It’s Not All Mary Poppins

those recipes

When I listed my Thanksgiving menu, some of you expressed an interest in some of the recipes.

The sweet potato, rutabaga combo is just that. Doesn’t really have a recipe: take one rutabaga, two sweet potatoes, half a dozen carrots and a squash of your choosing. (I used acorn, because I had some already prepared from a previous meal.) Peel and chop the rutabaga, sweet potatos and carrots, then put in largish pot of water. Bring to boil, then simmer for as long as it takes for everything to get mooshy. Drain all but a scant cup of the water, and puree (I use hand-held immersion blender). That’s it. I let people season their own portions, with salt, pepper and/or butter. Serves quite a few: 8 or 10, I’d guess.

The marinated salad is more fun. Basically, you take a bunch of winter vegetables, cut into bite-sized pieces and cook until tender-crisp, then drain and marinate for a few hours or overnight.

That’s the overview. Here’s the official recipe (a very old Canadian Living one):

1 small cauliflower, divided into florets
1 bunch broccoli, divided into florets
1/2 pound green beans, sliced
1/2 pound mushrooms, julienned
1 red pepper, slivered
2 cups julienned carrots
2 cups rutabaga, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 parsnips, julienned
1/2 red onion, cut into thin rings

3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic


Cook cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips and beans till tender-crisp. Drain. Mix all vegetables but beans together in a bowl. (In non-reactive bowl. Glass is best.) Mix the vinaigrette and pour over. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add the green beans just before serving.

My addition to the recipe: Use small button mushrooms, or larger ones cut in half or quarters (rather than sliced, as per recipe). Put the mushrooms in a small pot with 1/4 cider vinegar. Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. They provide little bursts of tangy ZING in the salad.

October 30, 2009 Posted by | food, holidays | , , , , | 3 Comments

Quirks and the learning curve

Melissa and Doug pattern blocksNoah tackles the pattern blocks, but quickly becomes frustrated. He understands the basic idea — make a picture using the shapes — but lacks the fine motor control to place the shapes on the unfortunately slick wooden card.

We work together.

It’s interesting to note what kids can and can’t do. Some of this is their stage of life, some of it is quirky to the child. Mostly it’s a mixture of both.

I point to the diagram on the card. “I need a yellow diamond. Can you find me a yellow diamond?”

Yes, he can. Easily. Even though there are also white diamonds in the box, but I know he’s sorting by colour, not shape.

“Find me a green triangle, please.”

He immediately hands me a green triangle. (This is simple because, apart from the diamonds there is only one shape per colour. All the triangles are green. Only the triangles are green. )

“Now I need a green shape.”

I get a green shape. It’s a triangle, as it must be. “Thank you for the green triangle, Noah.”

“Now I need a triangle. Can you find me a triangle?”

Nope. Suddenly, there are no triangles in the box. Hee.

So he knows his colours, but not his shapes. Pretty straightforward. It gets quirkier than that, though.

“Look at the card. We are going to need one, two, three blue squares.” I point to the blue squares, one at a time. “Pass me a blue square, please.”

I get the first blue square.

“Thank you for that blue square.” I place it on the blue square on the card. “Now I need one of these.” I point to the next blue square on the card. “Can you find me one like this, please?”

Nope. Can’t do it. He hands me shapes at random, first a white diamond and then a purple trapezoid, and finally a red hexagon.

“This shape,” pointing to the card, “is blue. It is square. I will need a –” and he plonks the blue square onto the floor beside the card.

He knows blue. He doesn’t know square. More interesting, he cannot yet see a picture of a blue square and find the corresponding square blue tile from the box.

Interesting, I tell you. Isn’t that interesting?

October 29, 2009 Posted by | Developmental stuff, Noah, quirks and quirkiness | , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bah, humbug

“HeLLO, ev-ryboDEE! Are we having FUN???” His eyes are wide, his mouth is wide, his face bursts with ANIMATION.

What is this, Howdy Doody? Why do some people talk to small children like that? So patronizing.

And so loud. Does he think they’re hearing impaired, to boot?

“Are you all having a GOOD TIME today???”

You see these people all over. People for whom children are a slightly foreign entity, people to whom children are not entirely… human? They’re well-intentioned, and, were I to be honest, quite a few of the children react well to the excess of enthusiasm. Quite a few, but not all.

