A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Apparently I’m issuing a linguistic challenge!

I’m banning the word “apparently.” Blanket Ban.

Think about it – any sentence that you need to start with the word “apparently” is probably not worth saying.  We use it to repeat things that we don’t know to be fact without having to cite our sources:

“Apparently it’s going to rain tomorrow.” “Oh, did you check the weather?” “Uh, no…I just overheard one of the other moms at school talking about it, so don’t blame me if you don’t sunscreen your kid and it turns out to be 30°C.”

“Apparently Rob Ford saved $1 billion for Toronto last year!” “No way – Really? That totally overshadows that whole crack thing!” “Yeah! Apparently that video was a hoax anyway – we all know videos can be altered! Apparently he’s never been under the influence of anything in his life. And apparently he in no way had the video buried. In fact, apparently the guy in the photo with the dead drug dealer wasn’t even him – It was his evil twin from an alternate dimension.“*


Molly chatting on Blackberry “Apparently 83% of people will believe anything you say if you start your sentence with ‘apparently'”

The trouble with “apparently” is twofold:

First, to quote The Princess Bride, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” “Apparently” actually means, “It is apparent that,” as in, “I can observe with my own senses that,” but we generally use it to mean, “I have read or heard that this is the case.”

Second, it lends an air of veracity to a subsequent statement that it does not necessarily deserve. In everyday speech, we frequently use “apparently” to mean “I don’t actually know firsthand if this is true, so don’t blame me if you later discover it to be false,” often with an undercurrent of, “And you probably wouldn’t be so quick to believe me if I told you where I had heard it.”

If you banish the word “apparently” from your vocabulary, you are forced precede your statement by actually stating your source:

“I vaguely remember hearing somewhere that…”

“I read on the Internet that…”

“Someone shared this picture on Facebook that said…”

“I got this chain email that said…”

“I read in the National Enquirer that besides Batboy being elected to the Vatican council…”

Try it for a day – banish “apparently” from your vocabulary and see how it changes what you do and don’t say.

Look at all the nonsense that would be done away with!

Pinterest hoaxes: Apparently if you mix hydrogen peroxide and Mountain Dew…” Have you tried it? NO! Then don’t spread it!

Facebook hoaxes: “Apparently there’s this new gang initiation thing where they leave baby carseats by the side of the road…” Did you Google it? What did Snopes say? *EEAANNNGHHH* Urban legend!!

Academic mumbo-jumbo: “My preliminary meta-analysis of my PhD research indicates…” <— Hey, when you put it that way, that one I’ll actually buy!

~ karyn

*NB – I made this joke BEFORE I came across the Daily Currant article. APPARENTLY great minds think alike!

Did you try my “No apparently for a day” challenge? How did it go?

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Sorry ’bout that, email subscribers!

My apologies, email subscribers, if you got a sneak preview of my next gardening post! I accidentally hit “publish” a leetle too soon.

Let me take this opportunity to share some news that should not actually impact your lives in any way, delivered as only Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth can:

good news everyone

Good News Everyone! PicklesINK is moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org
via http://memegenerator.net/

Hopefully this will make absolutely no difference to you whatsoever, but on the off chance that the unthinkable happens and my subscribers don’t get transferred over with me, please check back at http://www.picklesINK.com in a week or so to make sure that you haven’t missed any posts and re-subscribe if necessary! And thanks very much for reading and following me in the first place…It’s really wonderful to know that there are folks like you out there who are interested in what I have to say!

~ karyn

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I’ve been bitten (and stung) by the gardening bug!

One of the first things that attracted us to our house was the amazing perennial garden – carefully planted to bloom all season and attract butterflies and hummingbirds and complete with pond, waterfall, and koi. I had a sort of naive belief that such an amazing garden would inspire me to become some sort of earth-mama tree-hugging wood-nymph magically endowed with the body of Gwyneth Paltrow, the fashion sense of Nicole Richie, and the horticultural knowledge of Luther Burbank.

I very quickly discovered that this was not the case and my naive belief switched over to, “No worries – these sorts of things take care of themselves, right?”

Not so very much.

Two  years later, with the koi dead and my garden replaced by a waving 3-foot tall sea of something I learned was called “goutweed,” I despaired and called for help, hiring a gardener to dig everything out and restart. She has been maintaining the garden for me for the last couple of years, but this year Ian and I have decided to take a leap of faith and go at it ourselves (with lots of advice and guidance from my neighbours and my fabulous sister-in-law Mel).

In progress

This plan has been somewhat complicated by poor Ian’s debilitating hay fever, which seems to be experiencing its worst year ever! The last couple of weeks have seen him sneezing non-stop even when dosed up on antihistamines, but it seems to be settling down now. He has been soldiering on though and we can happily report major progress over the last weekend!

Here’s the situation as it stands:

The Garden

We have a fully planted perennial garden – lots of green stuff, lots of flowering stuff, lots of bulbs and shrubs.

Before 2

Crowded garden – Pretty flowers, but way too many!

With all the lovely rain we’ve been having, EVERYTHING is growing and and spreading like crazy so the plants are encroaching on each other and there are no pathways to get through any of it to weed.

