Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2010 Here We Come!

I was all set to write a gargantuan and meaningful post reviewing 2009 and reflecting on the past twelve months.

But, if we're going to be honest here, 2009 kinda sucked for us. I blogged very little about the difficulties we faced in 2009, but they certainly existed and I'm going to be bold enough to go out on a limb and say that this year was one of the most challenging I've encountered yet. I neglected the blog a great deal over the past dozen months as I tend to feel sorry for myself and withdraw into my own world when life becomes too overwhelming for me.

I guess the silver lining here . . . the "lesson to be learned" . . . the perspective one might take while viewing the glass as half-full (which I often don't) would be that we are all stronger after a particularly vulnerable year. And that is absolutely true. I have become more resilient, better equipped to handle unexpected problems thrown my way, and - miraculously - more patient. I am learning to see the beauty and love and joy in my life exactly as it is in this moment in time, right now, TODAY. To stop thinking things will be "better" when we have more money, when we live in a bigger house, or my personal favourite, "when the kids are a little older" and to start believing that things are better NOW.

I started looking for a job this fall when money was tight in hopes of securing some type of employment that would give us benefits, as the Crafty Dad's current employer does not offer them. (This is a big deal when you have three children and need to pay for dental appointments, eye care, orthotics for a foot condition, etc.) I worried that employers would not take me seriously or would have a problem with the five year gap in my resume - even though it is jam packed with volunteer work and other accomplishments I have worked on while I have stayed home to raise my three Things over the past five (nearly six) years. After submitting numerous applications, following up, and waiting patiently for weeks, I received absolutely no interviews.

Not one.

I even contacted the school board to see if I could return to work in January. They suggested I apply to any opening spots that surfaced in December. I applied to a couple dozen - again, not even one single interview. I applied for communications and PR jobs (a field I worked in before I went into teaching), also with no leads and no luck. Perhaps I am naive, but I really thought my talent, my personality, my work experience, and my lengthy education background would have secured me a job . . . somewhere.

Instead of letting myself get discouraged or down, I decided that the preferred course of action for me to take was to view this as a sign that what I am doing right now is perhaps exactly what I am meant to be doing right now.

I've spent a number of the past few months worrying that I have been having a mid-life crisis. (This assumes, of course, that I will die shortly after age 70.) And while I don' t truly believe it is a mid-life crisis that I am experiencing, a lot of the research I have done lately leads me to believe I am going through an evolution shared by many mothers of young children . . . especially those who stay at home. I've experienced what I can only explain as a real loss of identity. Who am I? I am mother to three, wife to one, daughter to two, dog owner of one, sister to one . . . and so many things to a plethora of others. But I often feel my individuality seeping away, drifting off into the atmosphere of life, and I really don't know how to get it back.

So. As cliche as it may sound, my most significant and important New Year's Resolution for 2010 will be to find and realize myself as an individual again. As Shannon - the human being. I will always be mother and wife and daughter and sister, but I know there is more lurking within and I am confident I can bring it to the surface.

Here, in no particular order, are the rest of my resolutions for the upcoming year:

I am going to lose ten pounds. Not "I'll be healthier and more fit" in 2010, but a firm and concrete goal. I plan to do this by the end of March.

I have committed to joining the Fishbowl's Shopping Embargo for the next three months. Yes, that's right. Absolutely no shopping for the next three months.

I am going to become a better listener.

I am going to start living more days as if they were my last.

Starting today.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Alight at Night

Last night we piled our three Things into our mini-van and headed south east towards the town of Morrisburg, Ontario. We went to see the famous Upper Canada Village's "Alight at Night" display. For those still trying to decide whether or not to make the trek - absolutely do it! It runs until Sunday night and is only an hour drive from Ottawa. There is lots to see and do there, for kids and adults of all ages.

The three Things really enjoyed the horse-drawn wagon ride through the village. The view of the lights across the water and throughout the village was absolutely spectacular. My shots don't do it justice as I am still such a beginner photographer. I really couldn't get good night shots without a tripod - which I didn't bring with me. It was a bit chilly, so my hands were shaky, making most of the shots with no flash too blurry.

When the cold began to hit us (and in all honesty, we chose a great night to be there, the weather was pretty decent for Ottawa in December) we stopped at the life-size gingerbread house for some home-made cookies and fresh hot chocolate. You can see a great view of the village lights behind the three Things and their dad.

