picklesink

A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Love asparagus? Love a meal that’s ready in less than half an hour?

Then you’ve come (virtually) to the right place!

After a super-busy afternoon of shopping for plants (more on that in a future gardening post) and visiting the animals at our local farmers market/petting zoo, we arrived home hungry and with not very much food in the house, and with what I had in the fridge I was inspired to create this:

Asparagus fritatta

25-minute asparagus frittata

You will need:

  • a large oven-safe skillet or frying pan (I prefer non-stick)
  • a pot of boiling water to blanch asparagus
  • 1/2 pound fresh (preferably local!) asparagus
  • 1 cup diced cooked ham
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 8 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • oil or cooking spray for pan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Boil water and blanch 1/2 pound of asparagus to your preferred tenderness, then cool quickly with cold water. (Full disclosure: I cooked the whole pound and ate half of it while cooking the frittata. It was delicious, but there were consequences.)

2. Mix eggs, ham, milk, chives, and salt and pepper in a bowl while preheating oiled pan. Turn broiler to high.

3. Pour egg mixture into preheated pan and arrange asparagus spears on top.* Cook for 2-3 minutes on top of stove, then transfer to oven. Cook on middle rack (10-12 inches from the broiler) for about 10 minutes, until middle is set and top is nicely browned.

4. Cut into wedges, serve, and enjoy!

Molly ate her frittata with relish. Figuratively. Not literally, because that would be really gross. Although she would probably love it; we are talking about a kid who dips dill pickles in vanilla yoghurt.

Molly enjoying

Molly enjoying her frittata with figurative relish.
©PicklesINK 2013

Ian was also a fan, although you can’t really tell from his expression. He is actually enjoying the frittata, just not the act of getting his picture taken. I’m pretty sure he took up photography just to make sure he could always be the one behind the camera.

Everyone enjoying

Ian, Ben, and Molly at the dinner table.
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben, as is often the case, took some time to warm up to the idea:

“What’s for dinner?”

“Asparagus frittata!”

“I don’t like that!”

“Yes, you do.”

“No I don’t! What’s in it?”

“All things you like. Eggs, ham, asparagus.”

“I don’t like asparagus!”

“You like ham and eggs.”

“I want JUST eggs! Is it like scrambled eggs?”

“Yes.”

“BUT I don’t LIKE scrambled eggs [damnit, it was a trick question!]! I only like boiled eggs!”

“You like frittata. It’s eggs with ham and asparagus in it.”

“I don’t like them IN it! Can I have the asparagus BESIDE it?”

“Fine.”

“And the ham beside it?”

“NO!”

“OOOOHHHHHHHHH!!! BUT I don’t WANT it IN it!!”

“YOU’LL LIKE IT!”

“NO I WON’T! I WON’T LIKE IT AND I’M NOT GOING TO EAT IT!!”

*10 minutes later*

“Mmmm….this is really good. I like this dinner. Actually, mommy, I LOVE this diner!”

Me: *headdesk*

Ben enjoying

Ben LOVING his ham frittata with asparagus, as requested, beside it.
©PicklesINK 2013

~ karyn

*You could also chop the asparagus into bite-sized pieces before blanching and mix them with the rest of the ingredients. The full spears can get a little stringy when broiled and Molly found them hard to chew, so I will probably do that next time. It’s much prettier with the whole spears though!

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What do a firehose and the Energizer bunny have in common?

I’d better preface this with an apology: Ben, when you Google yourself in 5 years (oh, who am I kidding – you’ll probably do it this afternoon), I’m sorry. But is is a mommy’s prerogative to record these stories for future reference. If you play your cards right and become a rocket scientist like Uncle Chris, I won’t include them in mother-of-the-groom speech. Probably.

Part of our night-time routine involves taking Ben to the bathroom when we go to bed. He usually stumbles through this groggily, waking up just enough to cooperate. Some nights he’s sleeping more soundly – the tip-off is when I walk him to the bathroom, he tries desperately to go back to sleep on the bathmat. Last night was a particularly sleepy night – I walked him to the bathroom and gave my usual warning —

Oh, hey – let me interrupt myself for a second – if you are grossed out by pee, you might as well stop reading now. If on the other hand you enjoy bathroom humour, URINE luck!! heheheheheheheh

— Back to the story! So I gave my usual warning, “Ben, I’m going to take your pull-up off. DO NOT START PEEING until you’re on the toilet, okay? Don’t start peeing yet. I’ll tell you when. DON’T start when I take your pull-up off. Ready?” (You may think this seems like overkill, as warnings go. It’s not.)

