Winter Cottaging

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When I decided to try for an autumn baby, I based that decision entirely on my experience having had my first baby in late summer. It worked so well that time! I had a little bit of nice weather with my newborn before the snow flew. We went for walks in the late summer sun while she was still really little and fragile. By the time the cold weather arrived, she was bigger and we were into a good routine and rhythm and it was no big deal to take her out for winter walks in her chariot, or to the YMCA for postnatal fitness classes. And then by the time she wanted to be mobile, it was summer again. Perfect!

The problem with this is that I planned my second baby entirely around my experience of having one baby at home. Somehow I forgot that I would still have a toddler kicking around (bored, mostly). Whoops.

The other problem I encountered, having had my second baby in October of 2013, is that this winter has been the worst winter in the history of time.*

Bundled, as usual

Bundled, as usual

So we’ve felt pretty cooped up most of this winter, and we’ve all had some pretty bad bouts of cabin fever.

My parents bought a new cottage at the end of November, but Pete and I hadn’t even considered going out there for a weekend, because the baby was still getting up so frequently at night (and exhausting us in the process). But one Saturday morning in late February, Pete said, “why don’t we go to the cottage?” This was at 9:00 am. By 11:00 am, we were in the car, and on our way.

This was the best decision we could have made. I didn’t realize how much we would love it out there.

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The cottage is at the very end of a rural road, at the edge of a provincial park, and right on Georgian Bay. It’s peaceful, serene and gorgeous. It’s exactly what we needed.

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And the things we were worried about turned out to be non-issues. C slept in a big-girl bed for the first time and it was great. The baby slept well in a playpen, and woke up to feed just as often as he would at home, but not more. C really took to all of our traditional cottage activities, such as obsessively putting together puzzles for hours on end. She’s going to fit right in.

Puzzle success!

Puzzle success!

The weather was very cold and windy, so we stayed inside a lot, but the change of scenery was very therapeutic.

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo - photobombed

Our first attempt at a cottage family photo – photobombed

Attempt number two

Attempt number two

We went back this past weekend and had an even better time. The baby only got up three times to eat (it’s better than five!) and C got to go outside and enjoy the outdoors a bit more.

Champion sleeper

Champion sleeper

The weather was glorious this time, mild and sunny, so she got to go tobogganing.

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Pete even made her a little skating rink on the ice out front. It seemed silly to make a rink on March 8th, but it was certainly cold enough, and we got enough use out of it.

And if this all weren’t enough, we had a lovely family dinner with my parents and two sets of uncles and aunts. Did I mention that two of my uncles and two of my aunts live a few doors down from our cottage? It doesn’t get much better than that.

After all, that means there are four extra people for C to do puzzles with.

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

Puzzles with Uncle Louis

I can’t wait to go back. Is it the weekend yet?

*I don’t have meteorological data to back this up at present, but I’ll look into it.

Valentine’s Day Cake

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It’s been a very cold winter, and my kids and I have been cooped up a lot. We’ve gone through some bouts of cabin fever. I try my best to keep my toddler occupied, but sometimes we all get bored around here and I have to think of ways to keep things interesting. One thing that I’ve started to do with C is baking. She enjoys it, I enjoy it, Pete gets lots of baked goods. Everyone wins!

Well, not exactly. Baking with a toddler is challenging to say the least. She wants to put all the ingredients into the mix, and sometimes, she wants to put things in that are definitely NOT ingredients (eggshells, spice jars, pens, etc.) But I’ve learned a few tricks along the way and C and I have learned how to bake (mostly) productively together.

Our first “big” baking project together was a Valentine’s Day cake. We had baked some batches of cookies before, but this was the first recipe that was really labour intensive. Because toddlers have very short attention spans, I decided to grate all the carrot and mix the cream cheese icing the day before. This was wise.

The day of, we just measured and mixed and that was about all she could handle. I poured the batter into one square pan and one round pan. When the cakes had cooled, I cut the round pan in two in order to make a heart shape.

I added some food colouring to make the cream cheese icing pink, frosted the cake, and voila! An enormous Valentine’s Day cake for C’s Dad. He loves carrot cake, and was very excited to dive into it.

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After we had each had a slice that night, we realized just how huge the cake actually was, and the challenge that was before us. How on Earth were two people supposed to eat this much cake? I clearly didn’t think this through. I’m already unable to eat a ton of carrot cake due to overconsumption of my sister’s wedding cake. (It’s a long story, but basically the wedding cake was in a corner during the dancing part of the wedding and everyone forgot to eat it – so we ate wedding cake for ages afterwards and the bottom tier was carrot. TOO MUCH CARROT CAKE.)

To make matters worse, Pete came down with a stomach bug a few hours after eating a piece of the cake a few days later. He now has to take a break from carrot cake, due to the association. The moral of the story? I’m not really sure. Don’t bake 75 portions of cake for two people? We’ll go with that.

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Can a House Have “Bad Energy”?