Thing 1 was absolutely smitten with his hot chocolate in a "coffee cup" with a real Starbucks-type lid. He's been talking about his "drinking coffee" episode non-stop for the past 24 hours.

We were able to browse through the displays of contestants and award-winners of the Canadian Gingerbread Competition. Let me tell you . . . these were no trailer park gingerbread homes. These were the cream of the crop, upscale Bel-Air mansion gingerbread homes. They were really fantastic and the three Things offered to do some sampling - completely against the rules of the competition, of course!

This beautifully-lit church was jam packed full of guests joining in to sing Christmas carols. They had the music playing through speakers outside on a nearby skating rink, making the entire atmosphere just that much more festive and merry.

Upper Canada Village will definitely be making an annual appearance on our Christmas schedules for years to come. This is a fabulous activity for families with children of any age. One tip for moms of young children (maybe age two and younger) - bring a backpack or small sled for the little ones. The entire village was larger than we expected so 23-month-old Thing 3 had to be carried a fair bit as her walking on ice and snow skills are not expert yet, by any means.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas - Less WAS More for Us

I promised myself that this year Christmas would be a scaled back one. And I more than impressed myself by delivering just that. Even in the end I could feel myself succumbing to the materialism of Christmas and falling victim to the last minute television commercials telling me that I "needed this" and my children "needed that". But I stood firm in the decision we made as a family, and I am completely and totally satisfied with our Christmas holiday this year.

Each of the three Things received one gift from Santa and one gift each from us. They each had a modest stocking, and then the presents they received from family members. Any adult who received a gift from me opened something home-made. We kept the tree simple, the meals simple, and tried to keep the festivities focused on family and spending time together.

I had been a little bit worried about spending our first Christmas alone, with no extended family around, but it actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. The entire holiday was relaxed, stress-free, fun . . . and did I mention, RELAXED? There were no time pressures, no fighting, no bickering, no traveling in poor weather - just lots of time at home enjoying each other's company without the regular stresses that sometimes plague our ordinarily busy schedules.

We played Wii, we played board games, we read books, we danced, we ate cookies and cake, we drank rum and eggnog (okay, only the adults partook in that activity), and we laughed until we couldn't laugh anymore. We went to Christmas morning mass and celebrated the birth of Christ and all the beauty that surrounds it. I went to bed each night without a care in the world.

Of course, one of the highlights of the whole season was seeing the joy on the Things' faces when they opened their gifts from Santa (joy I was not very good at capturing in photos).

Thing 1 one with a real GI Joe toy (he received a whole set).

Thing 2 mastering his Leapster 2 early on in the day.

Thing 3 snuggling her new Baby Stella.

Happy Holidays to all my family, friends and loyal readers. Here's hoping this Christmas season has been as good to you as it has been to us.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays!

This year marks my first ever Christmas alone in Ottawa with no extended family with whom to celebrate. My mother-in-law is out west, and my parents will be celebrating the big day with my sister and family in New Brunswick. We were hoping to be with them this year, but distance, weather, money, and career commitments all threw various monkey wrenches into the works.

But before you grab your tissues . . . don't go feeling too sorry for me.

The 3 Things, the Crafty Dad, and I will be spending a quiet, relaxing, and joy-filled Christmas day at home on our own this year. There will be no traveling, no (undue) stress, no time constraints, and no pressure to create a perfectly spectacular holiday meal. Yes, we will eat Christmas dinner, but because it will be just the five of us I will roast a simple chicken and prepare our favourite potatoes and veggies. It will be delicious, and I can be certain my three children will eat it.

We will spend Christmas Eve entertaining a few friends and their children, slurping back festive drinks, tasting delicious appetizers, and enjoying a bowl of hot, steaming taco soup before tucking our 3 Things into their beds so that visions of sugar plums may dance in their heads.

See? Not so bad at all. So while I will miss all our extended family, I am eternally grateful to have such a loving, caring family. I am blessed to have three fantastic, healthy, and vivacious children with whom to share every moment of my life; a husband who cares deeply for all of us and is an actively involved and amazing father; a good home to live in, food to eat at every single meal, and the prospect each and every day that, indeed, tomorrow will bring more of the same.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Perfect Christmas Tree

Well, the holidays certainly bring with them the hustle and bustle that make all mommies' heads spin. And I am no exception. I daily think of fabulous and interesting blog posts that never materialize because I simply don't have enough hours in my day. Twenty-four are simply not cutting it, considering I must spend a portion of those sleeping.

