Review of Once a Month Mom freezer cooking


This fall, my husband and I came to the realization that our days needed more hours, our weeks needed more days and our months… Well, you get the idea. We considered hiring a cleaning service but my husband was very reluctant to spend good money on such a futile endeavour. “Might as well just burn your money” he said and I have to say that if our housecleaning is any indication, nothing would feel more like lighting-up a big money cigar than hiring a cleaning service. We also want to avoid raising our kids to be picked-up or cleaned-up after. When people ask us: “8 kids! You must have a cleaning lady?!” we always answer: “No, that’s what the kids are for.” Our children are growing-up in affluence and we are fighting a daily battle against entitlement and ungratefulness. The cleaning service is one bridge too far.

So we went back to the drawing table to cut back some minutes to our hours. We found that the repeated assault of cooking three meals a day for 10 people was punching a hole in our ability to do anything in the evening, including but not limited to go to bed early. I would come home from work, start cooking supper. My husband would drive the children left, right and centre while I took care of the four younger children’s bedtime routine. Then around 9 pm we would meet-up in the kitchen to survey the damage. Around 11 pm, we’d be done with the kitchen clean-up and dishes extravaganza, tired, grumpy and looking forward to the same hellish routine the next day.

My husband suggested looking into catering and batch-cooking services like Supper Works. We had a mild case of sticker shock: catering is closer in price to eating in a restaurant than eating at home. The premium on Supper Works’ ingredients was significant and the concept not at all adapted to cooking for a large family: we would have had to buy two or three meal packages to cover our family’s needs, yet, feeding a family of 10 is not necessarily double the price of feeding a family of 5. Supper Works is a good option for families who would otherwise eat out: compared to the cost of a restaurant entrée, Supper Works figures competitively. But it is double the price of buying the ingredients yourself.

A friend suggested Once a Month Mom (OAMM): “It takes the thinking out of batch cooking, and your older kids can help too: the instructions are very easy to follow.”  I was ready to give it a try and chose one of their free past menus. Because their menus are planned around seasonal ingredients – whatever that means, I live in Canada where nothing is seasonal for 8 out of 12 months – I went with their November 2011 menu and gave it a try at the beginning of last December. In mid-December, I also tried one of their Mini-Menus to plan a batch-cooking party for a friend who had recently adopted twins.

First, you would be well advised to read through the website for instructions on getting off to a right start. The menus are organized around three main documents: the Grocery List, the Recipe Cards and the Instructions. The Grocery List and Recipe Cards are Google Docs spreadsheets based on the quantities needed to feed one person for a month. You enter the number of people you are cooking for and the software does its magic: the finished product is a detailed grocery list and a series of recipes with the exact amount of all the ingredients required by the menu. We spent an inordinate amount of time formatting the documents in Excel to print it. The getting-started instructions state clearly that the documents are optimized for Google Docs, not Excel. The first take-home message is to download the documents in Google Docs… And read through the website before starting for other pivotal tidbits of information.

We chose the Whole Foods menu because it came closest to the way we cook at home: mostly from scratch, using real food. We printed our grocery list and off we went on a big day of shopping. Planning ahead, you can buy your groceries throughout the month to mimic the ebb and flow of meal preparation, freezing the meat as you go. Buying all the ingredients for a month of freezer meals in one afternoon is not for the faint of heart. We came home with a much lighter wallet and a full-size van full of food. We shopped at Costco for the most part, especially the meat part. (Make sure ahead of time that there is room in your fridge for all the food). Now, we were committed!

I got-up early the next morning and started cooking.

Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!
Starting bright and early with my crack-of-dawn baby, still in our pajamas!

I didn’t appreciate how intense this cooking extravaganza would be and didn’t make arrangements to have my children looked after. Thankfully, my husband had no commitments that weekend and was able to do most of the baby-chasing, adjusted for whoever was on my back at any given time. Take-home message number two is to plan your weekend well in advance, including childcare and whatever your family will eat for the duration. When I did the Mini-Menu for my friend, some members of my local babywearing community came to help. Half the moms were in the kitchen working while the other half was looking after the little ones. It was a good old-fashioned cooking party: this is how it was done during harvest season when harvesting and preserving had to be done in one shot to avoid spoilage. It’s a lot more fun to do it with friends and if I can figure out a way of pricing meal-units, I would like to organize a batch-cooking coop of some kind.