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I was recently pulled into an Internet ghost-story vortex. It all started when I read an article about alleged murderer Luka Magnotta’s apartment, and how it was recently leased to an unsuspecting new tenant.

I then read a huge number of commenter responses, many of which detailed readers’ own experiences living in or touring houses that had been the scene of a crime. One woman wasn’t aware that the body of the last victim of H.H. Holmes (The Devil in the White City) had been hidden in her house’s chimney until a ghost tour passed by and she overheard the story. Another commenter toured a home in the U.S. that had been the scene of two separate murders. Her mother ran out of the house shortly after the tour began, saying that the house didn’t want her there. There were lots of very creepy tales about apartments with sinister vibes and ominous backstories.

I should point out here that I don’t *really* believe in ghosts. I often let my imagination run away with me, particularly when I’ve watched a scary movie and I’m home alone. My sister and I once made the mistake of bringing a book of ghost stories with us on an interior camping trip to Killarney Provincial Park. It was so silly and badly written that we made fun of it the whole time we were reading it, that is, until the sun set and we were alone in our tent on an island with no other campers around. And even though Pete makes fun of me for being a scaredy-cat, I’m not alone. My sister and brother-in-law once had to go downstairs together to fetch the DVD of Paranormal Activity because they were both too scared to go alone.

But aside from moments like that, I try my best to think rationally, and I just can’t bring myself to believe in hauntings. And I thought I didn’t believe in houses with “bad vibes” or “bad energy,” until I lived in one.

When Pete and I were engaged, he got a new job and we ended up moving to a new town. We toured some rental homes and none were appropriate. One, in particular, has stuck with me. The owners had packed up and decided to tour the world and were renting only the bottom of their house. All of the rooms upstairs were closed and locked. That creeped me out. There was no way I was going to live in a house with several locked rooms and no idea what was behind those doors. Oh no. No no no. I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that that is a terrible idea.

When we found a reasonably priced century home that was a decent size on a lovely street, we went for it. It seemed bright and airy on the day we toured it. After we moved in, though, I started to feel uneasy there. It started to feel oppressive. I was working as a college instructor then, and didn’t always work regular hours. On mornings when Pete had to leave for work before me, I felt that I HAD to get out of that house when he left for work, even if I would be hours early for my own job. I dreaded coming home to that house. I remember when we would go away on weekends, I would feel terrible about having to go back to that house again, after being away.

Nothing strange happend while we lived there. It had creaks and groans like any 100-year-old house, but objects didn’t move around on their own and doors didn’t close unexpectedly. We didn’t hear any frightening noises coming from the creepy basement. But for some reason, I felt that the house didn’t want me there. It seems so silly as I write it out, but that is precisely how it felt.

I’ve been trying to find out about the house’s history. So far, I haven’t learned much. I don’t know what I’m expecting to find, but Pete did point out that the house had had a lot of tenants before us. There seemed to be a quick turnover there. And we do know that the people who bought the house after we moved out put it on the market again after less than a year.

I’m interested in your opinions on this sort of thing. Have you experienced something similar? Do you think that houses can harbour bad vibes? Or are we just projecting our own moods and feelings onto places?

Greening My Cleaning

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I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution of sorts.  And I’m posting about it on January 7th, which shows the depth of my commitment.  I’ve been so busy sticking to my resolution that I haven’t had time for anything else.

I actually decided a few months ago that I would stop using commercial cleaning products around the house.  I had an epiphany one day last summer.  I realized that I only mopped the floors or cleaned the windows while C was napping upstairs, so that she wouldn’t be nearby to inhale all the fumes from the cleaners.  Then I thought “why is not okay for C to inhale all this, but it’s fine for me?” 

I decided to switch over to good, old-fashioned vinegar and water for a lot of my household cleaning.  Baking soda is my new best friend.  And for disinfecting, rubbing alcohol is up to the task.

So why did I wait until now to put this into effect?  Well, we still had lots of commercial cleaning products on hand, and, being thrifty people, couldn’t bring ourselves to throw them out.  Pete and I just couldn’t do it.  As much as we’re committed to our new, green, cleaning regime, we were just too cheap.  Life is full of dilemmas.

Life is also full of challenges, and this new green cleaning commitment has presented a new one for Pete.  I love my Swiffer WetJet, but I want to stop cleaning the floors with the liquid in their cartridges.  I asked Pete whether he could MacGyver me a cartridge for the WetJet that would allow me to use my vinegar and water mixture on the floors.  He is an engineer, after all.  It was on his holiday-to-do-list and he even made a special trip to Home Depot for supplies, but got sidetracked by another project.  I’m still waiting for my green, non-toxic, MacGyvered Swiffer WetJet.

Photo via Swiffer

Photo via Swiffer

So, while I wait, a question for all of you: have any of you undertaken a similar change?  I’m hoping to tackle household toxins in other ways, and I’m eager for tips.  Happy New Year (seven days late), everyone!

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant

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My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.