The others withdraw, stand back, and stare, their faces radiating disapproving confusion: “What is wrong with you?” Or perhaps the more sophisticated wonder “Do you think I’m a total idiot?”

It happens all the time, and when it’s someone I don’t know, I cut them some slack. It’s a style difference, that’s all. (So not my style, but just a style difference. That’s what I tell myself.) This person maybe hasn’t much experience with children, and so styles him/herself on a certain type of children’s entertainer. (The type I avoid, but as I keep telling myself, style, it’s just style.)

But this one? It was happening in my front entry. He lingered in the mornings, LOUDLY declaiming inanities, for three minutes or more. And while he did this, he revved up the group. His child, used to his performance, began to giggle and shriek. A couple more responded to the increasing energy levels by beginning to run, run, run the loop from dining room, kitchen and hall. The youngest child set to bellowing. Finally even the dog was drawn in, and started to howl.

And then? He’d laugh. “It’s CRAZY here, isn’t it, kids? This is a cuh-RAY-zy place!!!” This is obviously his mental picture of what life with five toddlers is like, and it thrills him to be in the midst of it. Shrieking children, jumping children, children bouncing off walls. Bedlam, right down to the yodelling dog. And he had no idea, not a single clue, that he’d started it.

I am not kidding. At least twice a week he was doing this.

I used to stand and attend to him while he lingered and howdy-doodied and revved the whole house up to manic levels. It seemed… rude to just walk away and leave him there. Then I smacked myself upside the head once or twice — “Rude? This is your JOB! Just do it, silly woman!” — and now I’m thinking clearly again.

Now, once he’s said his first goodbye (undiscouraged, he says four or five), I herd the children into a corner of the kitchen where they can’t see the front door, or to the table where I have a craft at the ready. He’ll stand in the front door for a moment before bellowing “BYE-BYE!” one final time, and leaves. Thank goodness he doesn’t follow us.

(If he did, I’d address the issue directly, obviously, but previous experience has told me that he doesn’t like to be corrected directly. He’s never rude, though he does stiffen and glower a bit, but more importantly, though there are incremental changes, the behaviour doesn’t necessarily alter by much. By responding in this way, the morning circus has been reduced to once a month, even less. Sometimes indirect really is more effective.)

The dog is sent to her crate to calm down, and I pull out a couple of books to read to the children clustered around me on the couch. Within a couple of minutes, peace is restored.

Because my home? It is not a cuh-RAY-zy place.


October 28, 2009 Posted by | parents, Peeve me, the dark side | 6 Comments

The things you hear yourself saying

Part eleventy-bazillion…

“Don’t drive the train on Nissa’s head… No, she doesn’t like it. Nobody likes that.”

October 27, 2009 Posted by | Mischief, random and odd | | 4 Comments

“Peekee boo!” Nissa pulls the coffee shop napkin away from her face, and giggles as the other children laugh in excitement. “Peekee boo!” She loves playing to the gallery, and she really loves making the others laugh. Depending on whether she uses her powers for good or evil, she’ll either be her future teachers’ delight, or the bane of their existence.

Right now, she’s delightful.

“Oh, they’re so sweet!” The elderly fellow leans over from the next table. His eyes sparkle as the children laugh again. “The expressions on their faces are so vibrant!” Much like his, I might add. His hair is white, his face wrinkled and the skin on his hands papery, but he radiates life and positivity. I warm to him immediately.

His equally delightful wife agrees. “That’s sure a lively little crew you have there, and so well-behaved! How old are they?”

I tap small heads as I identify them. “Emily is four, Noah is two and a half, Nissa is eighteen months, and the baby is eight months old.”

Her eyes widen. “Goodness! We didn’t even notice the one in the stroller!”

“I’ll bet you’re done now!” he chortles. And you know what? I join right in. I am done. No need to point out I’ve been “done” for sixteen years… I’ll take it as a compliment that 1) I look young enough to have an 8-month-old baby (!!!) and 2) I’m doing my job well enough that I can be mistaken for their mother, not a hired gun, and 3) they commented on the childrens’ excellent behaviour, which, unlike many women out there, I take as a direct tribute to my hard work.

The fellow drapes his napkin over his face, then whips it away.


The children shriek in glee, the wonderful couple chortle along with them. Faces light up around the room.

Some days? Some days I cannot believe I get paid to do this.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | our adoring public, outings | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

As the light fades

… the carb craves rise.

GOOD LORD. It’s turned winter. No, no snow, but it’s chilly out there.