So if I can't share with you every single detail of my holiday preparation and festivities, I will have to choose a few choice events with which I can dazzle you.

If we weren't busy enough this past weekend with myriad holiday parties, events and concerts to attend, Mr. Crafty Mom and I decided to pack up our 3 Things and head out into the woods to cut down our very own Christmas tree.

You know . . . cuz why not spend $45 on a tree you cut down yourself, with your own saw, in the middle of the wilderness, instead of driving less than two kilometres to IKEA where they were selling pre-cut trees for $20.

Okay, okay, because then we wouldn't have had the horse-drawn sleigh ride, the home-made cookies and hot chocolate in front of a bonfire, the experience of searching for and contemplating that *perfect* tree, *the* one that was meant for our living room this 2009 holiday season. The pure delight of watching my 23-month-old daughter sound asleep in our LL Bean Sonic Snow Tube while being pulled behind the horse-drawn sleigh. Enjoying the tranquil quietness and simplicity of life far outside the limits of our bustling city. Watching the pristine beauty of rows of evergreen trees as the skies above us open up and a blanket of creamy white, soft, velvety snow flakes descend from the heavens.

And from the Ikea parking lot I never would have experienced the joy in my heart as I observed my nearly two-year-old Thing 3 taking in the adventure around her.

Or witnessed Thing 1 plunging fearlessly backwards into a bed of snow to leave his mark on the world and create his own unique snow angel.

Or to see Thing 2 meticulously inspect each Christmas tree before deciding which species was best for us.

Nor could I have watched my little girl be transferred - sound asleep - from the comfort of her van car seat to our snow tube with her buddy beside her . . .

And to watch her stay asleep for the duration of the sleigh ride out into the forest.

Only to wake up later as we made the colossal decision and prepared to cut down our tree.

And that, my friends, is the story of how we found the perfect Christmas tree.

For those of you brave enough to try this yourself, do take note that a tree that may look small in the middle of a forest, will likely be ten times as large when you get it home in your living room.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Easy Preschool Christmas Craft

I guess I'm lucky that my Things love crafts as much as I do. I'm pretty sure I had them brainwashed at an early age. And now I am trying to keep them busy this holiday season by doing small, easy crafts each day.

This Christmas tree is just drawn free-hand and cut out of card stock. You can also download templates at various children's crafts websites. I then gave the Things free reign to decorate their own little trees as they liked. And they grabbed the bingo daubers, stickers, markers, glitter, and ribbon and got right down to business.

Thing 2 was particularly pleased with his holiday creation.

*** Big huge congratulations to Capital Mom who won my Holiday Card Giveaway last week! Since she doesn't live very far from me, she had her cards delivered to her within 24 hours. How's that for good service? Thanks to everyone who participated!***

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

WW - Halloween Never Ends Around Here

Monday, November 30, 2009

It Took Me a Year to go Manual

A year after taking the plunge and buying our very first DSLR camera, I am finally taking a few pictures in manual setting. And they are . . . ALL RIGHT. Not fantastic, not perfect, not spectacular, but pretty good for a clueless photographer who really and truly doesn't know what she is doing.

I took a course last month at Henrys and although it was very informative, it was the entry level course on the Nikon D60 and I really do already know the camera well. I understand all the menu settings, all the buttons and how to use the preset "chid and pet", "portrait" and other settings. So it wasn't all that helpful for me, and they reminded me that you don't learn how to shoot in manual mode until the second course.

So I decided to save myself nearly $100 and read some good photography blogs and a couple good books (courtesy of my fabulous photographer friend Ben).

And although I am far from having any idea of how to use the settings properly for each shot, I do know what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO mean.

That's a good start, right?

Here are a few shots I took of Thing 1, who was more than happy to be a willing model for me.

And, yes, the last one is absolutely my favourite and probably the best photo I have ever taken in manual mode.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Cards Giveaway!

I presume you realize that if I am having a holiday card giveaway on my blog that my craft sale was not all that successful.

It was relatively fun and I met some nice people, but I did not make millions, and to be truthful, I made just over what I actually paid for the table! So either my cards suck, or this event was just not my clientele.