Believe it or not, I went to the grocery store without reading the recipes first. That’s your third take-home message: study the recipes first. I didn’t realize until I was about to start a batch of 30 enchilada that the Whole Food menu was making tortilla and bread from scratch! Of course, homemade panini bread and tortilla are an order of magnitude better than what you buy in the store. But if you are trying to make a month of freezer meals for 10 people in one week-end (that’s 300 individual meals by the way), you may elect to skip the part where you hand-roll 72 tortilla, know what I mean? Thankfully, I received crucial and timely help from my mother and my daughters who were giddy at the thought of making a recipe that started with “Pour 34 cups of flour into a large bowl…”

My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My two daughters making the tortilla dough.
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army
My long-suffering mother, hand-rolling tortilla for an army

Reading recipes will also highlight any differences of culinary vocab and allow you to adjust. I peeled and “cubed” 21 cups of butternut squash – a real pain in the butt if you ever had one – until I realized that by “cubed” they meant “quartered” (and ready to roast in their peel). Duh, there went 2h I’ll never get back.

Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it's 11 pm on this picture.
Is the finish result worth it? Hell yeah, but it’s 11 pm on this picture.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly spent. Don’t underestimate the effort involved in making all your meals in one day: it’s a concentration of 30 days of dinners all in a 48h period. If anything, it highlights the cumulative effort of feeding your family every single month: give yourself a vigorous pat in the back family cooks! I crashed on the couch around 9 pm and promptly fell asleep. I was drooling on a couch pillow when my husband gently shook me and told me to go to bed.

I didn’t finish all my freezer meals in one weekend. The limitations of the spreadsheet are that it calculates like a robot without consideration for the size of your cookware. The reasoning behind batch cooking is that you cook in double or triple batches. OAMM doesn’t provide you with 20 different meals: it offers about 8 recipes that are repeated three times over the course of the month. But as any mother of a large family will attest, a single meal for 10 people already doubles or triples most recipes. So if you follow the reasoning behind OAMM batch cooking, I was cooking in sextuple and octuples batches… Well, nobody has a pot large enough to make a octuplet batch of beef Bourguignon : I found myself having to make several meals (like the boeuf Bourguignon and the risotto) in 2 or 3 separate batches…. And while I was making my third double batch of risotto, nothing else was happening. I am blessed that my twins’ caregiver has a past life in catering: I was able to go to work and  leave her with my OAMM recipes and ask her to please, pretty please, do anything to save the meat and as much produce as possible. We did finish with minimal spoilage…. I think I lost the bottom third of my pre-chopped onions. All in all, not a bad average on a $800 grocery.

So what do I think about OAMM? Is it worth it? You will ask yourself that question as you buy all your groceries for the month and slave away in the kitchen for 48 insane hours. But this week, I took out my meals in the morning and we ate without messing-up the kitchen. Our children are going to bed earlier and my husband started reading novels out loud to our son – he’s 6, they are reading Kenneth Oppel’s Airborne at bed time. I have been going to bed at 9 pm on average and it is allowing me to take advantage of my twin boy’s longest sleep stretch: I get 3-4 hours of sleep in a row before he starts waking up every 2 hours, for the first time in almost 18 months. And I learned a few things in this first OAMM experience that I will tweak for next month in order to finish within the Friday night-to-Sunday window. Here they are in no particular order:

–          I will study my recipes beforehand and see which corners I can cut. Tortillas will be store-bought although it will be difficult to go back.

–          I will skip the breakfast menu unless it involves casseroles that are substantial enough to be used as a dinner. Like the Tahoe Brunch Casserole http://www.cabbi.com/recipes/detail/200 We eat toasts and cereals at breakfast, I need to focus my energy on dinner.

–          Pancake recipes, however delicious, take-up too much time and RAM to work in the context of a busy cooking day. I burned 95% of my lemon poppy seed pancakes, which was a damn shame.