Even as I type, I laugh at myself. In three months, 0 (Celcius, of course; 32F for you global hold-outs), even with a windchill of -4, will feel positively balmy. Today, however, today it feels chill.

doritosBut we went out, because I am a Good Caregiver. Good Caregivers ensure that their charges get Fresh Air and Sunshine every day. Our outing had nothing — nothing, I say! — to do with those Doritos I’ve been craving all week. It was merest coincidence that we were two-thirds of the way to the 7-Eleven when (in a rare burst of self-discipline where salty-fatty-crunchy carbs are concerned) virtue triumphed, and I turned around.

Turned around and returned home. Within six blocks of a salt-fatty-crunch-carb fix. Wow.

We meandered around the neighbourhood a bit, chatting about this and that before lapsing into companionable silence. Even Nissa was silent. Silent, and conscious. Wow. Never seen THAT before.

Then we returned home and I scarfted down a generous slab of the banana-walnut bread I baked early this morning. Damn you, carbs!

Thing is, though rife with carbs, banana bread is sweet and chewy, not salty and crunchy. Mmmm, salty crunch. 5000000 calories of banana bread, and I still want those Doritos.


October 23, 2009 Posted by | food, random and odd | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t ride their bus

busWe sing as we walk, these days. The tots are really enjoying our circle times. Little Noah in particular will raid the instrument bin and approach with a bell or a shaker or a tambourine. “We sing now?”

Our favourite is “The Wheels on the Bus” (though “My Father is a Garbageman”) runs a close second. Those who can’t sing do their best approximation of the actions, giving certain passers-by the distinct impression that they’ve just received the one-finger salute (or that exceedingly rude Italian forearm thing) from a beaming child in a pair of My Little Pony overalls.

Those who can sing give their best approximation of… singing. Nissa’s version contains only repeated recitations of her favourite lines. “UP an’ down! UP an’ down! UP an’ down!”

Emily and William can manage everything: words, melody (kindasorta), rhythm, and actions. Noah and Tyler offer intermittent words/’melody’ and enthusiastic gestures.

Sometimes, though, we run out of verses before we get where we’re going. Being toddlers, staunch defenders of TRADITION, they’re always willing — very willing! MORE than willing!! — to repeat a verse over and over and over and over… or indeed, in Nissa’s case, a single line…

Over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…

But sometimes, even the most OCD traditional child wants to shake things up a bit. On the way home from the park yesterday, Tyler, surveying the river (the swans are still in it; wonder when they’ll be gathering them up for the winter?), starts a NEW, ORIGINAL verse.

“The water on the bus…” And then stops. WHAT does the water on the bus DO, anyway? Four-year-old William has an idea. “Goes sploosh, sploosh, sploosh!” (Or, in William-talk: “Goes wooof, wooof, wooof.”

Oh, THAT was fun!

From there it’s a scramble for new things on the bus. Trees grow, grow, grow. Swans swim, swim, swim. Clouds fly, fly, fly.

And then, because William is four, after all… The fart on the bus goes stink, stink, stink.

AAAAAAAAAAAA! Hysteria sets in. What ELSE can be on the bus? Snot? Pee? Barf?

Tyler is the man with the ideas again. “Diapers!” Ever-encouraging of the children’s creativity, I launch into the verse.

“The diapers on the bus go…”? And stop, with an enquiring look at the eager purveyors of ooze and stench.

“Stink, stink, stink!” Tyler giggles.

“No, not stink. The farts already did that.” William wants variety. One is beginning to feel some compassion for the potential riders on this horrendous bus.

They cogitate for a few steps.

“I know!” William is excited again, and bursts into tuneless song. “The diapers on the bus go, Poo, Poo, Poo!”

“Poo! Poo! Poo!” This is going to join Nissa’s small pantheon of Best Verses.

“Poo! Poo! Poo!” Noah’s shriek of laughter is accompanied by a mini-squat, his wee butt stuck out.


All over town…

October 21, 2009 Posted by | eeewww, outings, potty tales | , , , | 8 Comments

Busy days

Sorry I wasn’t here yesterday.


The one thing she does enjoy is being in the stroller. I haven’t quite gotten to the point of putting a stroller up in the house — though Thursday, when the forecast is for rain all day may be the first — but we have been OUT a lot. Taking nice, soothing WALKS. Lots and lots and lots of walks.

