Letting go

I’ve become one of those people who rarely hangs on to things for sentimental reasons.  Stuff gets passed on, recycled, trashed… and the memories live on in my mind, or as increasingly happens with my mind being less reliable, in my photos. There are a few things, mostly items that remind me of someone who is no longer here, but the rest gets dealt with pretty quickly.  I am especially brutal with the lils artwork and Willy’s huge collection of twenty year old concert t-shirts that he never wears, but they seem to have bought into the system, and occasionally ask me to take pictures of stuff so that they can get rid of it.

This week reminded me that I’ve become attached to a thing.  Ironically, I am attached to it because of a photo, one I took when Woo was a wee boy.  It was a snowy day, and he was propped up in the yard, keeping me company as I shovelled.  I love this photo.

Snowy Boy

I’ve hung onto the snowsuit that he wore that day, even though I have had opportunity to sell it, to donate it, to give it away.  It reminded me of that day, that first winter with my lil boy, my first year as a mom. I didn’t need a snowsuit to remind me of those times, the pictures worked too. But I couldn’t let it go. As time passed, and it became apparent to me that this was becoming a thing, I tried to let go, but failed repeatedly, thinking that I would be ready in a year’s time.

This year, when we were searching for snowsuits for the Snowsuit Fund, Woo found this old suit and I let him bring it out.  It went to the donation pile, got washed and packed away, then sat on the floor by the door for a few days before I found the time to drop the items off.  Each time I looked at it, I fought the urge to hide it away for “just one more year”.  Knowing that my resolve was weakening, I made a quick trip out today, dropped off the bag and then drove away fast, before I could change my mind.

As I helped the lils go through their toys looking for donations tonight, I was glad that I had successfully dropped off the snowsuit today.  They were struggling with letting go of some toys that they no longer play with, and my struggle this week allowed me to be more understanding to their perspective.  Instead we talked about why they wanted to keep the stuff and why they might want to give them away.  In the end, they kept most of the items that they were on the fence about, but did donate some.  I let them know that it is even hard for Mommy to part with things that she loves but doesn’t need anymore. I didn’t let them know that I am still a little sad that it is gone.



Holiday giving

We started to do an activity focused advent calendar with the lils when they were just old enough to get into the Christmas spirit. I borrowed the idea from my twitter friend, @missfish in 2008 and the daily December activities quickly became a favourite tradition for our family. I am not organized enough to have an actual advent style calendar, and often don’t have the activities planned out more than a few hours before they happen, but we’ve all been happy with the results.

Each year, I vow that it will be different, but as I sit down tonight to try and plan out the month (yes, I realize that we are already two days into the month), I can see that it’s not going to be too different from previous years. Yes, we’ll still be working without a firm plan for a lot of the days, but thanks the fact that I have at least recorded the activities from previous years, I know that we will be doing all of the things that we love to do as a family.

Again this year, we have decided to make a concentrated effort on helping to support those in our community who are less fortunate. As the lils get older, we want to involve them as much as possible. It’s important to us that they see us trying to help those who are less fortunate than we are, teaching them to be giving and empathetic. We are very thankful for our happiness, health, and home, and we know that others are not as fortunate. We want to show our children together can do something to help.

I often get asked how we can include small children in this charitable giving. Here is a list of the activities that we have participated in the past, or investigated for this year. Some represent a monetary donation, a donation of time, and some require both. Not all are applicable for families with young children, but I am going to try and get them involved in as many as possible! It is always best to check with the recipient of your donation to see what age is appropriate for participation. Some will encourage the participation of little ones, but others might require that they be excluded or take a limited role.

The Ottawa Foodbank  is a local institution that helps to feed families in need, as well as supply food to shelters and other programs for their meals. This month, we will be targeting their “most needed list” with a donation each time we shop. While volunteers generally need to be over 14, they may have some options for family volunteer activities, providing the children are 6 or older. You can volunteer together to do things like work in the warehouse, do office work, or work at special events. The volunteer contact information is on their website.

