What is it about school?

Heading off into the world…

There was one moment when I just wanted to grab her hand and pull her back to me.

Unfortunately, that would be quite embarrassing to have the entire busload of kids laughing at the mom who couldn’t let go, so I backed off and moved back up the driveway so she could get on without a desperate mother clinging to her little hand.

What is it about school? Friends have told me and told me, “Oh, once they start school time just starts to fly, and they just move further and further away from you all the time.”

Good God, there is something really sad about that, until you realize in many ways they are just moving further and further away from you from the moment they are born, from the minute they eat their first solid food, the second they take their first steps. Is that sad or is that joyous? I feel a bit of both. It is the ultimate in bittersweet, really. I rejoice in every first in my babies’ lives, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness. Last week I finally hauled all of the baby gear and sweet wee clothes out of every closet and from beneath every bed and got rid of all of it. Other babies are using it all now. This was due in no small part to the fact my youngest child was about to start kindergarten and is clearly far from being a baby anymore. But it still hurt.

It is a letting go like nothing else I have experienced in my life. I am no longer a parent to babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. I am out of that club. I can offer wise words as someone who has been there, but a new parent would probably think to themselves, “Oh, she is not HERE where I am, so she does not KNOW.”

So here I am with two schoolgirls. I am the lunch maker, the form-signer, the one who tries every afternoon, like a dentist trying to pull teeth, to extract some meagre nugget of information from our children about their day at school. After years of spending most hours of the day with her, it is hard, really hard, to be relegated to this seemingly secondary role. Yikes, could I be taking it personally? Yes, other than sleep time, a teacher now spends more hours a day with my child than I do. Who knew that could be so tough to swallow? Even when the teacher is wonderful and caring, it still burns.

When our kindergartener comes home from school, she is exhausted and exuberant and bursting with all the new experiences. I try to see it all through her eyes, all the glittering freshness of being out in the world on your own for the first time. Every thing we take for granted, it’s pretty darn thrilling to her, bus rides, lunch kits, recess, a whole class full of other children who she just knows will be her best friends.

I smile and I enjoy the moments when she bursts out with some little story about her day. I look into her eyes and I see the baby that she was just a short while ago, the way she used to look at me when she was tiny and her parents were the centre of the universe. And I see that we are still her centre. Her universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger.


 When I was a kid, I was not popular. I might have been a bit odd, eccentric perhaps and maybe annoyingly brainy. You know those kids. Anyhow, I struggled. I had a wonderful friend who stayed next door with her grandparents for the summer, and we spent every day together, blissfully running restaurants, hotels and doll daycares, or just running wild in the woods and fields. I also had a best friend who was a grade ahead of me, so while we spent many nights having sleepovers and playing with her far-more-exciting Barbie gear, we didn’t get to play together at school.

As I got a bit older and arrived at high school, it was a glorious realization for me that there were other kids who were just a little off the grid of sunshiney perky high school student council cheerleader athlete types. (not that there is anything wrong with those types, I just would never be mistaken for one.) The smartest thing I ever did was join the band, where I found a loyal troupe of people that stuck together in the face of all that high school perkiness.

Still, I would never be the popular kid and there were times even as an adult that I was a bit at a loss in how to make friends. So imagine my surprise at this point in my life when I find myself with many friends, people who I can turn to, talk to, drink cold wine with, who care enough about us to check in regularly, who offer to watch our daughters, who feed us.

There are so many levels of friendship. There are those who have been with us since childhood, who we have watched grow up and turn into the amazing adults they are today. There are others who went through the awkward years of high school with me, or the slightly drunken days of university. They know our whole histories.

When we first became parents, we turned inward, our world shrinking to the size of our own house and that tiny person who had come to rule it. When I suffered from postpartum depression, I withdrew to the point where I could not reach out to anyone for help. It was a lonely time, one that today prompts me to ask new mothers who I barely know if they are doing alright, if they are getting out of the house enough.

 Now I have a group of friends who have been with me during the past six years of growing children. We all had young children, we all needed to get out for a glass of wine and some adult conversation. In some ways I feel like I grew up with these women. I grew into the parent I am today, and I counted on them to make me feel that whatever I was going through or what odd phase my children were dragging us into was just normal. When I was suffering from another bout of depression, I would drag myself out to our book club meetings and actually find myself laughing for the first time in weeks.

 I have learned that to make friends, you have to open yourself up to it, be prepared to make the first move, and to reach out to people when you need help. Too often women are fooled into thinking that everyone around them is doing a better job of parenting than they are. We get intimidated by images of perfect moms who make organic baby food and never yell at their offspring. But if you look more closely, you might see a look in her eye that is just a little bit wild, a little bit unhinged by lack of sleep or depression or just the puke-stained stress of parenting young children. Those are the ones you want to invite for coffee or the always-neutral ground of book club, because they might be just the ones who need a friend the most.