Sadly, last night the warning did not penetrate his sleepy fog, and when I pulled down the aforementioned pull-up, he went off like a FRIGGING FIREHOSE. (Did I mention that we had T-ball last night and he drank a FULL BOTTLE of water on the way home? Yeah, that.)

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Picture it: There’s pee spraying in all directions, Ben still fast asleep, and I’m shrieking, “No! Stop peeing! Stop!!” while simultaneously trying to sit him on the toilet and duck and cover. Unfortunately, when I sat him on the toilet, the pull-up wound up positioned in such a way as to pin his…er…nozzle straight up. Imagine on of those lovely garden water features with a statue of a little boy frolicking in the crystal spray. Except that instead of frolicking, he’s sleeping, and instead of crystal spray, it’s, you know, PEE.

A seeming eternity of urine-avoiding, pull-up ripping, and sleeping-Ben’s-junk adjusting later, the monsoon cleared up and I could start on the clean-up. Now, on any other sleep-walking Ben night, I could just point him towards the bathmat and he would curl up and fall asleep – in fact, I have had trouble getting him to the toilet BECAUSE of this zombie-like attraction to the blasted bathmat. Last night, for some reason, he seemed to be stuck in “on” mode, so when I pointed him towards the bathmat and said, “Okay, sit down while I clean up,” he started channeling the Energizer bunny and trotting in bathmat-sized circles. Over. And over. And over. I was tired just looking at him!

I managed to get his PJs off and drag him to his room where he continued to pace in circles like a wind-up toy, pausing ever so briefly to climb into a new pull-up. I gave up on the idea of fresh PJs and tucked him into bed, where with a sigh of relief he finally left perpetual motion mode.

Molly woke him up this morning with a “Hey, Ben! You’re nudie-butt!” and poor Ben just looked confused and said, “Yeah…”

~ 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?

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The coins on the bus go clink-clink-clink

….assuming you still use coins, and not tickets or some sort of magnetic swipe pass or retinal scan….

(Almost) since the dawn of time, parents have wrestled with the age-old question: When should you start teaching your kids about money?

Scene: A Cave, 500,000 B.C.:

*grunt* *grunt grunt* *grunt* OG *grunt grunt grunt* *grunt GRUNT* [Translation: “How many times to I have to tell you, OG?? The pointed stick is worth 5 flat rocks, not 3!!”]

And when you do talk to your kids about money, HOW do you do it? How do you translate such an abstract concept into something they will understand?

“Experts” suggest starting to talk to your kids about money around age 5-6, talking your kids through the transactions that you make and looking at the relative value of coins and bills. That was hard enough for our parents back when they had, you know, actual money as a frame of reference. I don’t know about you, but it’s an even more intangible entity now since my kids see me making purchases using a plastic card, a series of numbers, or simply by tapping a password onto a touchscreen.

I hadn’t even begun to give any serious thought to this issue, but with Ben’s help, I accidentally stumbled upon an amazing technique that has helped Ben and Molly grasp the concept of money beautifully.

A few months ago, after watching an episode of Franklin the Turtle, Ben said, “Mommy, I have an idea. I think I should do chores, and every time I do a chore, I get a sticker, and when I have 5 stickers, I get a new engine. Okay?” I said, “All right, bud, I love the concept but I think the terms some adjustment.”

After some discussion, Ian and I came up with this plan:

Ben’s Sticker Chores

  • A grown-up assigns a sticker chore or determines if something counts as a sticker chore (Ben can suggest a chore or ask to be assigned one)
  • When Ben completes a sticker chore, he puts a sticker on the calendar, and each sticker on the calendar is worth $1
  • Ben decides how and when he wants to spend his stickers (but we control the rate at which he earns them)

Ben keeps a tally of his stickers in his head (counting them on the calendar to double-check), and keeps revising his plans of what to do with them. Originally he was going to earn 100 stickers so he could buy a double-decker roundhouse for his trains, but he has now changed his mind and is working towards smaller goals. Molly loves to help Ben so many of the chores are actually communal efforts and Ben assures her that she will share in the rewards!