The Christmas Exchange also seeks to provide assistance with feeding families in need, through the Christmas hamper and store vouchers programs. When I was a child, we used to always do Christmas baking while listening to their Christmas Cheer broadcast on CFRA. This year’s Christmas Cheer broadcast will be held on Friday, December 6th. It’s a good opportunity to listen to some Christmas carols, and make a donation if you are able.

The Shepherds of Good Hope, and many local churches and houses of worship (many of Ottawa’s houses of worship are listed here) also have programs where you can “adopt” a family, and build a hamper containing food for Christmas dinner, essential goods and small gifts. You can see if your family can help to build a hamper by purchasing the items they need, pack hampers and wrap gifts, deliver hampers right before Christmas, or adopt a family and do all of those activities. With the Shepherds, when you call (613-233-7007), you can be matched to a family that is in great need, but that meets your wishes (ie size or location). You then contact the family representative and discuss what their needs AND wishes are. There are opportunities for younger children to help out in all aspects of this process, but some tasks may be more suitable than others. We have elected to gather and deliver the hamper to the family that we were matched up with, so our lils will have a significant role.

Many local elementary, middle, and high schools, churches, and community associations also get involved with food drives, charitable fundraisers like bake sales and holiday meals. These drives and events provide a great opportunity to talk about those less fortunate, and why you support the activities. You can help out by volunteering with your child in preparation for the event, gathering donations, baking, cooking, or helping out at the event. School, church, and community run events generally offer great opportunities for children of ALL ages to help out. Please check with your local school, community association, or church to see what they have planned.

There are a few institutions in Ottawa that host holiday meals in the days leading up to Christmas, starting in early December! This presents an opportunity for those looking to volunteer, but not on Christmas day. In addition to using volunteers on that day, they may have a need for volunteers in preparation for meal. The Mission is one that holds the meal in advance of Christmas – it’s December 22nd this year. My lils are still too small to help out with the serving at the Mission, but have been baking desert for them for years! We will be baking cupcakes through Cupcakes 4 Christmas again this year. This is one of our favourite things to do, as there are always a few extra cupcakes! I am not sure if they need any more bakers for this year, but you can contact either organization to see what they need.

This year is our second year contributing to the creation of prepared and delivered meals through Essence Catering. Chef Jason and his team collect all the ingredients that are needed to cook up full meals for needy families in our community, spend the hours leading up to Christmas prepping the meals, then go out and deliver them to the families. Last year we contributed some turkeys, and I am waiting to hear what they need from us this year.

A number of local restaurants and houses of worship also hold free meals for those less fortunate on Christmas day. Many accept food donations, as well as need volunteers on Christmas day to help out. If you cannot make it on Christmas day, they also accept food donations in advance. There are a number of participating restaurants listed here.

In the lead up to Christmas, we will also try to bring some toys to children in need. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Each year we do two things; go shopping as a family and pick out toys or games that our children would like, but donate them to Toy Mountain, who only accept new toys; and we clean out our toy bins, and donate the toys and books that we don’t use any more to a shelter (the Community Information Centre of Ottawa has a searchable database to help find shelters), or church, or a thrift store. Thrift stores, like the Saint Vincent de Paul take all sorts of donated goods, including toys, and help out lower income families by offering them for sale at low cost, or in some cases, giving the goods to needy families.

Finally, we will be gathering up our old snow suits to donate to the Snowsuit Fund, which will pass them on to children in need. My lils have fun helping us by gathering the pieces and matching up hats, mitts and boots, and then dropping them off with us.

Hope that this gives you some ideas for how you and your family can help out!



High five!

Dear Goose:

Happy Birthday! This morning I lay in bed willing you to awaken, so that I could give you your birthday kisses. When you finally woke up you told me that today is your “high five” birthday, then offered your hand for a smack. Today started with a smile, as do most days with my little sunshine.

Watching you grow and develop over the last year has been a treat for your dad and me.  You have settled right back into life in Canada, even though you weren’t so sure about the snow and cold at first. You love school and learning with your friends, and are eager to practice with us at home.  It is such a joy to watch how much you want to learn, and enjoy mastering new things.  Math is your current favourite, followed closely by practicing your writing and reading.