View from the back door



Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

There is something about the wind in a wheat field…it is irresistible, fluid deliciousness. So happy to say the field out back is in wheat this year, rather than dependable, utilitarian but not very pretty potatoes.

Vacation, anyone?

There is one naîve moment in the day when I get home from work and think “Ah, now I can make a nice cup of tension tamer tea, put my feet up and read a magazine for an hour.”

That does not last. When I get home, there seems to be more work than ever to do, and somehow I just never find the time to flake out on the couch because there is supper to prep, garden to weed, children seeking attention, laundry to sort (since the man of the house can’t tell the difference between anyone’s clothes except his own) and bills to pay. Oh yes, and there is also more work to do, as there are many streams of work going on that don’t necessarily take place in a “workplace.”

Part of me has that old sense of entitlement, that voice that says “HEY! You deserve a break.” But you know what? Sometimes that just does not fly when you’ve got a family. There are times when I tell the girls that I just need a time out. Five minutes later I hear a soft little voice at the door asking “Mama, is your time out over yet? Mama, why do you need quiet time, Mama?” OH, it is tough to turn that little voice away.

So, the only way to really take a break is to BREAK from everything, the house, the yard, the jobs, the sidelines, the blog, the email, everything. We pack up the children and stuff the old car full of gear and take off. And this is what we seek.

In the forest deep…

We are always on the lookout for the greatest playground of all time…actually, we could write a guidebook on playgrounds of eastern Canada, complete with ratings. This one, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia gets a “10.” Can you believe this is their elementary school?

One of our favourite discoveries. Best playground!

On camping trips, we even sit still on occasion. Although not very often.

Taking it all in.

Sometimes, we just pretend to be pirates. But in exciting new places.

Aaaargh. Ahoy.

Mostly, we just hang out together. No distractions, no work, no chores, just fun and being outdoors all day and all night, too, all of us sleeping in the big tent together, nothing to do but just BE together. It is the best time-out ever.

Glorious green in Fundy National Park.

Beach blanket book bash

Everyone reads in our house. Taz prefers non-fiction.

The fantabulous part of summer reading is the lack of any desire on my part to better my mind in any way whatsoever.

Summer reading is ALL beach reading, glorious, often fluffy, always escapist, this is what I want. Reading on the beach, reading while reclining with a cold drink on the back deck, reading while driving (as a passenger of course) to the next camping destination. Oh, and don’t forget reading at breakfast before anyone else is awake. I have to cram in reading when I can, and for that reason alone, we have reading material in every room of the house. And I do mean every room. That way I can pick something up and fly though a few pages or chapters when I get the chance.

Years ago, pre-kids, pre-career, pre-anything really, my BFF and I would pickle ourselves in baby oil, grab a towel, drinks, snacks and a nice trashy paperback novel each and head to the beach for an afternoon of sunbathing, reading and watching all the other teenagers who were hanging out. OH, the freedom! These days we use SPF 85 sunscreen, carry at least three bags of stuff, and spend the whole time making sure our children don’t jump off the dock and drift away on the tide.

I still get some summer reading in, though, and I am plotting the books for this season. The obvious beach reads are those by authors like Iris Johansen, Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, Susan Wiggs, and those kind of romance-thriller&suspense authors. And believe me, there are few of those in my stack. But I thought I would share some of the maybe lesser-known or long-forgotten books on my list as well as some of my all-time favourite summer reads.

Pageturners for summer reading

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier: Love this. Books set in Cornwall get me every time, but this little volume about a bored noblewoman who falls for a charming pirate (and aren’t they all charming?) is SUCH a guilty pleasure. DuMaurier’s books are all worth picking up.

Casting off by Nicole Dickson: The main character travels to a tiny island off Ireland to write a book about the region’s traditional fisherman knit sweaters, and is embraced by the tight-knit (little knitting pun there) community. Makes me want to go there. Makes me want to knit.

Thinking of you by Jill Mansell: Funny, funny, quirky. British writers are my go-to authors when I am looking for self-deprecating humour, and this is a good one. The romantic male lead is named Finn Penhaligon. Need I say more?

Good in bed by Jennifer Weiner: Cannie Shapiro is a Big Girl. Voluptuous, curvy, real-woman sized. She is a great character, looking for love in all the wrong places, but surprises ensue and her whole life path changes. It will make you cheer.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Perennial favourite, big, sweeping family epic set in Cornwall. Like I said, Cornwall, I love it. Covers several generations of a family and all of their secrets, scandals, love and wind-blown beaches.