Two days ago was the big day when he spent his first 4 stickers on the Thomas Day of the Diesels app (which was enjoyed by all).

Ben, daddy and Molly with iPod

Daddy, Molly and Ben listening to a Day of the Diesels story at bedtime.
©PicklesINK 2013

When we put this together, I thought it was going to be a simple chore/reward system – I was not thinking of it as a way of addressing the concept of money at all! Around the same time as we started, though, Ben got very interested in doing keyword searches which lead to his finding DVDs and apps on iTunes and asking to download them, saying, “But you just have to put in your password!! It’s easy!”

He just wasn’t understanding why we kept saying “no” until inspiration struck and I said, “Ben, the trouble is, downloading that DVD actually costs 15 sticker chores!”

The lightbulb went on for both of us! Ben said, “WHAT? FIFTEEN! But I only have 5 sticker chores now and I need 100 to get the double-decker roundhouse!! That’s WAY too many!!” and I said, “I know! If we got it, that means unloading the dishwasher FIFTEEN MORE TIMES! That’s a LOT of work, isn’t it?’

stickers on calendar

Money Smarts: Brought to You by the Canadian National Bank of Princess Stickers
©PicklesINK 2013

Since then, everything money-related has been framed as “sticker chores,” and through this analogy Ben has come to understand:

STUFF costs money & money = work; therefore getting stuff = WORK

Whether “money” is represented by stickers, coins, plastic cards, or a password on the computer is irrelevant.

As a grown-up I do well to remind myself of that every once in a while too – when I think back to what it takes to earn that money, sometimes I think twice before clicking “Add To Cart”!

~ karyn

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Yep, this post is going to be about poop.

Molly has been almost completely toilet-trained for about a year, with one notable exception:

Her utter refusal to poop on the toilet.

Now, I’ve done all the right things. I know (theoretically) not to get emotional about it, not to make it into a power struggle, not to let her see that it bothers me…

Molly with iPad on toilet

Molly on the toilet with the iPad. Yes, I went there.
©PicklesINK 2013

I’ve calmly cleaned her up and washed pair of underpants after pair of underpants. I’ve read stories to her while she “has a try.” I spent an hour on my hands and knees scrubbing the carpet the day she (unsuccessfully) changed her own diaper. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of wiping a bum after pooping on the toilet versus changing a diaper.

Ben has even demonstrated for her, repeatedly, the art and science of pooping – “See, Molly? You just push your tummy like this *ERGGHHH* and the poop comes RIGHT OUT – see?!”

I even anthromorophised “Poop” in a long dialogue begging her to please, “Push me out because it’s dark in here and I’m afraid of the dark and I really want to go swimming!” (FYI – Poop has a high, squeaky voice. Don’t judge me. You ain’t seen what I seen.)

I finally concluded that she just wasn’t physically ready, but as of last night I know that this is not true. The problem isn’t that she isn’t capable of controlling her bowels.

The problem is that she’s a JERK.

Last night as we were snuggling together at bedtime, Molly pulled her usual stalling tactic of, “Oh! Mommy! I have to pee and poop!” “Fine,” I sighed, and took her to the bathroom.

As usual, she sat on the toilet, smiled at me, and said, “Nope! No pee or poop!” and I said, “Good! You’d better not poop. In fact, don’t you dare poop. Don’t you push out a poop…because if you do…”

Molly looked me dead in the eyes, grinned an evil grin, said, “I WILL!” and did.

~ karyn

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Don’t be fooled by the cuteness. This shirt isn’t some cutesy ironic saying. It’s a warning. (Shirt reads “TROUBLE”)
©PicklesINK 2013

Update (May 21, 2013): My thoughts are with the moms and dads in Oklahoma who would give anything to change another poopy diaper. Like many of you, I’m going to be hugging my kids a bit tighter today, jerks or not.

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What’s ha-pinning?

What, me? NO! I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I would never…NEVER!! I SWEAR!! I mean, probably never… NO! There are FOUR LIGHTS!!! I’ll never crack so OMG JUST STOP ASKING OKAY OKAY OKAY FINE I DID IT I JOINED PINTEREST NOW ARE YOU HAPPY???