Your best friend and partner in crime is still your big brother.  It is great to see you two have so much fun together, “adventuring” your way through the days.  You are very much an independent girl, one who likes to both hang back and observe what goes on around her, but who will also dive in and lead her peers or her parents!! One of your defining traits is your fearless nature, evidenced by the way that you boldly wander into caves, run full speed into fields of sunflowers that tower over top of you, and call for the boat to go faster, faster as you zoom around a lake on an inner tube!  I love to see it, even if it does make my hair turn gray! You are also a very loving and giving little girl, which makes me so proud of you!

Your joy for life is infectious, regardless of whether you are skipping down the street to soccer practice, laughing hysterically at your own jokes, chanting encouragements to your hockey team on the ice, or riding downhill as fast as you can on your bike.  I can’t help but smile when I am with you.

Hope that this day and the coming year are wonderful for you!


A year of Goose


First snow in a long time!


Learning to skate


Fun at the sugarbush


There was a little bit of dandelion picking


Morning cuddles with the hockey highlights 


Bike riding! 


They call her Rapunzel




“go faster!”


Dance like no one is watching. Od like everyone is watching!


Hockey player!


Fall fun

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Hockey dad

This past Saturday was like most of our Saturday mornings; it started with an early morning rise and the four of us heading to the rink. I’ve secretly longed for these mornings, even though I know that they mean the end to sleeping in for the foreseeable future.  It pleases me greatly that both lils want to play hockey.  Neither Willy nor I played much as children, but have both grown to love it as adults.

Goose skates first on these mornings, followed immediately by Woo’s age group.  When she is finished, we either hang out and watch Woo, or find something to entertain us in the lobby.  This week, we had just gotten into the lobby when one of the dads from Woo’s group passed by.  He noted that she was in her long johns (which she wears under her gear) and told her, unprompted, that “real hockey players don’t play in their pajamas.”

Poor Goose’s reaction was telling. Her face fell, and all the joy and excitement that she derived from the hour on the ice was gone. I looked at him angrily and dismissively told him that she IS a REAL hockey player, then turned to face her and talk about the awesome hockey that she has been playing. It took a little bit of convincing, followed by a little bit of lobby hockey, but she moved on and was thankfully unaffected.  The dad went away without another word, and I am somewhat glad.  As restrained as I was, I had a few more choice words that were just itching to be said.

I’d like to think that it was just a stupid comment, made by someone that just didn’t think before he spoke, but that just gives him a pass that he doesn’t deserve.  He may have been having a bad day, or trying to be funny, but that doesn’t matter. His comment belittled both her choice of clothes, and her identity as a hockey player.  It was mean, especially to a child who is not quite five.  I’d can’t help but think that he wouldn’t have said that to a little boy, as much I hate to think this is because she is a girl.

What he doesn’t know is that I have spent a lot of the last year convincing Goose that girls do play real hockey.  She knew she loved to play with us at the house, but the only ice hockey that she saw, especially when we were in India, was NHL hockey.  She was shocked when I started going to the rink last fall, as it never crossed her mind that any girls played.  From there it took a work to get to the fact that little girls play. She was super excited to sign up, but is now one of a few girls in a mixed group of about sixty little people.  She feels that she belongs here, and shouldn’t have anyone telling her otherwise.

In the end, Goose is still happy to be playing hockey and seems to have forgotten all about the comment. Several of my friends with older girls in hockey have offered to have them mentor Goose to ensure that she continue to see girls in hockey, something that I am very grateful of.  I’m still irked and a little sad that he made the comment at all.



The necklace

We read the Junie B. Jones story where she loses her first tooth in May, before either lil had lost a tooth.  They were instantly fascinated, not by the money that came from the tooth fairy, but by the tooth-shaped necklace that Junie got to carry her tooth around in when she lost her tooth at school.  Woo and Goose thought that was the coolest thing EVER, but didn’t actually believe that this cool necklace could exist.