The birth house by Ami McKay: Best. Book. Ever. It is such a good read that I have forced it upon almost anyone who asks in the library. “Oh, looking for a book? Read THIS.” Set in rural Nova Scotia, it is set during the time when midwives were slowly being pushed out by the medicalization of childbirth. A few strong women fought back, and it makes for a great story.

Ones I am planning to read

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo: I hear a LOT about the Scandinavian writers of murder mysteries, but this guy gets the most talk.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James: Okay, so, fabulous mystery writer takes on the world of Jane Austen?? I am so there.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: Heard a lot about this, so I must try it.

Something by Tess Gerritson : Because everyone tells me I should read her.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: This series has just gotten better and better, and I cannot wait for this latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache book to be released in August.

Reading anything good? What is your best summer read? Please share… I still have room on my list for more titles! Now if only I can find the time…

More and more (and less) Part 2

Once I get going on the “simplify” theme, it is hard to stop. Especially when the simplifying actually saves me money.

Oh, if you are just joining me now on the “saving money and simplifying stuff” theme, you might want to read this post first.

Something we are quite passionate about now is growing at least some of our own food. It is cheaper, it tastes better, and it is so ridiculously easy to do that almost everyone can do it. Literally, we prep the soil with a bit of compost and cow poop, plant it and basically ignore it until it is time to start snacking on snow peas and strawberries. Sometimes when I need a little time to myself, a bit of stress relief, I do some weeding. Well worth the few bucks we spend on seeds and new garden gloves every spring.

Last year’s bounty…

At some point in my married life I seem to have morphed into a bit of a do-it-yourselfer. Not something one would ever have suspected of me had they known me earlier in my life. That being said, it is strangely satisfying and much, much cheaper to do many things yourself than to hire an expert. We ripped off and rebuilt a deck last year. I am quite sure it would have cost double had we hired someone, and on the bright side it is still standing and attached to the house so we must have done something right.

Junior carpenter apprentice

Back on the topic of stuff, we have tried since our girls were born to be sensible when it comes to belongings. As soon as children come on the scene, the sheer volume of things seems to grow exponentially just to fill their basic needs. Babies come out of the womb with pretty minimal baggage, but it doesn’t take long for them to take over the house with all of their goods. Now that our little ones are not quite so little, we have tried to pass things on as much as possible, but we still have closets stuffed full of outgrown clothes and toys and cute boots that they wore twice. There are books and toys in almost every room no matter how hard we try to limit the spread. We try to be fairly restricted in toy and book purchases, but there is no stopping Santa and grandparents.

One thing we do to cut back on both clutter and cost is use the library. It helps that I am there all the time, but even if I weren’t we would still get most of our entertainment there. We easily take out 25 kids’ picture and chapter books a week, as well as adult books, the latest magazines, music CDs (gone are the days of only classical music at the library) and movies and television shows on DVD. So it is all free and when we are done with it we return it. One sweep through the house and at least 30 things a week are cleared out. To make room for new! Even when we are on holidays we get a library card where we are staying and pick up a supply of trashy magazines, kids’ books on CD for the car, whatever. It is also a great free rainy-day activity when you are camping to go hang out at the library for a couple of hours.

At our house we have done a lot of the classic “save money and energy” things like change lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, wash everything except ourselves in cold water, seal around the windows to stop heat loss. We even had a home energy audit done on our century house a few years ago when there were still government rebates for energy-saving renovations. It has made a difference, but we still dream of putting in solar hot water and getting rid of oil-powered heat forever. That is not yet in the cards for us, so we continue to find ways to save in other departments.

As I learn more about our finances, I have found that it annoys me more and more that I spend so much on banking fees every month. Now that we have combined finances, the two of us mostly use one account for everything, to get paid into and to pay everything out of. Funny how there seems to be a lot more “coming out” than “going in.” Anyhow, we have increased our banking plan several times, only to find that we still go over the maximum allowed transactions every month, which means paying a monthly fee AND also paying sixty cents for every extra transaction. To get unlimited transactions would cost $14 a month. Yep, it’s ridiculous. Paying $14 a month to a bank that is making billions in profits every year from OUR money.

Well, they may only be making a few dollars off my money personally, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, I decided to check out the online banks, and ING was offering me $50 to open an account with them. That got my attention. They offered ME $50 if I deposited $100 in a new account. And they don’t have any transaction fees for regular things like paying bills. None. So just for signing up, I got $50 and I saved $14 to $16 a month on bank fees. Huh. Almost $200 a year. Now I don’t usually promote brands, but I am so annoyed with the regular banks that I am willing to brag a little about this. And if other people are referred to ING by me, we EACH get a $25 bonus. I am willing to suffer the humiliation of doing their marketing for them, so here is the link:


Ah yes, did I mention we don’t buy booze anymore? Of all the cost-cutting measures, that seems the harshest. I suppose in the olden days we would have just fired up the still out back to make some home brew. Just a wee glass of icy cold wine on a summer’s eve is truly a luxury, but hey, we do what we must to get off the merry-go-round of debt. And someday, we will get there.