How do I feel about Pinterest, you ask? I hate it. HATE IT. In a weirdly irresistible way. Do you remember Choose Your Own Adventures? I despised those books. I would read them through once the way you were supposed to, and then I would go back, choice by choice, to read each of the other possible paths in a logical, step-wise fashion, until I had uncovered all of the possible permutations. Pinterest is one giant, frustrating, inescapable, Choose Your Own Adventure. Trying to take it all in is like, as my big brother so aptly described the internet in 1995, drinking from a fire hose.

As a blogger, I decided that I needed a Pinterest presence, so I joined, but I have composed a Pinterest Code of Conduct  to keep my usage under control:

1. I will NOT travel more than 2 layers deep from any 1 pin (if I click on a pin, and it shows me a board, and I click on another pin on that board, I will NOT go any farther).

2. I will ONLY repin those DIY or craft ideas I can envision myself ACTUALLY DOING in the foreseeable future. Or ever.

3. I will NOT repin a pin without first clicking through to the original link, thus saving myself from the embarrassment of repinning something like this

Water marbles

Screenshot of infamous “water marbles” pin.
©PicklesINK 2013

with the caption, “Water marbles! Crazy how a few kitchen ingredients will make these. Weird, I can’t wait to try,” which when clicked, directs you not to the instructions you are expecting but instead to an article decrying the whole concept as a video hoax.

4. If I try something, and it doesn’t work, I will comment on it to save others the frustration. (WD-40 to clean your burner pans? DOESN’T WORK. Just FYI.)

Signed ______________________

I encourage you to take the Pinterest Pledge too!

Having waded through Pinterest for a couple of weeks, following the rules I set for myself, I do have one amazing success story — yesterday, combining ideas from a couple of pins (how to make a skirt out of a men’s shirt and how to make a child’s dress out of an old t-shirt), I FREAKING MADE A DRESS FOR MOLLY.

My to-do list for this week included:

To-do list

To-do list excerpt:
– learn to sew
– make cool stuff
©PicklesINK 2013

Simple enough, right? I had been looking at tutorials for how to make grown-up tank-top/t-shirt/men’s shirt dresses and got all excited to make one for myself. Then I tried to wrap one of Ian’s old shirts around my waist and realized that for it to work, either my hips had to be a size XXXS or the shirt had to be an XXXL.

New plan: Dress for Molly!

Molly in dress

Molly in upcycled shirt(s) dress.
©PicklesINK 2013

Without further ado, I present to you:

How to make a toddler dress out of a child’s t-shirt and a men’s dress shirt.

Please note I am the most NOVICE of sew-ers so my sewing instructions will be vague and the terminology probably entirely inaccurate.

You will need: scissors, child’s shirt, men’s dress shirt, sewing machine, pins.

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Child’s shirt, men’s shirt, scissors (not pictured: sewing machine, pins)
©PicklesINK 2013

1. Cut off the child’s shirt 1″ below where you want the skirt to be attached and cut off the men’s shirt just below the armpits or just below the pocket if there is one.

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Where to cut child’s shirt
©PicklesINK 2013

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Where to cut men’s shirt
©PicklesINK 2013

2. Sew a gathering seam on the men’s shirt: Set your stitch length to a long setting (4 or 5) and sew a seam all the way around about 1″ below where you cut. Knot one end of both threads and then pull on the other end, sliding the fabric back on the thread to gather it. Gather it until it is the same circumference as the bottom of the child’s shirt and then spread the gathers evenly and knot the other end of the threads. If I’m not explaining this well, Google it or check your sewing machine’s instruction manual, but you probably know how to do it better than I do!

3. Pin the top of the men’s shirt (now the skirt) and the bottom of the child’s shirt (now the bodice) together with the outsides facing in to each other.

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The inside of the dress at the waist seam.
©PicklesINK 2013

4. Sew this seam together. I tried to do this with a straight stretch stitch, but I don’t think I was particularly successful (it doesn’t really stretch) and still seams (heheheheh) fine. Now turn it right side out and admire your work!

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Finished dress. PRAISE ME!! PRAISE ME!!
©PicklesINK 2013

5. If there is a pocket, and if you want to, carefully detach the pocket from the leftover piece of men’s shirt and reattach it to the skirt (Molly LOVES pockets, so this was the highlight of the dress for her).

6. Show it to everyone you know, either in person or through the use of social media, because you are SEW FREAKING AWESOME!!!! <—- see what I did there??

Who knows? Maybe there’s hope for me and this Pinterest thing after all.