Before 1

Plants all vying for space – lilies, blue mystery plant, and sweet pea.

Where the pond used to be is now a bog garden (layers of rock and gravel under the soil to keep it moist for water-loving plants but without standing water on the surface for mosquitoes to bred). The goutweed was never fully eradicated – it’s still in our neighbours’ yards and spreads by its root system under the fences.

Before 3

Overgrown garden – clumps of lily, euonymus, clematis, and iris. The goutweed is poking through the fence into the grass on the right.

There is a section at one side of the garden that I tried growing vegetables in 2 years ago but didn’t plant last year that is now overgrown with weeds (plus a few clumps of an identified plant that my neighbour didn’t recognize but said I should keep).

The Plan

Thin everything out so there is space between plants, mulch EVERYWHERE, and edge with stones. Take out some of the repetition and experiment with new plants, especially hummingbird and butterfly-attracting plants. Plant my potted kitchen herbs in the bare (former vegetable patch) section. Prune back shrubs. Learn how to maintain everything (when and how to prune what) and weed regularly. Teach Ben and Molly to help out (if I’m not paying them, it’s not child labour, just character-building, right?).

Progress Report

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve pulled out all the weeds along the fence and taught Ben and Molly to recognize the goutweed and pull it if they see it (“See these leaves? These are yucky! If you see them, pull them out right from the bottom of the stem and say, ‘Get out of our garden, yucky plant!!'”). On Saturday Ian bought 20 bags of mulch and we spent the afternoon weeding, edging, laying stones, pruning shrubs, and transplanting the herbs, and put down one bag of mulch in the back corner. I also transplanted a random patch of wild strawberry from the middle of the lawn to what I’ll now start calling the kitchen garden. Sunday afternoon we were back at it again but my efforts were cut short by an event that can only be described in rhyme:

There once was a pretty young lass,
Who was gardening up like a boss,
When a bumblebee thought
She had disturbed his spot
And stung her right up on her upper upper thigh.

After that I took a little break to nurse my injured…dignity.*

During 2

In progress – the kitchen garden has been weeded and edged with stones and my potted herbs planted – lavender, chives, and oregano. The little green patch in the middle is the wild strawberry tranplanted from the lawn.

During 6

This section is in progress – I haven’t decided whether or not to mulch the kitchen garden (left side). My rhubarb is in the centre and the bog garden to the right.

Despite the fact that it has been a literal pain in the rear-end, I am starting to feel the earth-mama vibe… I have found, weirdly enough, that I’m more comfortable barefoot while I’m gardening than wearing shoes, though I have to wear gloves because I hate getting my hands dirty and the bugs freak me right out. Yes, the irony has been pointed out to me. I’m also starting to get excited not only about the prospect of finishing what I’ve got but also about experimenting with new plants and sharing the ones I’m digging out.

Now I’m just waiting on that Gwyneth body…

Finished section

This is the first finished section! Dappled willow and forsythia bushes pruned and everything weeded and mulched. I may pull out the clump of whatever that is beside the fence (there is more of it in the bog garden on the other side of the shrubs).

Comment time: Gardening aficionados, help!!

Can you identify any of these mystery plants for me?

Unidentified 1

Mystery Plant #1 – fuzzy leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour yet. This is the one that appeared and my neighbour said to keep.

Unidentified 2

Mystery Plant #2 – spiky stem, water pools at the base of leaves. Growing in the middle of the bog garden, so water-loving. About 2.5 feet tall and there is only one.

Unidentified 3

Mystery Plant #3 – Feathery leaves, flowers starting but no discernible colour. Sort of daisy-like.

Unidentified 4

Mystery Plant #4 – These are in clumps all over. The honeybees and black ants love them.

Do you have any ideas for other plants for me to try out – butterfly- or hummingbird-attracting, pretty, interesting? What are your favourites?

*I have since observed (and confirmed via my old friend Google), that bumblebees nest in the ground. Who knew? (Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical.) It seems that when I moved away from the clump of plants she was buzzing around, I wound up standing right on her house. Anyone know of a non-lethal way to get rid of an underground bumblebee nest in your garden?


Not to toot my own horn, but I am friggin’ SUPERWOMAN!!

A few days back, in the middle of a marathon laundry session, my front-load washing machine started gushing water out of the soap dispenser drawer. I shrieked for help and Molly and Ben raced upstairs and brought me back every towel in the house.*

Now, the last two times I have had appliances break down on me (washing machine and dishwasher), I called a local appliance-fixing guy named Dave, who each time spent about 15 minutes unscrewing a panel, unclogging a hose, and laughing at his own sexist jokes, charged me $300, and left, both times leaving the panel off and saying, “Yer husband can put that back on when he gets home from werk.” I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was nice and all…

So this time I thought, “What the hell? I’ll give it a shot. The worst that happens is I can’t fix it and have to call someone anyway.”

The next step was of course to contact my old pal Google for inspiration. Google said, “Hey babe! Been missing you! We should totally catch up some…what? Washing machine issues? Wow, so much for small talk. Whatever. Anyway, I know this guy…” and turned me on to the most entertaining washing machine repair video ever. No joke. Watch it through to the end.** Awesome, right?