As luck would have it, a boy in their class lost his tooth at school that week, and, much to their surprise, he got a necklace.  When Woo saw this, he became focussed, jiggling his one loose tooth only on Monday through Thursdays; hoping that he would lose it at school.  Sadly for him it came out at home and he missed out on the necklace. His next few teeth fell out over the summer, where there was no hope of a necklace, so we all pretty much forgot about it.

Forgot, that is, until Goose lost her first tooth at school a few weeks ago.  She was so pleased with that little necklace.  As soon as Woo saw it, he became a boy obsessed.  He had one wiggly tooth left, and he was desperate to lose at school now.  Woo started wiggling it all the time, a fact that was not lost on his teacher.  Woo started coming home with helpful tips on a fairly regular basis, all of which were attributed to his teacher. Some of my favourites include; ‘I need to eat an apple, it will knock it out’, ‘the apple that you sent in was too soft, it won’t knock it out’, ‘I need to hold the tooth with something to get a better grip’, ‘I could tie something around the tooth and yank’, and ‘maybe Daddy will help me pull it out’.

Just when I thought we were going to hear that Woo could tie a string around the tooth and a doorknob, it happened.

photo (2)

I am certain that no one was happier to see an end to all that wiggling than Woo’s teacher, likely because Woo’s desk is right beside the teacher’s desk.  Little does he know that Woo did not offer the tooth up to the tooth fairy tonight.  He’s a big fan of the necklace, wants to keep the tooth in it, and maybe start wearing it to school every day.  If I don’t let him do that, he is proud to report that he has two more loose teeth now.

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Why go half way?

Hallowe’en has always been one of my favourite times of the year.  I love to decorate, to carve the pumpkins, to give out candy to all the neighbourhood children, and now, to walk through the neighbourhood with my children.  It can also be a scary time for me, not because of the ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, but because Woo has a serious and life threatening allergy to peanuts. 

Luckily, both my children are very aware of what to watch for in their candy, and know that they need to go through it with us to remove any dangerous candy before the consumption free-for-all begins.  Last night was no exception, and the sort started within seconds of our return home.  The fact that many companies are labelling their treats with the “peanut free” symbol has been very helpful to us, both for the sort, and the stash that I keep at home to trade with Woo (and Goose, who generally avoids nuts in solidarity with her brother).  I only buy these treats to give out, knowing that the extras will be traded for Woo’s nutty candy.  As the mom of an allergic lil, I appreciate the labeling.

Unfortunately, this year, the labelling led to more confusion than anything else.  Of the three different brands of candy that I purchased, the acknowledgement that the candy was peanut-free was only contained on the big cardboard box containing all the individual sized treats, meaning that individual products that were mixed in to all of the lils loot bags in my hood, had no indication, either way, regarding the safety of the product.

In one case, Smarties*, the treats came in both hallowe’en-themed and regular-themed packaging.  The hallowe’en-themed boxes had the peanut-free symbol, the same sized regular packaging did not.  Smarties are produced by a company that also uses nuts in some of their products, and I know that some other sizes of Smarties are NOT nut free.  Given that they are a family favourite, we are careful.  In his haul, Woo ended up with a full sized box; which the company acknowledged “may contain” peanuts and the snack sized Smarties. Given the inconsistent labelling, I contacted them to see what was safe and what wasn`t. They assured me that all the small-sized were nut free, and cautioned me to always read the labels.  Unfortunately, the wording on both the small and larger boxes was equally devoid of any warning or confirmation regarding allergens.

A second brand of chocolate bar, Mars, went to the trouble of printing a warning referencing the fact that some Mars products may contain peanuts, but failing to state whether the bar in my hands was peanut free. I assumed it was safe, but wanted to be certain, so I called them.  These bars were, so I asked why the warning was so vague.  When pressed, they offered feeble excuses as to why the bar was not labelled nut-free, including a ridiculous claim that the packaging could get ripped if the bars were sold in a bulk bin, which could lead to contamination.  It was a frustrating call.