I sit her so she’s facing me, and she can see my face as I chat, and I make eye contact with her and smile, smile, smile.

See? I am a nice lady! Haven’t eaten any babies this week! No axes in my cupboard. Nice, nice lady!!

The first few days are the worst, of course, because the baby has not yet learned to look to you for comfort. A younger baby would, but an eight-month-old knows mummy from NOT MUMMY!!!!, and prefers the real deal. If she misses mummy but will take comfort in my willing arms, she’s soothe-able… if my arms are as comforting as… oh, tree branches (right now, I am a tree)… she will be inconsolable.

So we walk.

Yesterday we walked to Tim Hortons (coffe to go for Mary), we walked past the toy store (and window shopped), we walked past the kids bookstore, we walked past the park and the bank and the Seven Eleven and the bridge. We saw people and books and toys and doggies and pretty leaves. We talked about everything we saw.

And throughout it all, new baby girl was wide-eyed and calm. We’ve done this for three days. Two-hour walks every morning in blissful, peaceful companionship, before returning home AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! for lunch. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

Yesterday, however, we had a breakthrough. We went for our walk, and then, when we returned? She cried, yes, but she didn’t shriek. She cried, yes, but she paused to take in her surroundings.

And then, when the others had had their lunches and I could focus on her… she sat on my lap while I jiggled and sang… she looked at my face, she watched the toys I held in front of her, the reached for the toy! She was calm! And interested! And then?

Then… she SMILED.

And just then, her dad came to the door. Right when his baby girl was smiling!!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have Turned the Corner.


October 20, 2009 Posted by | daycare | , , , , | 3 Comments

Notes re: potty training

grumpyWhen you think your child is ready to be potty trained, there are a few things to consider.

1. It is good to consult with your caregiver first. You are not seeking her permission of course, but it is only polite to at least give her a heads-up that it’s in the air.

2. Moreover, it is wise to realize that she probably has insight and perspective that could be valuable. It may come as a surprise, but she is not uninformed in these matters.

So, the thing NOT to do is show up on Monday morning with a toddler in underpants, a bag containing three changes of clothes, and no diapers. Because, you know, that’s just sorta presumptuous.

3. When embarking on potty training, consider the logistics of daycare. Your child probably does truly deight in peeing in the bottle you hold in front of him. Could you be doing that with four other tots in the room? Well, then.

4. Logistics, part two: When a child is potty training, pants should be loose and very easily pulled up and down. Track pants are excellent — without underpants, even better. Cute little jeans without elastic waists? Bad idea. Cute little elastic-free jeans held up by a BELT? Bad, bad idea. And if the belt is stiff, requires two (adult) hands, and the pants CANNOT be pulled down without undoing said unco-operative belt?

Your kid will be in diapers that day. Count on it.


October 16, 2009 Posted by | manners, parents, Peeve me, potty tales | , , , , | 14 Comments

Scapegoat, er, doll

dolly“Okay, sweetie. You can get up now.”

At four, Emily does not need a nap every day, but she’s not quite ready to give them up entirely. Our system, then, is a required 20 minutes of lying quietly. And I do mean quiet: no tossing and turning and kicking and singing and whispering and playing with her fingers. Twenty minutes of stillness.

Twenty minutes of utter boredom, too, poor kid, but without the stillness, a child can easily keep themselves awake for 20 minutes, even if genuinely tired.

However, today’s quite obviously an awake day.

“You’ve been nice and quiet, but today you don’t need a nap.”

“No, I couldn’t sleep. Lucy was just being so noisy.”

Lucy? Noisy? Now, call me crazy, but Emily had been lying on the other end of the very couch where I’d just been reading for 20 minutes. Reading and blissing out on the silence. Either she’s been sleeping or I’ve been hallucinating silence. Or something.

“Who’s Lucy?”

“My doll.”

Doll? I don’t recall any dolls.

“Where is she?”

“At my house. But she’s so noisy, I can’t sleep.”

“You can hear her all the way from here?”

“Yes, and at night she’s so noisy she wakes me up, and I have to go sleep in mummy and daddy’s bed for a while to until she behaves herself again.”


“Yes, she’s a bad doll, but I love her anyway.”

Well, of course. Bad Lucy gets Emily out of naps and into mummy and daddy’s bed — blamelessly!! What’s not to love?

I love four-year-olds.


October 15, 2009 Posted by | Emily, sleep, the cuteness! | , , , , | 2 Comments