Armed to the teeth with information, I dropped the kids off at school, dug up Ian’s socket set, and went to work. This is the machine, soap dispenser drawer removed. I’ll recap what you already know from watching the best video ever – When you start the wash cycle, water flows from the pipe in the wall into the “ceiling” of the soap dispenser thingy and dribbles through little holes into the soap/fabric softener drawer, then flows out through a hose which feeds into the drum. If the water is coming out the dispenser drawer, it is most likely because that hose is clogged.


Washing machine (right) with soap dispenser drawer removed.
©PicklesINK 2013

The first step is to remove the washing machine cover. There are 3 hex cap screws/bolts (Some of my engineering-inclined readers may have differing opinions on the terminology so I included both. For their clarification, the items in question are threaded with a tapered end and a hexagonal head requiring the use of a socket tool rather than a screwdriver.) on the back of the machine that must be removed, and then the metal lid lifts off.


Washing machine with cover removed. The white rectangle on the left is the top of the soap dispenser.
©PicklesINK 2013

The black rubber hose in the centre plugs into the drum casing but is not attached with any other hardware, so it just pops in and out. I thought at first that was the hose in question, so I pulled it out and checked. It wasn’t clogged so I plugged it back in. Since I thought that was the only hose, I then removed the panel at the bottom of the machine to check the drain trap. A clogged drain usually results in the washing machine just refusing to drain or to start at all, so if you have that problem, make this the first thing you check. It’s a good idea to check it occasionally anyway as a preventative measure.


Bottom panel removed. The white cylinder is the drain trap. Quite a lot of water comes out when you take the lid off it – I needed more than just that one towel.
©PicklesINK 2013

That also required the removal of 3 screws and then a little bit of wiggling before it popped off. The white thing that looks like the Eye of Sauron is the cover of the drain trap. If you twist it anti-clockwise, stinky water will start dribbling and then pouring out, and if you remove it all the way (I recommend putting some sort of container underneath), the rest of the water plus many small objects you never knew you had lost including usually a couple of dollars in very dirty coins will emerge. It’s a good idea to place a fairly large shallow container underneath to catch the water before you open it (unlike I did).


Containers of narsty water, 2 small socks, and several coins.
©PicklesINK 2013

After emptying the drain trap, I put the cover back on, put the soap drawer back in, started the machine, and…as it turns out, I had not in fact solved the problem. Remembering my Youtube friend’s need for a flashlight, a lightbulb went on over my head and I thought, “Eureka! I didn’t check the right hose!”

On closer inspection, there is another, larger hose from the main part of the dispenser that you can’t see from above. I felt around inside (sticking my hand under that white box you see in the second picture and reaching towards the front of the machine) and found it, unplugged it (by feel), and lo and behold, a small, wadded up blue sock fell out, rather the worse for the wear for its adventure.


The hose in question, as seen by my camera and flash.
©PicklesINK 2013


The sock that was at the foot of it all. I toed you I could do it!
©PicklesINK 2013

I stuck a finger through to see if there was anything else (there wasn’t), plugged the hose back in (again by feel), and started her up again, and Ta-da!! Success!! No more gushing water, it only took 45 minutes, and I saved $300 and the possibility of assault charges if Dave-the-repair-guy had made another crack about Ben’s kitchen toys being “women’s tools.”

Then, because I’m a jerk, I sent Ian this text:


Text reads: So…Um…Remember when I said I thought I could fix the washing machine by myself?

~ karyn

*I hereby confess to a slight degree of plot-enhancing hyperbole. When I told the story to Ian, Ben corrected me. They did not bring me EVERY towel – as he correctly points out, there were still many dishtowels in the kitchen.

**My favourite part is, “I’ll try to find flashlight to see if I show you hose better. Just bear vith me vell I find flashlight…*camera pointing at floor and bumping around* Ah. Here is flashlight. Sorry about the vait.”

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10 Ways to Save the Planet

As parents, we can all relate to Kermit – It’s Not Easy Being Green. We are constantly bombarded with “BUY BUY BUY” messages — You need to get the latest toys! You need to get the DVD as soon as it comes out! Look, this one is EDUCATIONAL! Second child a boy? Well, that pink corn-popper ain’t going to cut it – better pick up a gender-neutral one!

Fisher-Price Corn Popper toy – pink
Photo: http://www.toysrus.ca/product/index.jsp?productId=2688007


Ever since my kids memorized The Lorax I’ve gotten much more in touch with my inner tree-hugger, so in celebration of Earth Day I’ve put together a list of 10 ways that Team Pickles tries to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