–          The Whole Food menu includes a few vegetarian entrees but is still very heavily meat-centered. I bought much more meat in my OAMM trial month that  I usually do, by a factor of 2, possibly 3. Next time, I will probably make one Whole Food Mini-Menu and one Vegan Mini-Menu to even it out.

–          OAMM is American and wow, holy stinkin’ cow they love their dairy fat!! There is an unholy quantity of butter and cheese but mostly butter, and heavy cream too, in their recipes. Their pumpkin risotto recipe was heavenly but wow, with Maple Syrup, it would have been a perfect dessert. A lot of the Whole Food Menu’s vegetarian recipes were heavy on milk fat. A vegetarian diet is not healthier if you replace lean protein by butter. Just sayin’

OAMM is well thought out and does take the thinking out of batch cooking. Their recipes are tasty and varied and so far, none have fallen flat with my family. It is well-worth the intensity of the big cooking day. Try it and persevere: you’ll be glad you did.

Unsolicited advice : The potty training edition.


I posted a reply about potty training on a local parenting group. As I was writing it, it occurred to me that I had already given the same advice on the same group page. And elsewhere. Many, many, times. In fact, if I had a dime every time someone asked me for potty training advice and I answered, I would be a millionaire. In fact, I would be a “Parenting Expert”. Heck, by now I may even be on Oprah… Or whatever show people are on these days.

Maybe you came to that post through Google. Maybe you did a Google search about “potty training advice” and the robots lead you here. And maybe right now, you are expecting me to tell you how I trained my kids in 3 days with no accident. Maybe you are expecting to read on how to train your kid in 3 days with no accident. Presumably, and unfortunately, you’ve been trying for 3 months with no success and you are desperately looking for the magic word, the key to unlock your child’s underwear potential. This post may disappoint you.

Because I am not going to tell you how to train your child, even though several of my 6 potty-trained children trained in (almost) 3 days without (barely any) accident. Nope. In this post, I will tell you how to train yourself so your child can train herself.

(I feel like I should add that this post applies to children and parents who do not have any physical or mental illnesses that could undermine the potty training process. But we knew that, right? Goes without saying.)

Whenever parents write to me for potty training advice, their story comes in variations of:

–          We started potty training. It worked at first, and then we had a setback (new baby, travel, illness etc.).

OR

–          We started potty training and it never worked.

Now potty training is a scene right out of a horror movie. There is screaming, crying and threatening and that’s saying nothing about the child. There is hiding in a closet to poop or pee, and when not hiding there is laughing while soiling pants in front of the parents. Poop and pee is either coming out in inappropriate places, undies being the least of it, or has completely stopped coming out.  There is suffering the complications of retained fluids and feces: bladder infections, anal injuries, severe constipation. The relationship with the child is going down the drain (pun intended). Every week brings a new gimmick, a new approach, a new potty training miracle method. Parents and child go through positive reinforcement, threats, punishments, rewards, stickers, Smarties, in short cycles of emotionally charged back-and-forth.

STOP. IT’S NOT WORKING. STOP, PLEASE.

There are a few important principles of potty training that need to be well-understood before success can be achieved. Accepting them may not lead your child to toilet reliability overnight but it will save your sanity and prevent any long term physical and emotional damage in your child’s toilet parts.

Principle 1 : You cannot use the toilet for your child and you cannot make your child poop or pee. This may sound so obvious, but this is where most parents bite the dust and stay down. Potty training may be the first time parents have no control over what their child does or decides not to do. Your children’s sphincters are completely out of your reach. The interaction between your child’s brain and her sphincter is ever farther out of your reach.

When parents ask me for potty training advice, I often feel like they are asking me “How can I control my child’s sphincters?” You can’t, you never will. None of us who have achieved early potty training success have done so because we could control our child’s bowel/bladder function. We did because our children were willing, able and receptive to potty training.

If you feel like potty training is a loss of control and you are grasping for a way to retain control; if you feel like you are caught in a battle of wills with your child over potty training, stop. Put your child back in diapers and start again when you accept that this matter is out of your hands.