I understand that the risk of contamination from a lot of these products is really low, but I always choose the peanut-free option, due to Woo’s age and the severity of his allergy.  I really do appreciate that manufacturers are making the effort to separate the manufacturing processes, and to put labels on the products, but they really don’t have to make it so difficult.  The labelling should be the easiest part, especially if they have gone to the trouble of making the products nut free.  If it is not clear, then what is the point? In the end, it took me less than 20 minutes on the phone to figure out that the three brands that Woo cared about were all safe for him, and one company to acknowledge that they have plans to improve the labelling in the future (Smarties).

*All of the products mentioned above are the Canadian produced products, and my interactions with the producers only concerned the Canadian products and packaging.




A terrible horrible monster

There is nothing like the first few minutes with your child after you return from a trip.  It’s happiness and love and filled with hugs.  That’s what it was like yesterday with Woo, upon my return from Blissdom.  He leapt into my arms and joyfully filled my ears with tales from the weekend.  Goose, on the other hand, was a different story.  She arrived in tears and clung to me.  She started by telling me about the crimes that her brother had just committed by pushing her out of the way to get to me, and ended with telling me about getting lost in the tunnels. 

My heart skipped a beat, and I calmed her enough to tell me about the tunnels.  From what I could piece together, there is an exhibit at the Science and Technology Museum that involves some slides or tunnels and Goose was in them, alone, and got lost.  She didn’t know where to go or what to do so she just stood there and cried til her brother found her.  Irrational me immediately thought about what sort of person would send a four year-old girl into the tunnels, alone, crying – likely for hours and finally sending a six year old deep inside to rescue her.  Willy. That terrible, horrible monster.

Rational me took over and I talked to her about how awesome it was that Woo looked out for her and how the tunnels were still such a fun place, and then waited to talk Willy about it later.  Sure enough, it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Goose had successfully navigated the tunnels once, she just got turned around. When Goose didn’t come out of the one slide (there were only two), Willy sent Woo down the path to the other slide while he waited at the bottom to make sure that she wasn’t alone when she did pop out.

The reality is that our lils are growing up, and we want them to be independent, so they are going to get stuck in tunnels occasionally.  She was fine, and it is not likely to have any sort of lasting impression.  I, on the other hand, need to make sure that it is the rational me that lets the lils go off into the tunnels of the world, knowing that they are going to get lost on occasion.  Getting lost is part of it.


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Three was not enough

When we looked at booking a train trip to Toronto this fall, Willy suggested that we take the early train on the Friday morning.  While the main purpose of the trip was to visit Willy’s family, my sister-in-law was due to have a baby in early September, so planning to have more time in the city seemed logical enough.  I booked the tickets and forgot all about the itinerary until it became clear that Willy was going to be in India over the same weekend as our trip.

Using my inside voice, I grumbled a little bit about him missing out on the trip and not being around to help out, but it was mostly out of jealousy over the fact that he was going to India without me.  I told myself it was going to be ok, and spent a good chunk of yesterday packing and prepping everything so that we would be ready to get up and leave, long before dawn.  I tucked the lils into bed in their today clothes, set three alarms, and went to bed earlier.  I was ready.

I am usually one of those people who can’t get to sleep if they need to get up early, and then wakes several times through the night, so I was amazed when I woke up and saw that the clock read 5:55AM.  “Right on time” I thought, as I sat up and reached to turn the alarm off.  Then it hit me. There was no sound emitting from the radio, and the time was wrong. We needed to be on the train right now.  I started to move in a hurry, but realized that it was futile.  The train had left the proverbial station.

Hoping that I could salvage the trip, I picked up the phone and called VIA Rail.  Luckily, they were up on time, and had someone answering the phones.  I spoke to the nicest, sweetest agent, who sensed my upset and tried to make me feel better for having slept in and missed my train.  Then he blew me away and waived the far difference on my three tickets.  Tickets that were bought on the best sale that I have seen in a while, and normally would have cost a fortune to change.  Knowing how disappointed the lils would have been if I had had to cancel the train and just drive, I was grateful to not have to make that decision. So I started to cry, and he was sweet again and made me laugh.

