math worksheets and a printing exercise for each of them. The plan is for the kids to spend about 15 minutes everyday reading, printing or working on math and an additional 15 minutes working on our Random Acts of Service Challenge. That's just one half hour a day.

My hope is to keep their skills up, create some sense of routine for the summer and inspire a little more self discipline in the kids. I want them to walk into their new school year more confident, better prepared and more focused. I think this plan is doable and the kids seem pretty excited ... ask me in a week how we're doing!

The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn. ~John Lubbock