~ karyn

Four lights

There are FOUR lights (Pinterest logo).
©PicklesINK 2013

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To My Favourite Ben-Magoo on Your 6th Birthday

Oh, my Ben-Magoo…what can I say? You have been full of surprises literally* since the day you were born! I can’t post a pregnant belly picture of you because I don’t have any. I was so busy with school and daddy with his new job that we hadn’t gotten around to taking an artsy belly picture when you decided to make your surprise appearance at only 33 1/2 weeks.

Tiny Ben

Tiny baby Ben in his isolette. His chest is smaller than my hand.
©PicklesINK 2013

You got it in your teeny head that you were ready to be born and there was no stopping you! I was scared at the time but I should have known you had it all under control. They told us that preemies usually have breathing problems – not you! They told us that preemies usually stay in the hospital until their due date – but you made sure you were home in time for my first Mothers’ Day!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

We could have fit 5 baby Bens in this Moses basket!
©PicklesINK 2013

Have I told you before how smart you are? I know all moms think “My kid is so smart!” but my Magoo, your intellect continues to astound me. I haven’t been able to win an argument with you since…well, since you learned to talk…and ever since you started moving around you’ve been building and creating amazing structures – first “simple” towers and now extensive multi-level train tracks like Brio Peak.

Stacking

Ben, around 18 months, creating a stack of jars taller than him.
©PicklesINK 2013

You have what your Uncle Chris calls “the knack,” and not only that, you have the single-minded drive, when you come up with an idea, to keep working at it until you see it through. You can get frustrated when things don’t go the way you envisioned though, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes all it takes is a different perspective or a second pair of hands to finish the job, and asking for help is just a way of effectively problem-solving.

You are so kind and loving, my Magoo. We had a bit of a rough patch there for a while after Molly was born. There were times when I got really frustrated yelled too much, and I know that I hurt your feelings and made you sad sometimes, and you still loved me more than anything. But just like I said, asking for help is a way of problem-solving, and knowing how much you loved me gave me the strength to do that. Do you know what else? Me being able to talk about that hard time has given lots of other people the courage to do the same thing, and that’s all thanks to you!

Mommy and Ben

Mommy and Ben snuggles
©PicklesINK 2013

I bet you didn’t know this, Magoo, but there are some kids who are unhappy or mad when a new baby comes home because they have to share their mommies or daddies. I don’t think that ever even crossed your mind, though, because you have loved Molly more than anything since the moment you first saw her.

Grinning big brother Ben holding his brand-new sister Molly.
©PicklesINK 2013

I don’t know if I’ve seen you so sad as the day I told you you couldn’t marry her because she’s your sister! And boy, does she ever look up to you. She thinks that you are just the coolest person ever, and I think she believes you could do absolutely anything.

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Ben plays a private guitar concert for Molly in her jumperoo.
©PicklesINK 2013

I know that now that’s she’s getting older there are times when she gets on your nerves, but even when you two fight you work it out together and go right back to being best friends. I hope you two keep on appreciating and loving each other as much as you do now, even when you grow up.

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Ben and Molly hugs
©PicklesINK 2013

Ben-Magoo, one of the most wonderful things about you is your integrity. I will never, ever forget when you knocked over a pile of socks that Molly had folded, and I said, “Don’t tell Molly you knocked those over because she’ll be sad.” She overheard me and said, “Did Ben knock over my socks?” and I said, “No, monkey, I put them in the laundry basket.” You leaped up and said, “Oh Molly, I did knock them over! I’m so sorry! It was an accident. I’m really, really sorry,” and Molly said, “That’s okay, Ben.”

Then you looked me in the eye and said, “Mommy, you shouldn’t have told that lie.” You know what, Bud? You were absolutely right. It it always better to take responsibility for your actions and face the consequences then to tell a lie to get out of trouble, and you were right to remind me of that.

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Stern Ben dressed as Santa
©PicklesINK 2013

We had something sad happen in our family this year, didn’t we, Bud? Our Papa, your great-grandfather, died. You were so very special to Papa because you were his very first great-grandchild. The first time he held you in the hospital, he looked at me, his face aglow, and said, “Can you believe that I actually have a great-grandson?