"I yam the Yorax! I 'peak for the fwees!" ©PicklesINK 2012

“I yam the Yorax! I ‘peak for the fwees!”
©PicklesINK 2012

  1. When it comes to the 3 R’s of living green, REDUCE should always be at the top of the list. We try as much as possible not to consume too much. I try to always shop with a list — if it’s not on the list, we probably don’t need it, and if I can resist the impulse to buy it right then, I probably won’t miss it!
  2. I try to buy things used as much as I can – partly because I’m CHEAP and partly because it’s more environmentally friendly. Second-hand stores are GREAT sources of books, toys, and clothes for kids and adults. Most sports stores have swap programs which can reduce your costs when it comes to getting your kids involved in expensive sports like skiing or hockey. The exception of course is safety equipment like helmets and carseats, which it is best to buy new or receive used from a source you trust.
  3. Make use of hand-me-downs if you are lucky enough to have friends or family members with kids older than yours, and pay it forward (or back to them) when your kids outgrow the items. For a lot of big-ticket baby items, such as crib mattresses and particle-board furniture, used can actually be healthier than new because they will have finished off-gassing their chemicals into your home’s air.
  4. Buy local! You don’t have to follow a strict 100-mile diet, but as much as you can, buy local and in-season to reduce your carbon footprint and support your neighbours and your local economy. I try to plan meals around what is in season and to shop at my local farm stands and farmer’s markets.
  5. REUSE containers, and use reusable containers — my kids go through A LOT of yoghurt, and I use the empty tubs to freeze things like soups, wine (for cooking! Not winesicles! I swear! Although as ideas go…hmmm), and cooking stock. And if you have the choice, store things in washable containers instead of disposable bags.
  6. Think outside the (craft) box — before you recycle cards or paper, think about whether they might be still be useful. I keep pretty paper scraps, Valentine’s cards, post-cards, etc. in a Ziploc bag in Ben and Molly’s craft cubby for their “cutting and gluing” projects. The scraps can also find new life as grocery lists or even the rough notes for a blog post!

    Rough draft of this post on remnants of a Ben and Molly art project.
    ©PicklesINK 2013


  7. Be prepared when it comes to food and travel — I toss snacks and water bottles in my bag for the kids if we’re going to be out for an uncertain amount of time. Apples and bananas are grab and go (and come in their own handy packaging); bagels with cream cheese and plain waffles are easy-to-prepare favourites of my kids as well; and bite-sized crackers and cereal, on their own or in a mix, make great car snacks. (And I’m sure it goes without saying, but of course packaged in reusable containers rather than baggies.) This avoids those grouchy hungry kid meltdowns and saves you money!
  8. REUSE gift bags. Having kids generally means working the birthday party circuit pretty heavily, and I think the same gift bags have been making the birthday party rounds through Ben’s group of friends since they were all born (the friends, not the bags)! Let’s just say I’m pretty sure Ben got a gift last year in a bag that we gave a gift in the year before, and it NOT to the same friend. Now that’s recycling!
  9. On the subject of birthdays, get your kids to make their own birthday cards for their friends (or, in a pinch, use their already made artwork to make a card). It’s fun, inexpensive, green, and personalized. These are two of the cards Molly got for her birthday – Hallmark’s got nothing on these two!


    Molly’s handmade birthday cards
    ©PicklesINK 2013

  10. Instill these values in your kids as early as you can. Instead of just saying “No!” to buying that toy at Walmart, explain WHY – because they have so many toys already or because we might find it used at another store without all that plastic packaging that will just go in the garbage. Explain that you are having asparagus for dinner because it is in season, which means it’s growing fresh at the farm right down the road instead of being shipped on a big truck across the country using up fuel and making smog. Have them help you pack up the clothes and toys that they have outgrown and talk about how exciting it is that someone else is going to be able to use them now.

If you get your kids involved and invested early, you’ll soon find that they’re the ones keeping on top of you when it comes to saving the planet!

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

~ karyn

How do you reduce your carbon footprint? If you have kids, do you find it easier or harder since having them?


Who decided to call it March “Break” anyway?

I’m ba-a-ack!! Sorry about the bloggy hiatus. It’s been a bit of a hectic couple of weeks around here! My car has been fixed, no thanks to Mazda (I won’t get into that though…feel free to scroll back through my Twitter for details). So far I haven’t received the bill, so I’m just pretending it doesn’t exist…not necessarily a sustainable plan over the long term, but it’s working for me right now!

It seems that Mother Nature has decided to tack the winter she forgot to give us last year onto the end of this one. Watching the blowing snow out my living room window day after day I’m starting to feel like I’m trapped in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. But I digress.

We had a great March Break but I don’t think you can really call it a “break!” We went up to my parents’ ski chalet for the week, bringing friends and our babysitter Victoria with us. When we got there, Ben and Molly spent an hour bouncing off the walls – “When are Noah and Ella going to be here? Are they here yet? When are they going to get here? AREN’T THEY HERE YET???” I think that was when Victoria started wondering what she had gotten herself into…

Noah and Ella and their parents arrived and the kids settled right in together:

Hanging out 1

Ben and Noah and Molly and Ella giggling together in chairs (no plans for bedtime any time soon!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah went to ski day camp in the mornings and both improved immensely skiing-wise. Michael (Noah and Ella’s dad) and I got some great skiing in too. I think we managed to go through every snow condition possible – warm, sticky spring, fresh powder, icy pellets, freezing cold dead of winter. It was like the entire ski season compressed itself into 3 days!

Ben skiing 2

Ben skiing. I think this was the really cold day – note the icy patch on his left
©PicklesINK 2013

With a 2-hour group lesson every day, Ben and Noah both improved immensely. Ben continues to work his way through the fast-food metaphors, having now graduated from doing “pizza slices” and onto “french fries.” They also became quite well-known at the hill – “Are you Ben’s mom? Oh my gosh, he and Noah are SO. CUTE. They are so chatty! And they were holding hands while they were waiting for the lift.”