Principle 2: There is a difference between normal potty behaviour and abnormal potty behaviour. Don’t ignore abnormal potty behaviour. When emotions run high, it is too easy to lose perspective. Toddler is stubborn: normal. Toddler is defiant: normal. Toddler screams in pain when using the toilet or holds back urine for days: not normal!!  Too often, I get potty training stories that include all of the above in one sentence. Whoahhhh… If your child sounds like she’s delivering triplets, maybe it’s time to back off and let her body heal. Put your child back in diapers until her bodily functions run normally and you learn the difference between stubborn and severely constipated.

Principle 3: Using sphincters won’t happen if pain is the outcome. Toddler soils his pants; he gets a clean-up in the cold shower. That’ll teach him, right? Wrong! A cold shower was the outcome of using his sphincters. You are holding baby on the potty until she pees. She screams, you get mad, eventually you win. Right? Nope. She now associates using the potty with intense frustration and anger. Toddler poops in the closet so he gets a spanking. He was willfully defiant and you had to act. Fine. But now he associates pooping with a spanking. Don’t make pain the outcome of using the sphincters. There is two kinds of response to bowel/bladder movement: the positive response and the no response. Don’t allow pain or shame to become part of the pottying equation: remember Principle 1.

Principle 4: You potty trained a long time ago; you are conditioned to pee and poop in the toilet. Your frustration comes in part from not understanding why something so simple can be so complicated. Sit, pee, done. Right? Wrong! Deconstructing peeing and pooping really helped me understand why my child was struggling. Since birth, your child has never held a pee. He doesn’t associate the sensation of holding pee with the need to go. He doesn’t associate the need to go with the need to hold it. He doesn’t associate the need to hold it with the need to hold it long enough to find a toilet. Once he’s learned to hold it, he needs to learn to let it go, which is not the same as just going in a diaper. Then he needs to learn to let it all go and recognize the sensation of an empty bladder. It’s not that simple, it is difficult, and you getting mad only add an emotional component where one shouldn’t be.

Until you understand these principles, put your child in diapers and don’t meddle with her healthy body. Don’t allow potty training to become a battle of will: this is your responsibility. Once you have accepted those 4 principles, write to me, I’ll tell you how I potty trained my children. It may not have taken 3 days; it may not have been accident-free. But we never cried, never screamed, and only got mildly constipated.

Twins Birth Story: Quick, normal, natural and uneventful.


I recently met several mothers expecting twins and I decided to post my birth story along with my Birthday Flikr photostream. The Internet is full of stories of how wrong things can get, I thought I would share my very boring story of a healthy full-term, hospital, natural, twin delivery. It’s not a beautiful home water birth or a terrifying train wreck. It happened in the operating room of a tertiary care centre in Ottawa, ON. All photo creds go to my oldest daughter Clara, minus one or two pictures taken by Dr. Doug Black, attending OB-Gyn extraordinaire.

Clara, taking a selfie. Aren’t we having fun?
The cast of characters: my doctor, his most amazing and highly competent resident and my nurse Sue.

First, some stats. My twins were di-zygotic, conceived from two fertilized eggs. Growing in-utero, they had two of everything: two amniotic bags, two placentas. We learned that we were expecting twins at 15 weeks of gestation. The girl was on the left, the boy as on the right and presenting first. They stayed like that until the end. Continue reading “Twins Birth Story: Quick, normal, natural and uneventful.”

My little stowaway


I had a moment the other night. Many people, me included before I had a large family, think that moms with lots of kids have it easier. That they are more patient, more loving, that their children are more manageable. But the truth is that even moms with lots of kids have moments when they think this is all a little too much. Moments we don’t brag about on Facebook.

Since the twins were born, the nights have not been great. But while I am severely sleep-deprived, I am functional as long as the routine holds. I can deal with a crappy night. But when it gets crappier, I have moments. Moments of intense frustration, almost anger.

Ève sleeps better than Lucas. She usually wakes-up once a night between 3 and 4 am after going to bed between 6 and 7 pm. She nurses quickly and goes back to sleep. Lucas sleeps with me and wakes-up constantly. I ditched the clock when it started to make me angry. I don’t know how often he wakes-up and it’s better that way.

