Pass down a holiday tradition

Girl walking in snow

We have a holiday tradition that makes people gasp in horror. We open our presents on Christmas night. Not Christmas Eve, Christmas night.

It’s a tradition that stems back to the days when my grandparents owned a greenhouse in the 1930s in Cooksville (now Mississauga) at the corner of Highways 5 and 10, Dundas and Hurontario Streets. Christmas was one of their busiest times of the year, and they would often still be preparing floral orders and making deliveries right up until lunch time on Christmas Day. The only time they could sit down to relax and open gifts was after dinner.

It was a tradition my parents continued when we were young, and a tradition Dave and I have passed on to our children.

I love opening gifts at nighttime, with the fire crackling, the Christmas tree lights shining and a glass of Bailey’s in your hand. You don’t have to worry about jumping up and getting the turkey in the oven or baking pies and it prolongs the anticipation beyond Christmas morning. It also lets us get outside and enjoy the beauty and peace of the day.

I knew the circle was complete when on one of our nightly walks this week, Clare asked, “Mom, can we open presents Christmas night again this year? I really love it.”

My work as a parent is done.

Whatever your traditions or faith, I hope you have a joyous holiday. What’s your favourite holiday tradition? Leave a comment.

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Feel your heart fill with pride

Girls with silver medals

Any parent knows there is no greater joy than watching their child excel at something.

This past weekend, Clare competed in the Ontario provincial kayaking championships in Welland, Ontario. She qualified for two races: the K1 1000 metre individual developmental race, and the K2 500 metre competitive final with her kayaking partner, Parker Friendship.

This is only her second year competing with the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club so the fact she made it to the provincials is pretty amazing.

I’m not one of those crazy parents that loses it at sporting events, even though I do yell and cheer loudly at hockey games, much to my kids’ chagrin.  But when that horn blasted and Clare and Parker plunged their paddles into the water and powered their boat in perfect synchrony to the front of the pack, my heart started racing too.

It was the first time I experienced an actual physiological reaction watching my child compete, and my heart didn’t stop racing until they crossed the finish line in second place. Tears filled my eyes and my heart filled with pride. It was a moment to remember.

Congratulations to Clare and Parker on a phenomenal race and their silver medals making them #2 in all of Ontario. We couldn’t be more proud of you! Special thanks to Helen Parfitt and Roger Labbe who pour their heart and soul into making the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club the welcoming, supportive and successful club it is, and Rhiannon Murphy for being such a wonderful coach and mentor to all our kids this summer.

Kayakers on podium

Recognize and relish the moments when you are at one with the world

famous quote about remembering momentsWe do not remember days. We remember moments.
-Cesare Pavese, Italian poet and novelist

Life is a series of moments. Of all the millions of moments we experience, there are rare sublime moments when you feel pure contentment and at peace with the world.

Two Sundays ago, I had three of these moments.

The first was early in the morning. I was walking through our sunroom to take a load of laundry to our laundry room. Grace was playing this beautiful piece on the piano called Nuvole Bianche. As the gorgeous notes from the piano danced through the air like a debutante floating across a ballroom, I looked out the window to see Bella sleeping peacefully under the almond bush. I stopped with the laundry basket still in my arms and just listened and watched. It was so peaceful and I was overcome with an immense sense of gratitude to have so many blessings in my life.

The second moment happened when I was paddling into our back lake, which by itself is a very special place since there are no cottages on it. As I paddled through the channel, I saw a lone snow goose at the end of the lake gliding peacefully across the sparkling waters. She was magnificent, and I just sat and watched for a long time before we both went our separate ways.

The third moment was after my paddle. I was swimming back towards the dock. Clare was sitting on the dock with her arms extended behind her body, her bronzed face turned upwards towards the sun and sun-kissed hair shining in the sun. Once again, a feeling of overwhelming pride and joy washed over me.

This week’s #HappyAct is to recognize and relish the moments when you feel at one with the world–for they are all too rare and fleeting.

Eight tips for achieving family life balance

elephant balancing on a ballForget work life balance. Some days I think the biggest challenge is family life balance.

In the past six weeks, we’ve had friends or family over three weekends, went to a friend’s cottage one weekend, attended two country fairs, one regatta, one baseball tournament, shuffled our work schedules so we could be home during the day for two service provider visits, and chauffeured kids to various camps, practices and friends’ houses.

Some days it’s exhausting, but most of the time it’s busy, fun and manageable. That’s because we learned the importance a long time ago of always scheduling in down time.