That being said, I still had a fabulous time making these cards, as I always do, and since I have loads leftover I am happy to offer a set of five holiday cards (including envelopes) to my fabulous readers.

The best part?

You can choose your five favourite cards and I will send them to you! I'll also send you 10 holiday gift tags for some of your Christmas presents. Here are two of my favourite cards, and the full set is here for you to look through.

1. This contest is open to anyone in North America.
2. To enter, you need to leave a comment telling me what you like about hand-made cards.
3. For a second entry, follow my blog or tell me that you already follow me.
4. For a third entry, follow me on Twitter or tell me that you already follow me!
5. For a fourth entry, tweet the contest and tell me that you did it.

I will be drawing for the cards on Thursday, December 3rd at noon because I want to make sure the winner receives the cards well before Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Craft Sale Saturday

This has been an extremely busy week for me - and, yes, every week in my life is busy with three Things running around underfoot, but this week has been exceptionally busy.

I have been preparing for my first real life craft sale! Here are the details - please try and stop by if you are in the Ottawa area! I'd love to see you.

I will be selling my hand-stamped cards at the Carp Cooperative Nursery School Christmas Craft and Bake Sale this Saturday, November 28th. The location is at 3774 Carp Road, Carp, and is open from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

Here are a few samples of my work, and there are much more here.

I had a number of people contact me looking to buy some cards. I have not had time to upload photos and stock my etsy store, so I will be selling whatever is left over from the craft sale as of Monday. Please contact me and I can deliver them, or you can come and browse through them if you like.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Laced Up

Once upon a time, I used to be a figure skater. A real, honest-to-goodness figure skater who wore sparkly, sequent-laden lycra dresses and to this day still has scars on her body from an unfortunate run in with both another skater's ice pick and the boards.

Figure skating was a big part of my life as I grew up. I had patient and dedicated parents who drove my sister and I to and from various rinks all over the province of Nova Scotia. At all hours of the day - and most memorably - in the wee hours of the morning. I loved skating. It became a big part of me. It was a physical outlet and kept me in good shape. It was a creative outlet that allowed me to express myself and channel my artistic energies.

When I moved away from home to go to university in Ottawa, I was able to keep skating a little bit and was fortunate enough to score a great gig coaching. Thus, skating remained a part of my life for another ten years . . . and even helped pay my bills.

So, it should come as no great surprise that I was anxious for my own children to start learning to skate. I jumped the gun a little bit and enrolled Thing 1 in skating lessons a few years ago when he was only two years old. Although it went fairly well, unless you have a ridiculously coordinated toddler I recommend waiting until the child is three or four to register them for lessons. Your back muscles will thank you, because holding a toddler in the upright position under their armpits for 30 minutes wreaks havoc on your posterior.

After spending most of last year doing nothing, I decided it was definitely time to get Things 1 and 2 back on the ice and ready to hone their skating skills. They began taking skating lessons with the City of Ottawa in October and I'm completely impressed with their accomplishments thus far.

Last winter when we skated on our community outdoor skating rink, Thing 2 could barely stand up without being held. Today he skates circles around the other children in his group.

And Thing 1, a nervous and timid skater last winter, is skulling, gliding, skating on one foot and starting to skate backwards!!

It thrills me to have the kids truly excited about an activity in which they participate. They talk about skating lessons all week and wake up early every Saturday because they are so excited to hit the ice. And mommy is secretly pleased as punch that they are not in hockey yet, as she knows exactly the schedules and demands that come along with participation in hockey.

Thing 3 is such a good sport that she frequently comes to the rink to cheer her big brothers on. And mommy cannot wait to enroll her little girl in her first figure skating lessons.


Monday, November 16, 2009

All Five Things Together

It is so incredibly rare that the five of us are ever photographed together, that we basically have no family pictures at all. Having three young Things so close together in age literally leaves me breathless and constantly feeling like I am running behind a train trying to catch up. A family photo shoot has been on my mind since we had Thing 3 (almost TWO years ago now) and we finally had a chance to make my wish come true this weekend.

The very talented Anna from Anna Epp Photography joined us for a fun and relaxing morning of picture taking. I was so pleased that the entire morning was effortless and non-stressful. Other photographers in the past have been very hung up on posing and requiring that we sit still for minutes at a time - completely unreasonable for us with three children five and under. Anna takes a very natural approach and prefers to capture her shots while everyone is at ease and candid.