Papa and Ben

Papa holding Ben – can you ever see the resemblance!
©PicklesINK 2013

Papa was very special to you, too. It must have been hard wrapping your head around the fact that you were never going to see him again, but you thought about it asked the questions that you needed to to understand, and sometimes I think that you understand better than us grown-ups – Like when you said, “Chris and Caitie are sad because Papa isn’t going to be at their wedding. But really he is going to be there with us, isn’t he?” and when at Christmas you said, “This Christmas our family just isn’t the same, is it, because Papa died.”

You also have  real gift for creativity, Magoo. You and daddy share a special bond with your love of photography. (I know, I know, you don’t have that camera any more. You figured out pretty quickly that kid cameras just couldn’t capture the shots that you wanted and you took over mommy’s!)

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2 year-old Ben with his obsolete kiddy camera
©PicklesINK 2013

You and daddy definitely share that photographer’s eye. I don’t think there are many people who could guess which of you took which of these pictures!

Ben's sunset pic

Sunset on the St. Lawrence
©PicklesINK 2013

(Your artistic shots are great, of course, but my favourites are your self-portraits!)

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Self-portrait by Ben
©PicklesINK 2013

And your creativity and ambition don’t stop with just photography. How many other just-turned-6-year-olds can say that they are published authors?

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Ben opening up his debut book,
Your Favourite Brio Peak Collection
©PicklesINK 2013

 So, my favourite Ben-Magoo, keep on being your super-cool self, just like you have been from the day you were born, even if people tell you it’s wrong. (Except mommy. If mommy tells you you’re doing something wrong, you’d better listen. Because I’m mommy, that’s why.)

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Ben and Molly at Day Out With Thomas
©PicklesINK 2013

Happy 6th Birthday, our favourite guy!

~ Love, Mommy, Daddy, and Molly

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Team Pickles self-portrait. Can someone explain why 3 of us look goofy while Molly photo-bombs the shot with utter adorableness?
©PicklesINK 2013

*and y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

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Molly’s (last-minute) Crock-A-Doodle Birthday Party

Things got a little crazy around Molly’s birthday this year, what with March Break and my mom’s broken hip and all that jazz, so we didn’t manage to plan Molly’s birthday party until a month after her actual birthday. (Poor second-born children, always getting the shaft…)

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“Happy Birthday Molly!” message on chalkboard
©PicklesINK 2013

I had glanced at the Crock-A-Doodle pottery-painting website a while ago and put it on the back burner, thinking, “Probably better for an older group,” but then went back to it and decided to give it a shot – Best. Decision. Ever.

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Crock-A-Doodle logo on plate glazed with paint choices
©PicklesINK 2013

A birthday party at Crock-A-Doodle includes use of the party room for 1.5 hours, 1 piece of pottery for each guest to paint,

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Some of the pieces from which to choose – plates and wands
©PicklesINK 2013

a tile decorated with the birthday child’s handprint and guests’ thumbprints, staff to organize everything and instruct the children (In fact, for older kids, they require the grown-ups to leave – “No, no, we insist! You MUST go and have a coffee and leave the chaos to us!”), and crayons and colouring sheets for children who finish their pieces early.

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Ben hard at work painting his ice cream bowl
©PicklesINK 2013

The paint is all washable and non-toxic.

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Paint palette with 6 paints and paintbrushes
©PicklesINK 2013

Once everyone is finished painting, you use the rest of the time for food and cake.

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Molly blowing out the candles on her pink and purple princess cupcakes!
©PicklesINK 2013

Package pricing is based on 8 participants – if you invite more guests, you pay for each extra piece and if you have fewer, you receive the balance on a gift card.

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Friends hard at work on their cereal bowls
©PicklesINK 2013

Once your party is finished, the pieces are labeled with the children’s names, glazed and kiln-fired to a glossy, food-safe finish, packaged, and ready for pick-up in a week to deliver to your guests as a “loot bag” that will last forever!

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Finished “cat” tile by Emma
©PicklesINK 2013

The kids all had a great time and made some really lovely artwork. The time flew by – there was just enough time for painting that the kids (aged 3-6) didn’t get bored or frustrated, and then time afterwards for some snacks and cake.

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More friends concentrating hard on their pieces!
©PicklesINK 2013

The staff were attentive and knowledgeable and kept things moving along. They were able to gauge the kids’ abilities and let the younger children do their thing while giving the older kids (and parents) tips like how to make polka-dots (you use the wooden end of the paintbrush, FYI). The handprint tile was a great birthday souvenir for our family.