The lils woke up shortly after my call.  Woo was first and he was crying when he found me in the family room, worried that just he had slept in and I had left without him.  Goose joined us, and we cuddled on the couch until it was time to leave and catch the second train of the day. Today may have started abruptly for me, but with the help of a really caring agent at VIA Rail, a few stolen moments on the couch, and the promise of snuggles with my new baby niece, it ended up being pretty darn good.



The early bird

This summer has been all about adventures for our family.  We have not had a specific plan, but wake each day, look outside and figure out where to go and what to do.  It’s way outside of my comfort zone as a list maker and planner, but it’s been great.  The lils have really gotten into the spirit, and more often than not, our breakfast conversations start with a “where is our adventure today?” from one of them. 

There are a few things that we have planned out, things that need some arrangements made in advance.  One of these things is our trip to Montreal tomorrow.  I happened upon a great sale from VIA Rail earlier this summer, and booked tickets for the family to and explore a wee bit.  The lils have been asking for years to travel on the train, but this was the first sale that made it possible for the whole family to go.  The catch is that we haven’t told them yet that we are going by train.

Given that I am the world’s worst secret keeper, I have not spoken to the lils very much about the arrangements for this trip. It’s getting harder and harder as we get closer to departure, and today was filled with a multitude of mines that I narrowly avoided.  We can’t bring all of your pillows and blankets because it is only for one night and we are trying to bring fewer bags.  We need more room in the back of the car because we might buy some stuff! We plan on only using the metro while in the city because it is FUN (well that part is true.) They have, for the most part, accepted these reasons without question.

The one story that I thought would be the hardest sell was the really early departure, a necessary evil given the 6:00AM departure of the train.  I built it up and convinced them that leaving early gives us a really full day in Montreal, that it would be loads of fun, that we would beat the traffic… and they bought it.  All was well until I looked at our tickets and saw that the train for this trip leaves at 9:30; it’s our next trip that leaves at the crack of dawn.  I tried to backpedal and come up with reasons why we were now leaving at a civilized time, but Woo wanted to hear nothing of it.  I can’t spoil the surprise, so I cross my fingers and hope that he sleeps in just a bit.  Of course when I last checked in on him, he was trying to set the alarm in his room for 4:30.  I hope that early bird makes the coffee.



Did that really happen?

Today was one of those days where we had a million things on the go.  Most of them were fun things, but there were a few chores sprinkled in; not major tasks, but I had the lils with me, so I knew that their willingness to cooperate would shape how the day went.  We started off early, when they were fed and happy, thinking that it was best to be fast and then have fun at leisure.

This was how we found ourselves standing in the parking lot outside the liquor store at 9:55 this am. Thankfully we weren’t the first ones in line, but I did feel a little bit awkward, especially since this was the second time that we found ourselves in this position this month! The staff opened the doors, and I stepped aside to let the man who had been waiting in. He was first in line after all. I headed directly to the wine, as I knew exactly the bottle that I wanted, a favourite white for a friend who was doing me a favour today.  While I was grabbing it, I noticed that a female customer had arrived and was talking animatedly to an employee at the beer cooler.

We ended up walking the main aisle together, and the woman noticed the lils.  “Oh children, I love you!” she said, which caused me to walk a little faster and chant “please don’t let he pick my line, please don’t pick my line” in my head. She hesitated behind us, but veered toward the entrance instead.  I sighed in relief, and watched as one of the employees called to her and offered to take her purchase. Oddly, she kept on walking, right out the door, saying “I told you that I wasn’t going to pay for this, and with God as my witness, I am not!”

The staff, few customers and I were all dumbfounded.  We all stood looking out the window watching her walk away with her stolen six-pack on her hip. We’d look at each in disbelief, then turn to the window to see her get farther away.  All of us; four staff, the gentleman who’d entered with me, even the lils and I couldn’t believe what we’d seen.  Woo and Goose were shocked, asking again and again why she had stolen.  Many thoughts raced through my mind, and for the briefest second, I was tempted to grab my wine off the counter, say “with God as my witness!”, and walk to the door just to see what would happen…

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