Noah skiing

Looking good, Noah!
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Ben skiing

Ben’s kind of halfway between the pizza slice and the french fries here.
Photo credit: Karen Topper

Much to their mommies’ terror, the reward for a good day of skiing seemed to be a trip down the free-style terrain park. There’s nothing quite like seeing your 5 year-old sliding across rails and off ski jumps to strike cold fear into your heart!

Molly also tried her hand…er…her feet at skiing. Boy, was my back sore after that…


Mommy and Molly skiing together
©PicklesINK 2013

As I’m sure you gathered from her expression, she hated it! She wasn’t totally satisfied though – I asked how she liked it and she said, “Great! But faster next time, Mommy, okay? Faster!”


Mommy helping grinning Molly back up at the bottom of the hill
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben finally got to experience his first sleepover. We’ve tried a few times letting him and Molly share a room, and sadly it always ends in disaster. The closest they came to making it work was a few weeks ago when Ben finally fell asleep and stayed that way, despite Molly sitting up beside him kicking him with both legs yelling, “Ben? BEN? Wake up, Ben! I want to play! BEEEEENNNNN!!!”

Ben and Noah, happily, were able to make it work, much to Ben’s delight – “A sleepover with my BEST FRIEND? THIS IS THE GREATEST NIGHT EVER!!” Towards the early hours of the morning we did discover that Ben, like his parents before him, is a cover-hog. My advice for marital harmony, folks? Two words: Separate duvets.


Ben and Noah’s sleepover
©PicklesINK 2013

Thanks to Victoria, we grown-ups were able to enjoy a lovely night out at a beautiful local restaurant called Mrs. Mitchell’s, named after the last and longest-serving teacher at the one-room schoolhouse that now houses the restaurant. If you’re in the area, don’t miss it! (If you can’t get there, at least try making their famous spoon bread at home). The waitress told us one of the best stories ever about my mom and aunt (identical twins): “You know how they look exactly alike but one of them is chattier than the other? For years I thought they were the same person but with multiple personalities. Then one day they came in together and I nearly fell off my chair!”

Mrs. Mitchell’s is also famous for their afternoon tea, which has been a favourite of mine (and hasn’t changed much!) since I was little. Karen and I brought Molly and Ella for a “Princess Tea Party” on our last afternoon.

Princess tea party 2

Molly’s first taste of tea
©PicklesINK 2013

Really, what could be better than an individual basket of fresh-baked scones and sweet potato and walnut muffins served with strawberry preserves, cream, and whipped butter? Not much, say I!

Princess tea party 1

Molly enjoying her muffin
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben and Noah made good use of their time while the girls were gone, converting the chalet into a bookstore, complete with window display and “employees only” area.

Bookstore 1

Ben and Noah’s bookshop window display (visible from outside as we drove up!)
©PicklesINK 2013

Bookstore 2

Sign reads “Noah and Ben’s book store – staff only”
©PicklesINK 2013

When we got back, they were down in the “staff only” area hard at work writing and illustrating their debut novel, “Journey To The End Of The Pine River.” [*Spoiler alert*] I assume that part of the story will deal with the existential futility of trying to play Poohsticks with pieces of ice…

Bridge 3

Noah, Ella, Ben and Molly playing Poohsticks with ice – sadly, a losing battle.
©PicklesINK 2013

All in all, an excellent but exhausting week! Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know if you can really call it a “break.” Perhaps the concept was pioneered by a childless school principal – “EUREKA! I’ve just had the Greatest! Idea! Ever!!”

Bridge 4

Definitely worth it, though! Look at those grins!
©PicklesINK 2013

Or maybe it’s actually a clever acronym: March B.R.E.A.K. (Begetting Really Exhausted parents And Kids).


The Aftermath: I think Ian and Molly could have slept for a week!
©PicklesINK 2013


Today Sucks – So Let’s Be Thankful!!

This morning was a little crappy. Yesterday my Mazda5 started making a really loud rattling noise, so I got off the highway and to the closest gas station, where I waited for Ian to come and pick us up. This morning I brought it to my mechanic, who had a look and a listen and informed me that I was now in the market for either a new engine or a new car – my call. Le Sigh.

Anyway, I’ve been sitting here moping about 1. How can I possibly afford a new engine (or a new car)? 2. How on earth am I going to get the kids to and from school tomorrow?  3. Why didn’t I notice sooner that there was something wrong? 6. Etc. Etc. Etc.

And then suddenly I thought to myself, I’m pretty goddamn lucky! I’m sitting here in my heated house when some people who have houses can’t afford to heat them and others don’t have homes at all. I’m worrying about the fact that I can’t drive to the grocery store when a) I’m fit and healthy and could walk there; and b) I have enough food in the house that I don’t actually have to go anyway. I’m worrying about a car that I don’t owe anything on when just being able to drive a car, let alone owning one outright, is a bloody luxury. I had to cancel Ben’s violin lesson tonight because I can’t drive him there. Violin lesson? How many kids get violin lessons??