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Staff member helping Molly make her pink and purple handprint
©PicklesINK 2013

The whole Crock-A-Doodle party concept was a great fit for us. It was a perfect party for Molly, who loves doing any type of craft, as do most of her friends. For the last few years I’ve been trying to stay away from “treat bags” with lots of little things in them, so the idea that the item they painted became each guest’s take-home treat suited me to a T, and as an incentive to return Crock-A-Doodle throws in a $5 gift-card for each guest.

Finished products

Ben’s ice cream bowl and Molly’s magic wand.
©PicklesINK 2013

Finally, the recyclable tissue paper and paper bags within a reusable shopping bag that everything was packaged in was the sustainable icing on the cake!

Packages 1

Ben and Molly hold up their carefully packaged pieces
©PicklesINK 2013

The cake, by the way, was from Sobeys, which was also a great choice: The cake and icing are yummy, prices are very reasonable, and the bakery only requires 24 hours’ notice. Molly requested pink and purple princess cupcakes, and as you can see, we got exactly that!

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Molly’s birthday cake/cupcake combination
©PicklesINK 2013

In sum, I would be all fired up to do another birthday party at Crock-A-Doodle – You might say Crock-A-Doodle is kiln it with this birthday party thing. All in all, Molly was pretty happy with her 3rd birthday party, and that was the most important part!

Handprint tile

Molly shows off her handprint tile (while making a very silly face!)
©PicklesINK 2013

~ karyn

Do you do birthday parties? What has been your favourite idea?

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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

And don’t forget to buy NEW CLOTHES NEW WASHCLOTHS NEW RECEIVING BLANKETS NEW SHEETS SOPHIE THE GIRAFFE NEWBORN BABY SHOES AT LEAST 5 PAIRS THE LATEST NURSERY MONITOR TECHNOLOGY AND YOU DEFINITELY NEED THAT WIPES-WARMER BECAUSE THERE’S JUST NOTHING WORSE THAN THE FEELING OF A ROOM-TEMPERATURE WIPE ON YOUR BUM CHEEKS.

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!
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    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!

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    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?

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The Tao of Time-Out

The other morning I watched as a parent cornered one of Molly’s teachers and asked, “So do you subscribe to that whole ‘time-out’ philosophy?” and she struggled to answer in a way that satisfied – not because one was wrong and the other was right, but because it often seems like when two people talk about “time-out” they might as well be speaking two completely different languages.

I don’t know when exactly “time-out” got such a bad rap, but I think a big part of the problem is that 99 percent of people who do “time-out” don’t do it right and 99 percent of people who don’t do it have only ever seen it done wrong. Most people who don’t believe in “that whole ‘time-out’ philosophy” have tried it out at some point – you know, the old,

“If you don’t stop that right now I’m putting you in time-out! DID YOU HEAR ME? That’s ONE! If I have to come over there, I’m going to…THAT’S TWO! I MEAN IT! DON’T MAKE ME GET TO THREE! I’m not kidding around! You are going in TIME-OUT, MISTER!! I TOLD YOU TO STOP! OKAY, THAT’S IT!! THREE!!! YOU GO AND SIT ON THAT TIME-OUT STEP RIGHT NOW!! You’re sitting there for five minutes because you didn’t…HEY, GET BACK ON THAT STEP! I TOLD YOU TO SIT DOWN! NOW THAT’S 10 MINUTES!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING? I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU TO SIT THERE!! NO TALKING!! DON’T MAKE FACES AT YOUR SISTER!! GET BACK ON THAT STEP RIGHT NOW! NOW YOU CAN SIT THERE FOR 10 MORE MINUTES!”

– and found that for some reason it didn’t work. We’ve all been there. The key to time-out is no different from any other discipline technique: Discipline techniques that work are those that are calm and consistent. Even spanking will be effective if it’s done within those parameters. I take issue philosophically with teaching children not to hit by hitting, but as long you consistently follow through, it will certainly change the behaviour that you want it to change.

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“THERE’S NO SMILING IN TIME-OUT, CHARLEY!!”
©PicklesINK 2013

1-2-3 Magic devotes an entire chapter to the false notion or “wish” (which I think is a really interesting way of looking at it) that is behind why most discipline attempts that don’t work: The Little Adult Assumption.