More and more and more, Part 1

Do you ever feel like your stuff is just going to gang up on you and squish the living daylights out of you? Or is that just me?


There seems to be an out-of-control need for stuff in our world, and it gets tougher every year to resist the pull of all that bigger, better, more expensive stuff. I was reading The Wealthy Barber Returns (I know, it is hard to  believe) and one of author David Chilton’s short chapters talked about how we in this time in history seem to have greater need for stuff than ever before, are never satisfied with what we DO have, and are constantly seeking new ways to get the stuff, even if it means (and it always means) going into debt. Bigger television, newer car, trendy clothes, a new cellphone every flipping year (WHAT is up with that??!),  music, video games,  home reno materials, more and more toys for all ages. The list goes on forever. And I am just as guilty as anyone, craving an iPad for the simple reason that it just looks cool.

All that being said, times are tight around here and we have experienced a complete shift in our thinking as a result. And you know what? I feel more happy and less stressed than I have in years. You know why? One simple reason. In the past, every time we spent money on things like those listed above, or on trips, weekends away, dinners out, knickknacks from Winners, whatever, I knew somewhere deep inside that we did not need them, AND we could not afford them. That creates a lot of stress. I am, of course, Queen of Denial, and we’re talking about a girl who once many unwise years ago took cash advances out on her Canadian Tire credit card to pay her rent. Ahem. So I could spend with the best of the spenders, and I did have that whole “I deserve it” mentality.

Times have changed, and with only one person in the family fully-employed at the moment, times HAD to change. And we have embraced it. In the process, we are not only getting by, but have paid off credit card debt and are continuing to save for our children’s education and our emergency fund. So, how do we do that? Well, let me share a few ways. I know there are lots of frugal living blogs out there, but if even one of our ideas helps someone save some cash, I would be happy.

We cut costs to the bone. As soon as we knew we were down to one job for the household, we wrote down all of our monthly expenses so that we would know just what we needed to continue. Then we started cutting, to make sure our lower income would still cover everything. I am an avid couponer, and I follow some great blogs like Mrs. January, Bargain Moose and Smart Canucks. These blogs tell me where to find the best coupons, how to find freebies and more. When I see my grocery bill come back showing me I saved 9 per cent (or even 33 per cent) by using coupons, I know it is worth it. That is our money and we are keeping it.

I also got rid of my credit card that charged a higher interest rate plus a monthly fee. Why should I pay for a service I can get from another company for free? I switched to a card that has no fee and I pay it off at the end of every month. Simple, right? But I have never ever done that before. Next I called the company which shall remain nameless but is pretty much the only provider of phone and internet service here. I had seen an ad on their website offering new customers a rate for phone and internet that was $35 less than what we were paying. I called and asked for that rate. The first person said no. I spoke to someone else, and was told again the rate was for new customers only. So I told him to cut my service, then I would just open up a new account the next day and be a new customer. Needless to say, I got the better rate, and he threw in the ultra high speed internet as well. We don’t make long-distance calls on the phone anymore, but do it online with Skype or the Google phone service.

Again, I say, why should we pay for something that another company will give us for free?

I have written before about our frugal Christmas, and we have continued to keep gift-giving to some pretty strict rules, which include a smaller budget and more handmade and upcycled gifts. I am also going to confess to a little driveway-surfing. I don’t know what the proper term is, but it happens when people just put unwanted items at the end of their driveways and other people come along and pick them up. One man’s junk is another woman’s treasure and all that. The girls and I were driving home from a visit last fall and saw this at the end of someone’s driveway, beside their trash bags. 

Can you believe it?? It’s a beautiful dollhouse. The girls love it.

Just yesterday we were saying that we needed a little school desk for homework. I was driving home later that same day and guess what I saw? A fab retro school desk, made of sturdy chrome and some kind of indestructible melamine-like stuff, just sitting on the side of the road. I screeched to a stop, backed up, snagged it and took it home. It is PERFECT. And free.

Twenty years ago I would have cringed at the very idea of taking someone else’s cast-offs, but now I know better. With everyone buying new things constantly, “cast-offs” are often as good as new. Times change, and so do I.

There are SO many ways to change your mindset on spending and saving, and no one way works for everyone. Next time, I will share a few more ways we are trying to make a difference, while also teaching our daughters about sensible consumption. Stay tuned!

What are some of the things you do to save money and cut corners? I would love to know.