So I’ve decided to set a timer for 1 minute and in that time write down everything that I can think of that I am thankful for. As they say on Top Chef, “Time starts…now!”

1. I have a working computer to write this on and a reliable internet connection.

2. I have beautiful, articulate, gifted children with no medical issues.

3. I have a loving, supportive husband, who comforted me on the phone this morning when I was blaming myself for the car.

4. I have people whom I can ask for help at a moment’s notice – like the woman whom we met when she used to work at our farmers’ market who is picking Ben up for me and the friend I called for advice about the car yesterday when I couldn’t reach Ian and who offered to lend me his car to finish my trip to Toronto.

…1 minute is up…

5. My fridge, freezer, and cupboard are full to overflowing, even though I haven’t been to the grocery store for a week.

6. I have credit and savings enough that though it will be an inconvenience, I can get through this.

…2 minutes is up…

7. I have a funny, active 3 year-old who is “bugging” me as I do this, giggling and pulling my hand away from the keyboard.

8. I have a skilled and sympathetic mechanic who looked at my car this morning even though he was swamped, had his son give me and Molly a ride home, and is going to find me the best deal on a used engine that he can.

9. I am healthy and happy – really happy – and since my depression is treated I actually can think about the positives in my life instead of being overwhelmed by the one negative!

10. I have to keep resetting my timer because it keeps running out before I finish thinking of blessings!

…3 minutes…

I mean, seriously – could anyone look at this kid and not grin back?

80s Molly

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!” Molly channeling the 80’s in her dance outfit.
©PicklesINK 2013

As Bif Naked would Tweet: “Word of the day: Gratitude *beam*”

~ karyn

What are you grateful for today?


Shoveling tips for a Canadian blizzard

Well, I’ve been living in this great country for 27 + 6 years now, and I’ve been around the block a few times. That’s ’cause in a proper Canadian snowstorm, you have to go back over your sidewalk and driveway over…and over…and over…and over…until the storm is finished.

Photo of Bob and Doug McKenzie
Whoever said, “Do the job right the first time and you’ll never have to do it again” never shoveled snow off a Canadian driveway, eh?
Image Credit: Q107 Toronto Facebook page

I think we Southern Ontarians may have gotten a bit complacent over the last couple of years and we’ve forgotten what a real Canadian winter looks like, eh? Since Snowmageddon caught us all by surprise, I figured that as a reference for next time, I should share some helpful shoveling tips.

The Top 5 Snow Shoveling Strategies for a Canadian Snowfall, Eh.

1. The Perfectionist: This method involves shoveling the same stretch of pavement over and over until every last snowflake has been lifted and deposited neatly on the lawn. Be prepared for some backbreaking labour as you scrape your sidewalk clean. There may be some demolition involved as you pulverize and remove the icy footprints rudely left behind by passersby during previous snowfalls that you somehow didn’t get to in time. If necessary, you may have to pull out your metal garden spade for the iciest bits, but if The Perfectionist is your goal, then gosh darn it, that’s the price you pay, eh?

2. The A-Little-Off-The-Top: Favoured by those for whom perfection is seriously overrated, this method involves skimming off the fluffy top layer of snow and leaving the smooth packed under-layer clinging to the pavement. Drawbacks include those pesky lawsuits that spring up when your mail carrier slips and breaks a wrist.


Ben demonstrates The A-Little-Off-The-Top
©PicklesINK 2013

3. The Leap-Frogging Snowplow: A back-saver in a proper Canadian blizzard, especially when you have a long driveway (“Oh honey, look at the driveway! You could fit 6 cars in it easily! Isn’t that great? What down side could there possibly be?”), this method involves using your shovel to plow the snow as far as you can before it gets too heavy, then skimming off the top to continue working your way towards your deposit area. It’s important to use your hands to push the shovel – under no circumstances should you push the shovel handle with your torso if you like your lowest ribs intact.


Properly graduated snow pile placement for The Leap-Frogging Snowplow
©PicklesINK 2013

4. The Off-Roader: NB – This method works best with winter tires. This is easily the quickest of all the strategies, so it’s great for busy people with places to be. The Off-Roader involves starting your car, aiming for the end of the driveway, and taking a run at it. Back in and out of the driveway several times, each time entering the driveway in a slightly different line than before. With skillful maneuvering you should be able to achieve a shoveled “look” by flattening the majority of the snow on your driveway. Downsides include icy tire tracks that will remain until spring. **NOT RECOMMENDED FOR SIDEWALKS**

Tire track

Ice tire track, a side-effect of The Off-Roader
©PicklesINK 2013

5. The RIGHT Way: ‘Nuff said.


When the going gets tough, the tough get snowblowers.
©PicklesINK 2013

I hope you will find this helpful during this beautiful winter season (especially if Mother Nature dumps any more of this %^$%#* on us!).

~ karyn

Did I miss any? What is your method of choice?


Planes, trains and automobiles. But mostly trains.

It seems like every child goes through a train phase starting in toddlerhood and ending…well, for some, never!

Photo of model train exhibit at the Elgin County Rail Museum, St. Thomas, Ontario
Photo credit: Rail Museum website

I distinctly remember my little brother’s obsession with his wooden Brio train set and Ian remembers spending much of his childhood improving his model railway. Ben and Molly are no exception and love building and playing with elaborate train tracks.