The other night, around 11 pm, Lucas woke-up as usual and I nursed him for a good half-hour. Then Ève woke-up against regulation. She wanted to nurse too but there was no more milk. I only have one working boob. When it’s empty, I need to give it some time to refill. That’s just The Way Things Are. But Ève was not buying it. My husband tried to cuddle with her but she became completely hysterical. I tried to nurse her for comfort but she wanted FOOD!

I tried giving her a bottle but she refused.  For a while, she was fine cuddling with me, her watchful eyes wide open. I felt so lonely in the silence of my house, hearing my children and husband snore in the comfort of their beds. For a minute, I hoped that someone would come and sit with me and commiserate on the great injustice that was befalling me. Eventually, after a third dry nursing attempt and following return to bed, she lost it. I offered the breast again and instead of taking it, she grabbed it with her sharp little nails and violently threw it away. It hurt so much; I was so mad, I yelled “ENOUGH!” put her gently in her bed still screaming and walked-away. I may have slammed her door. I went downstairs and crashed on a couch. I heard my husband walk over to her room and pick her up.

I was mad at my body for failing me. Mad at the”insufficient glandular tissue” that made it impossible to produce enough milk for two babies. I was mad at myself for taking it out on Ève, for feeling so misunderstood and helpless, for expecting my 13- month-old to get it. I was mad that my husband had to go comfort our baby because I was too mad to do it myself.

I went back upstairs. I was eventually able to have a let-down and she accepted it as enough of the Good Stuff to return to sleep. My husband said “She needs as much closeness and affection as Lucas, she’s just not as good at asking for it.” And he is right. Lucas is cuddly and melts into your arms like soft butter, Ève gets mad and trashes about until you force the breast or the soother in her mouth and hold her tightly. Only then does she realize that you are here for her.

I went back to the day I found out I was pregnant with Baby#7. I drove the children to school on a snowy morning, stopped by the pharmacy to buy a pregnancy test, came home and took the test with my coat still on, in the downstairs bathroom by the garage door. I remember standing in the mud room thinking “Well… Here’s Lucas…” We told the children about the new baby on a car trip to Florida. When I found out we were having twins, I was so thrilled by this gift of life. A little freebie. A #8 tucked-in with #7. I was looking at our Florida pictures later that year, wondering how crazy it was that we had two babies all along. A little stowaway! For some reason, even though both babies were conceived at the same time, I always thought of Eve as my little stowaway, my little freebie, the little #8 tucked-in with #7.

When Eve woke-up the next morning, I went to nurse her. She laid her little head in the crook of my arm and relaxed against my chest. I stroked her soft wispy hair and kissed her warm round forehead. I looked at her soulful half-moon eyes and told her “I’m so happy you came along. I love you”

And it was all forgotten.

Reflection on daycare, work and the absence of both Pt1


I was privileged to be interviewed for a Globe & Mail piece on childcare. You can find the piece here. When Roma Luciw interviewed me, we were pulling into Rivière-du-Loup Qc after 10 hours on the road. I wasn’t sure what the article would be about but I hoped that I sounded sane. The daycare tipping point, or the decision to stay home or go to work from a daycare cost perspective:

When does it make sense to put your career on hold and look after the kids versus going back to work and forking out the money for child care?

It’s a directed look at childcare and I am always in support of more public discussion about women, family, children and society. But the decision to work for a pay cheque is rarely as one-dimensional as the piece’s angle. I propose this series of posts as a reflection on childcare beyond basic math.   It’s not about assigning blame or responsibility where no blame is deserved or responsibility owed. It’s a reflection about how we can do better for our sake and for our children’s sake.

Continue reading “Reflection on daycare, work and the absence of both Pt1”

Family camping hits and misses: DIY Laundry


My oldest daughter demonstrating the art of washing your own clothes while wearing two camping un-dryables: the hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

When my husband and I planned our summer holidays we decided to make them more than just fun and include a bit of life skills. Since we have 5 daughters — including, to be honest, an infant who still wears whatever the heck I say — frugality in their change of clothes was a survival skill that was sorely lacking. And by survival, I mean mostly my own as the Chief Laundry Matron.