Here are eight tips that we’ve found helped our family maintain a healthy balance on the home front:

  1. Keep one weekend a month completely open. Dave made me promise this years ago and it’s been our saving grace ever since.
  2. Don’t feel pressured to spend time doing something you don’t want to do. If I don’t have the time or feel like baking for a potluck or school fundraiser or dinner party, I’ll just buy something. Same thing with our house—our friends and family know they are always welcome to drop by and there will be a cold beer for them, but we don’t spend hours cleaning or tidying up—they take us as we are.
  3. Keep things simple when you do entertain. I’d rather spend an extra hour with guests chatting on the dock than cooking and cleaning on a beautiful summer’s day, so we often serve what’s simplest and easiest.
  4. No matter how many chores or things need to get done, carve out one hour a day for down time.
  5. If your child asks you to play cards, read, or play a game, say yes. I remember when the kids were little, they would always want to curl up in our big green chair and read after supper. I’d leave the dishes in the sink and read with them. The dishes could wait.
  6. Know what time is most precious to you and protect it. For me, it’s the first few hours of the day on the weekends. I can face just about anything as long as I can enjoy my coffee and read the papers before jetting off somewhere.
  7. Say no sometimes. Where we live, our kids often want us to run them into Kingston for something. It can kill up to half a day since we live north of the city. If we’re really busy the rest of the weekend, and it’s not something important, I’ll just say no.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When Dave had his knee replaced last fall and I was juggling kids, work and running him to appointments, I asked my neighbour to take him to one of his doctor’s appointments—it was a huge help.

This week’s #HappyAct is to share your tips for finding the right family life balance. What are some of the things you do to keep your non nine-to-five life in a happy state of equilibrium? Leave a comment.

A tribute to my beautiful daughters on Mother’s Day

The author's daughters on a boardwalkThere was a time in our lives when Dave and I didn’t think we could have children.

Then Grace was born.

Followed four years later by another baby girl, Clare.

We always said we would be happy even if we weren’t blessed with children. I know this to be true, but I always thought of having kids like a kaleidoscope.

Without children, the wheel of life takes us on a journey of twists and turns, revealing an array of pretty patterns and colours. With them, the cylinder opens wide, to unfurl a mesmerizing display of brilliance and untold adventures. Children are not are whole lives, but they make our lives whole.

Today, on Mother’s Day, I want to pay tribute to the greatest gift in my life: the gift of being a Mom. Here is my love letter to my beautiful daughters.

Thank you Grace and Clare.

For making me laugh,
For hugging away my tears.
For making our family and table full,
For the endless hours skating on our beloved lake, and talking on our evening walks.

For filling our house with music
For infuriating me,
For doing your chores even when I don’t ask you to
For the highs and lows and all the in betweens

For your silly, stupid jokes,
For making me feel like a child again,
For telling me I’m beautiful when your beauty outshines us all
For being my friend.

It has been a pleasure and joy to watch you grow into the spirited, independent young women that you have become.

Be bold. Be strong. Be true to yourself. Live your dreams.

And know that I will always be here for you.
Love, Mom.

Girls in bathtub

Girls at a Santa Claus parade

Desperate times call for desperate measures

funny quote on houseworkWe are living in desperate times. No, I’m not talking about Trump, Syria or ISIL. I’m talking about the division of labour in our households.

Let’s just say I was not a happy camper last week. It started last Sunday. We got home from Clare’s hockey game. Dave went to lie down and do his exercises for his knee, Clare flaked out on the couch reading a book, Dave’s Dad sat in the sunroom reading the papers and Grace retreated into her lair to do homework and spend endless hours on her iPad.

Instead of curling up with the latest People Sexiest Man Alive issue, I did laundry, drained and scrubbed the hot tub, made supper and did the dishes. At one point I asked the kids through gritted teeth for help with sweeping the floors and folding some laundry.

Help. I hate that dastardly word. It implies the sole responsibility for keeping a household running is one person’s, with the others just “helping” out.

Then Tuesday came. After a 10-hour day, I came home to find supper not started, the wood not brought in and the dogs unfed even though my children get home 2-3 hours before me and my husband was at home all day (albeit still recuperating from his knee surgery, but well enough to make a salad I reckon).

I resorted to the most shameless, childish trick of all time—the silent treatment. I admit it. I’m not proud of myself, but I was angry, tired, and frustrated. The worst part was I had this utopian hope that with Dave’s surgery, the girls would step up their game and help with the cooking and cleaning. I was so wrong.

One brisk walk and one quiet night helped restore my equanimity, but I wasn’t happy with how I reacted and worse, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution. So the next day I came up with the idea to introduce a new rewards system, “Two Things a Day”. I made a chart and explained that everyone in the house had to do two things a day to keep our house running. If at the end of the week, the chart was full, there would be a special reward.

What a change. Yesterday morning, the girls did chores around the house without being asked. We had fresh sheets on the bed, swept floors, wood in the wood box and sand for when the snow and ice comes.

It’s early days yet. But I’m hopeful my evil master plan will work, and my family will accept that we are all responsible for doing housework and keeping our busy household running and I will be a happy camper once again.

Ed. note: When Dave and I first got married, we had to take a marriage course. The minister asked, what is the biggest source of most arguments in a marriage? People answered finances, family issues. I answered housework and the class laughed. Guess what? It was housework.

Lavish praise not criticism

flowers bloomingThe world needs more praise and less criticism.

If you’re a parent, you know the power of praise. Praise is like the warmth of the sun that nourishes and helps the petals of a flower unfold. Criticism will cause the flower to shrivel up and die.

This week’s Happy Act is to praise someone. Your child. Your partner. A co-worker. Tell them what a great job they’ve done then watch them blossom and grow.