But I think Ben’s track-building obsession literally takes things to a whole new level.

Ben has always been a big Thomas fan and we supported that, amassing (with the help of generous and resourceful friends and family members) an impressive collection of Thomas-related toys, books, furniture, clothes, bedding, etc. When Ben was about 3 he produced his first recognizable drawing: At a time when any attempt to place a writing implement in his hand and suggest that he do anything other than scribble produced a complete hysterical meltdown, he woke us up one morning to show us that he had drawn a perfect train track and then stuck engine stickers onto it in.

At age 3 and 4, he was requesting that intricate tracks be built for him on the playroom floor. We considered getting a train table, but the size of tracks that he wanted would not have fit so we decided against. He would take the tracks that were built for him as a starting point and renovate sections of them to his specifications. I marveled at the little details he would add, like laying out blue cloths to be lakes and rivers (populated with bath toys that he would sneak downstairs), and once after a conversation about junctions and switches (probably with Uncle James) he cut out a paper triangle and taped it to one of his junction pieces to be a switch.

Once he was satisfied with a track, he would spend days (or weeks…as long as it took me to decide I wanted to be able to see the floor again for at least 24 hours) acting out Thomas stories with his engines.

Track - May 2011

Ben and Molly playing with trains, aged 4 and 1
©PicklesINK 2011

Around the time he turned 5, Ben stopped being satisfied with the ordinary options afforded by his train set. If he had slopes to make bridges, why couldn’t he make them multiple levels? What was to stop him having elevated tracks? Why, simply the lack of support pieces of the height he needed. Then he realized that he had drawers full of Lego and blocks at his disposal and the world was his oyster.

Track 2 - April 2012

Elevated bridge to an elevated junction.
©PicklesINK 2012

He experimented with elevated tracks and then formed a new goal – a bridge two bridges high – which after many failed attempts, he finally succeeded in creating.

Ben’s first two-bridges high bridge (over another bridge)
©PicklesINK 2012

The next game-changer happened this past November when we impulse-bought a ceramic Christmas village at our church bazaar. Shortly after it was set up on top of a cabinet, a train track and water tower mysteriously appeared in the centre of town.


Christmas village with train track and water tower.
©PicklesINK 2013

Thus began Ben’s 3-month-long track-building project (no exaggeration – he worked on it from November to January), which I will let him describe in his own words.

The Legend of Brio Peak

By Ben Pickles, as told to Karyn Pickles

Long ago, the Brios went through a tunnel through Brio peak instead of going over it. It wasn’t easy. Some of the tunnel collapsed sometimes and some of the trains never made it back. It was clear that the trains needed a safe way to deliver their loads, so they decided to try and go over the mountain. It was hard, but after years of hard work, the trains finally built the track.

Brio Peak 4

Collapsed elevated track, part of an early attempt
©PicklesINK 2013

The track goes from Briotown on Brio Peak onto a bridge part to Brio Peak station, then onto another bridge part over Brio Pass all the way down to the biggest windowsill and then into a bumper. There is a brook under the tracks called Brio Brook.

Brio Peak 2

Brio Peak Station; where the track bends is where it passes over Brio Brook
©PicklesINK 2013

On the bridge parts there are no fences, so it is kind of dangerous, but there are supports.

Brio Peak 1

The bridgy part down from Brio Peak (with supports but no fences)
©PicklesINK 2013

The trains’ names are Brio and Aaron. Aaron doesn’t go all the way to the windowsill; he just goes from Briotown to Brio Peak Station. Brio goes all the way from the windowsill to the top of Brio Peak.


Aaron pulling a passenger carriage
©PicklesINK 2013

There is only one road up to Brio Peak that is made especially for the Brio Power Crew. There is a cargo plane that brings building supplies to Briotown and Brio Peak. Brio and Aaron collect all of the garbage and recycling from all over Briotown and bring it to the cargo plane’s landing strip for the plane to pick up and then the cargo plane takes it to another town that has garbage and recycling facilities.


Ben, proudly showing off the finished track (with tall supports).
©PicklesINK 2013

It was very hard to build the track, especially the supports, because some of them are really tall! I had to use up almost all of my Lego to make them tall enough.

The End

Ben celebrated his success by painting commemorative portraits of Brio and Aaron.


Ben’s painting of Aaron, washable poster paint on canvas. Model in foreground.
©PicklesINK 2013


Ben’s painting of Brio, washable poster paint on canvas. Model in foreground.
©PicklesINK 2013

Limited edition numbered prints and other merchandise will be available at a later date, just as soon as I can ink a deal with that British company that made all the William and Kate engagement stuff two years too early.

~ karyn


Building a backyard skating rink: Ice work if you can get it!

Last week a cold snap hit Southern Ontario with temperatures hovering around -20°C (closer to -25°C with the wind chill) all week, which meant that we stayed in the nice warm indoors as much as possible except for every night when Ian bundled up in many layers and went outside to flood the skating rink!