To teach the girls frugality in their change of clothes, we decided to skip the laundromat altogether and make the children wash their own clothes. We purchased a large yellow janitor’s bucket-on-wheel with a mop wringer. We hoped to use it as a laundry-washer-and-wringer. We also went shopping for a proper hand-washing laundry detergent. My first lesson in DIY laundry was to learn that not all gentle detergents are created equal. In other words, there is gentle machine detergent and there is hand-washing detergent. For longer-term use, you cannot get away with repeatedly (read daily) washing clothes by hand in machine detergent. I learned this at the last minute and left with a jug of grocery-store bought Ivory Snow. It did the job but in the future I will shop for something meant to be dumped back into the ground.

The laundry routine got off to a bad start when we realized that the yellow janitor bucket would not fit in the camping trailer. Well, not with our current rate of packing. Fitting 10 in a trailer meant for 7 doesn’t only mean that you will be cozy — read “cramped”– it also means that you are storing more stuff than the trailer was meant to store. Leaving the wringer at home meant hand-wringing and putting-up very wet clothes to dry.

The drying time was a problematic issue. When camping in PEI, where the weather was dry and windy, our clothes took half a day to dry. But in Quebec where the weather was hot, humid and the campsites shaded, drying took at least two days. I say “at least” because we left Quebec City with a basket full of wet clothes that finished drying in the St-Lawrence River wind in Riviere-du-Loup.

The drying issues didn’t stop with the weather. Another challenge came, what’s new, from the size of our family. Even with washing small loads daily, I didn’t have enough clothesline to hang 10-people’s clothes. I relied on a folding drying rack but stacking clothes side-by-side also lengthens drying time. Add the daily load of beach towels and bathing suits and the drying real estate comes at a premium. Last winter as we were planning our trip, I made a list of camping clothes I wanted to find for the children. It included a lot of active wear from MEC in synthetic fibers and nylon blends for quicker drying. I was hoping to find most of it in consignment stores but didn’t follow-through with as much enthusiasm as clothing 8 kids on a budget warrants. We left with our usual canvas and t-shirts. And those take a long time to dry, especially when they sport fancy add-on such as cargo pockets and shelf bras. To top it off, some children — who shall remain anonymous — tossed the carefully crafted list of “Things to Bring” and packed their own duffel bags with enough clothes to bypass the entire laundry exercise. Not only didn’t they learn anything about laundry frugality but we tripped on their humongous kit bags for two weeks, shedding bits and pieces of sanity with every hit.

Laundry logistics was also a concern in the planning of our daily activities. To be kept under control, the laundry monster had to be fought a little daily. But planning daily laundry without interfering with the hot water needs of mealtimes and personal hygiene made it difficult to leave the trailer. I had to face the fact that regardless of the value of the learning experience, 6 people doing a handful of laundry daily was seriously inefficient. In the interest of having a family holiday, I ended-up doing most of everybody’s laundry. Overall, I washed half of our total laundry burden by hand and took advantage of laundromats for the other half.

I’m not giving-up on DIY laundry and the teaching of clothes frugality. Next time, we will bring the wringer bucket even if I have to toss a few overstocked items (like the playpen and my guitar: really, we c0-sleep… in a 26X8 ft camper trailer… why did I think that (a) I would use the playpen, and (b) I would play a musical instrument after bedtime. Why?). I will also carefully oversee my children’s packing to make sure that they don’t bring their entire wardrobe and that their clothes are easy to wash and dry. And I will buy a washboard. That will be the best part.

Camping with baby (ies)


We just left for our 3-week trailer adventure, towing our little house (emphasis on little) all the way from Ottawa to the maritimes with some fun stops along the way. One of the challenges of fitting 10 in a trailer made for 9 (on paper, reality is more like 7) is what to do with the babies. The trailer is either in eat mode or sleep mode with strictly enough room to do one thing at a time: prepare food or sleep. The outside is dirt.