I'm completely happy with our photos! You can preview more shots from our family photo shoot at Anna's photography blog.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Get Ready for a Few Extra Minutes of Sleep

Ever wish you could grab just 10 or 15 extra minutes to sleep each morning? Is your baby an early riser? When Thing 1 was a wee little thing in his crib, he liked to greet the mornings far too early for my liking. You know what I mean - like, *way* before the newspaper hits your doorstep. I used to wonder what I could do to just have him either a) sleep a bit longer so I didn't have to get up before dawn, or b) find some way to for him to remain happy and occupied in his crib for a good chunk of time.

A mom-to-mom chat with my good friend Kelly soon left me a changed woman. She offered me the gold nugget of parenting tips.

And I am about to offer this tip to you. Drum roll, please.

Find yourself a small container with some sort of clip or edge that will enable you to attach it to the edge of a crib. Those plastic cleaning containers work well (the ones that carry your cleaning bottles in it) although I found this composting container for a couple dollars at Zellers and really liked its sturdiness and size. It also happens to fit perfectly on our crib.

Each night after Thing 3 goes to sleep, I fill up her "crib bucket" with surprises for her to find when she wakes the next morning. I usually include a couple books, her favourite Little People . . . anything small and safe for her to play with on her own in her crib. In the picture below you can see I've also included her Auntie Steph's Monchichi, and our Playmobil pterodactyl.

Later in the evening, when I tuck her in as I embark on my own bedtime routine, I clip the bucket to the edge of her crib so it will be there waiting for her when she wakes up. In the morning, she opens her eyes and is pleasantly surprised by a bucket-full of goodies with which to amuse herself. She pulls out different toys and books each morning, keeping her occupied for a good 30 minutes or so before she begins to call out for me to come get her! I rotate the toys/books quite often, almost every night if I remember, because that seems to be key to keeping her excited about the bucket - the fact that there are different items in it each morning.

I try not to put the bucket in the crib with her at bedtime when she falls asleep, because it does seem to foster a little too much "playing" at bedtime and her crib is strewn with toys and books as she pulls all the items out. Be very careful which items you place inside the bucket - no sharp edges or dangerous toys of any kind. I never put in any books other than board books, as I wouldn't want Thing 3 to rip paper pages and potentially chew on them or choke. I sometimes put in several chunks of Lego, as she just loves putting four or five pieces of Lego together.

Yes, this little trick worked for all three Things. As babies, they grew to really look forward to their "buckets of fun" and ended up being very content and happy each morning as they woke up. Rarely did we ever hear fussing from our babies in the mornings, and to this day they are still all content and cheerful when they get up in the mornings.

I do not recommend adding the bucket to the crib of a younger infant. It is too dangerous until a baby is able to sit up on their own very well, hold toys, flip through the pages of a book, etc. I did not use the bucket for any of our children before they were at least nine or ten months old. And it is perfect for ages 15-20 months, when they are very curious and love reading books and are beginning to play with toys on their own.

So there you go . . . grab yourself a crib bucket, fill it up, and grab some zzzzs (or an early morning cup of coffee!) before your little one gets up.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Leaf Extravaganza

Monday, November 09, 2009

Is it Christmas Card Time Already?

I can hardly believe it is that time of year already. It seems like just yesterday it was summer and the Things and I were dipping our toes in the frigid Atlantic Ocean. But alas, reality has hit and Halloween is behind us (which wasn't very exciting around these parts as two of the Things were quite sick with bad colds, hence the lack of photos), signaling the green light for retailers round the globe to deck their halls, decorate their winter wonderlands, and inaugurate the never-ending rotation of Christmas advertisements that we will inevitably be forced to endure over the next seven weeks.

That being said - I do love the holidays! The festive season, the baking, the traditions, trimming the tree, late nights wrapping gifts and, of course, the Christmas cards. I am selling a few of my cards at a small craft fair here in Ottawa later this month, so I've been trying to come up with a variety of different styles that will suit everyone's needs. And I'm experimenting with some different "non-traditional" holiday colours, just to be different. A couple of the cards I made at a class a few weeks ago. My days are so busy lately, I really hope I can complete enough cards . . . and maybe even manage to make enough for us to send out this year!

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