We built our first backyard skating rink last winter. The year before that we had signed both Ben and Ian up for beginner skating lessons with the local figure skating club and it was a dismal failure. For half of Ian’s classes, the instructor didn’t even show up, and Ben’s class required parents to stay on the ice so the teenaged instructors could say, “Um, okay? So now we’re going to practice walking like a duck? Okay so now moms and dads help them practice that for a bit?” and then chat while you did so. I have to admit I got a little short with them – “So, uh, when do you start actually teaching him to skate? Do I just keep telling him to walk like a duck until he figures it out, because, y’know, I could  be doing that at home for free…”

The next year we put Ben in the hockey-based beginner skating program (basically the same thing, but in hockey equipment) and that went much better.

“Coach John” helping Ben along the ice
©PicklesINK 2012

Since Ben’s skating was going well, and to get the rest of us some exercise and practice we decided to build the backyard rink. I asked my dear friend Google how he thought we should go about it and after reading through many helpful suggestions (Did you know that you can buy what is basically a giant Ziploc bag that you fill with water, allow to freeze, and then peel back?) we decided on the “build rectangular frame out of boards, nuts and bolts, and L-brackets, overhang with a large tarp, and flood repeatedly” method.

“How To” Details:

We used 6 12′ lengths of 2″ x 10″ boards, 4 L-shaped metal brackets, and a bunch of nuts & bolts (probably about 5″ long). We squared the corners of the boards side to end (as opposed to mitering them) and bolted the L-brackets to them. For the long sides we overlapped 2 boards in the middle to make approximately a 22′ length.

Once you’ve built your frame, spread a tarp over top of it all (it needs to be about 2′ longer and wider than the frame; I thinks ours is 15′ x 25′ while the frame itself is about 12′ x 22′) and secure to the frame or the ground outside so it doesn’t get blown back over.

When the forecast calls for about a week of below freezing temperatures, flood with a garden hose (attached to an INDOOR tap so you don’t freeze your pipes!) for 1-2 hours each night until you have an even thickness of ice.

At the end of the season, you can just dismantle the frame, fold up the tarp, and store the materials for next winter.

Sadly, the first winter we decided to go all Walter Gretzky also happened to be the worst winter for outdoor skating in Ontario in about 50 years. We skated on our rink exactly 3 times, and 2 out of those 3 times we had to stop when the water on which the slab of ice was floating welled up over the edges and flooded the surface. But it was worth it, damn it!!

Ben, Molly, and Ian try out the rink for the first (and practically the last) time in 2012
©PicklesINK 2012

Fast-forward back to 2013: By Friday night the rink was absolutely beautiful – 10 inches of solid ice ready and waiting to be scarred by the blades of 4 pairs of hockey skates. The only problem was that it was still way too freaking cold to go outside! By Sunday it had warmed up a bit and after working through a few hitches (Ben had outgrown his skates and he and Ian drove all over the city looking for a store that was both open and carried ice skates. He got the kind that adjusts to 4 different sizes in the hope of not going through this again next year.) we were ready to go!


Molly, Ben, and mommy on the ice.
©PicklesINK 2013

There was a minor (okay, MAJOR) meltdown when Ben decided that he was going to teach Molly to skate even though he was having trouble remembering how to stay upright on his own skates.


Ben chasing Molly around the rink in an attempt to “teach” her to skate
©PicklesINK 2013

In the hope of distracting him and buying Molly some time to practice without being mauled by her brother, I suggested that he could be Molly’s teacher as soon as he demonstrated that he could skate 5 times around the rink without falling down. Big mommy mistake – a huge, heartbreaking meltdown ensued: “I’M TRYING *hiccup* SO HARD *sob* AND I CAN’T DO IT *sob sob* I KEEP FALLING DOWN *hiccup* AND I REALLY REALLY WANT *gasp sob* TO BE MOLLY’S TEACHER *hiccup gasp*!!”


Giant Ben and mommy hug on skates
©PicklesINK 2013

After much crying, hugging, comforting, reassuring, talking, *confession cam again* one teeny instance of yelling (“Okay, STOP CRYING. NOW. STOP IT!” “Team Pickles *sniff* No Yelling.”), and more hugging and comforting, we got back to the business at hand (well, foot).


Ben skating confidently around the rink.
©PicklesINK 2013


Molly skating confidently around the rink with her adjustable ‘pusher’ – an awesome curb-side find near my parents’ house!
©PicklesINK 2013

Finally, as it started to get dark and everyone was getting a little tired we decided it was time to head inside for dinner.


Molly sitting down for a little break.
©PicklesINK 2013


Ben and mommy heading off the ice.
©PicklesINK 2013

If we had realized what the weather had in store for the following week, we might not have been so quick to wrap up!


Weather forecast for Hamilton, ON, January 29-30, 2013
Screenshot from http://www.theweathernetwork.com

Amidst pouring rain and Spring-like temperatures, our beautiful rink quickly turned into a slushy wading pool.


The soggy, slushy former ice rink.
©PicklesINK 2013

But looking out my window now at the blowing snow and with temperatures forecast to be back below freezing for the next couple of weeks, we can hopefully get back to the business of training up The [next] Great One (full disclosure: It will probably be Molly).

~ karyn

Have you ever built a backyard rink? Do you have any tips?