The Little Adult Assumption is the belief that kids have hearts of gold and that they are basically reasonable and unselfish. they’re just smaller versions of grownups, in other words. and because they are little adults, this notion goes, whenever the youngsters are misbehaving or not cooperating, the problem must be that they don’t have enough information at their disposal to be able to do the right thing.

Imagine, for example, that your eight-year-old son is torturing his little sister for the fifteenth time since they got home from school. What should you do? If your boy is a little adult, you simply sit him down, calmly look him in the eye, and explain to him the three golden reasons why he shouldn’t  tease his sister. First of all, teasing hurts her. Second, it makes you mad at him. Third — and most important — how would he feel if someone treated him like that?

Your son looks you in the eye, his face brightening with insight, and he says, “Gee, I never looked at it like that before!” Then he stops bothering his sister for the rest of his life. (1-2-3 Magic, pp. 15-16)

Even well into adolescence and young adulthood, our brains are still developing and changing. Children are simply not capable of understanding or thinking rationally at the same level as adults. Part of our job as parents is give your children a safe space in which to express their feelings and opinions, but another very important part of our job is to teach our children how to act appropriately  – “I understand that you are very angry, but it is not okay to throw your toys, and there are consequences to that choice.”

The parent talking to Molly’s teacher said, “We do a lot of getting down to their level and talking to them.” 1-2-3 Magic explains that while one explanation can be appropriate – it could be that your child really did not have the necessary information to act appropriate – it’s attempts at repeated explanations that can lead to trouble, adding, interestingly, “too much parent talking irritates and distracts children” (p. 17). I can certainly see that – if I’m already feeling overwhelmed by a situation and consequently acting out, the last thing I need is for someone to get right in my face and talk at me! The teacher replied, “We use a lot of redirection, but then if we have to we remove the child from the situation.” Well, ladies and gentleman, in accepting this explanation that parent may not have realized it, but what that teacher described was…drum-roll please…a time-out!

I absolutely subscribe to “that whole ‘time-out’ philosophy.” It is one of the most important discipline tools I have as a parent. In a recent blog post, Alyson Schafer noted that the word “discipline” is derived from “disciple,” meaning to teach or guide. I see time-out as a tool for teaching as well as an important skill for my children to learn, and in fact part of that involves them seeing ME taking a time-out when I need to.

As I mentioned before, the two keys to effective discipline are consistency and calmness: Firstly, in order for any discipline technique to effect a change in behaviour, it must be consistent. This means that if you say, “If you don’t do/stop doing X, I am going to Y,” and the child doesn’t do/stop doing X, you HAVE TO do Y. If you don’t do Y EVERY SINGLE TIME, your child will actually not do/not stop doing X even MORE OFTEN than if you never did Y at all. In operant conditioning, this is called a variable-ratio reinforcement schedule. In fairness to anti-time-out parent, as long as he/she is consistently “getting down to his level and talking” EVERY SINGLE TIME it will also eventually work to change the child’s behaviour – the only danger is that if the child interprets this as positive attention, it is possible that the change may not be the one the parent intends.

Second, in order for any discipline technique to work the way you want it to, it must be calm. 1-2-3 Magic calls the use of too much (negative) emotion in trying to discipline a “parental temper tantrum.” When you let your emotions get the better of you while trying to discipline, several things happen: a. You show your child that he or she has the power to cause you to lose control; b. You upset and frighten your child; and c. You probably aren’t applying your chosen discipline technique consistently.

It’s the combination of parental loss of emotional control (temper tantrum) and lack of consistency that derails most attempts at “that whole time-out philosophy.” Remember that whole, “I’m telling you, IF I GET TO THREE YOU ARE GETTING A TIME-OUT, MISTER!!”?

My goal in using time-outs is to teach my children that there are times in life when you become overwhelmed by a situation or by your surroundings, and a way to deal with that instead of “having a freak-out” is to briefly step away from the situation, calm yourself down and gather your thoughts, and then return. At this age, most of time I have to tell them when that time has come – “Molly, there is no yelling and throwing. You are going to sit out on the stair for 3 minutes because you yelled and threw your toys,” or “Ben, you need to calm down. You can go and take a time out in your room and look at books until you’re ready to stop yelling and whining,” – but my hope is that they start to recognize these times for themselves.

Just think how much simpler life would be if it were socially acceptable for us adults to say, “Could you excuse me? I’m going to take a moment to gather my thoughts.”

~ karyn

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