Before going any further, let the record show that camping with babies is a royal nuisance and should be avoided. But if you can’t avoid it because, like me, you have other children for whom the definition of a good time goes beyond napping at regular intervals in their own bed, then you may need to find ways to compensate for the sheer lousiness of camping with infants.

(Some people camp with baby because they love camping and want to share their love of sleeping on dirt with their unappreciative infant/toddler. There is nothing I can say to help these folks.)

(As another aside, my 3 year-old just fell asleep singing “I want to go home to sleep” on the tune of Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift. So there.)

But yes, so you have to camp with infants or toddlers because you have ABSOLUTELY NO OTHER CHOICE and you are looking for tips to make your life more pleasant or at the very least less miserable. My first tip would be to get a cheap wading pool (cheap as in $15 is too much) and bring a bag of toys. The wading pools are the first things out of the trailer and the twins have a clean dry place to play. They can also be filled with one inch of water and placed in the shade at the splash pad on a hot day.

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Sleeping in tents with babies can and will be a pain in the neck. And the lower back. Co-sleeping has been our saving grace. For Lucas especially, home is where the boob is. And it may sound like a drag at home but it’s a boon on the road. Here he is snuggling-up to Sarah in the queen size bed we share.

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Of course, co-sleeping can be dramatic especially when you wake-up with your 3 year-old violently throwing-up on you. This morning’s shower was the best ever and it is with little sleep and some unplanned laundry that we hit the road for the second leg of our RV extravaganza!

Sunset Ceremony: Life in Ottawa


I mentioned in a previous post that the heroism in raising a large family is not always the endless march of chores (although it is relentless) but the ability to stop, breathe and do anything else than laundry, cooking and cleaning. When the children were younger… Let me rephrase that… When my older children were younger and we only had 4, we would go for hikes in the Gatineau Park, attend free family events in the Capital, visit museums, organize camping trips and get-togethers with friends. Since the fifth child, and even more since the sixth, we stopped doing anything but driving, cooking, cleaning… and oh, moving a few times too.

This week, my oldest daughter asked if we could attend the Sunset Ceremony at the RCMP musical ride headquarters. Once a year, the RCMP Musical Ride puts on a free show in Ottawa before leaving on their summer tour. Attending requires some wit as parking is limited and the best seats go quickly. We prefer to park at the Aviation Museum and walk 15 minutes (adult pace). Ideally, we would bring lawn chairs and a picnic and camp there no later than 6:00-6:30. The show ends at sunset with the lowering of the Canadian flag. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate Canadian culture and heritage and to teach the children about flag etiquette (because you know… more culture is better than less.) “Yes, every flag has to be lowered at sunset and put away.” “Yes, even the flag hanging off the neighbour’s front porch…”

This year, we were treated to a performance by the Canadian Sky Hawks, complete with wind change and crowd landing. I ended-up under a Sky Hawk parachute on Canada Day as a child. Memories… Now I watch the size of their boots and the speed of their descent and shudder.That being said, I was giddy as a little girl this week as we waited for the Hercules to drop its high performing cargo. I told my daughter: “There’s a fascinating mix of anal retentiveness and recklessness: they have to be obsessive about their kits and jump drills, yet they jump off a plane and do unnatural stunts with a parachute.” I could never take that step off the Hercules.

My husband is a rock star


Not a real rock star, of course. But he rocks more than the other husbands and that makes him a rock star. Photo credit to my two oldest (and apparently talented) children, who are not supposed to touch the D90 under pain of death. You are so busted.

12-ish years ago, we bought a canoe at Canadian Tire. We used it a couple of times to go camping. In fact, my last memory of using the canoe was at Silver Lake. I peed on a stick that morning and found out we were expecting Marie. My last memory of the canoe is therefore tinged with morning sickness. With 4 then 5 children, activities like camping took a sabbatical and the canoe sat — or rather lied — unused in three consecutive backyards. Until now.

The pond
Tall grass

When the children saw the pond behind our rental house they immediately thought of great canoeing adventures. When their dad asked where he should set-up the trampoline in the backyard, David’s answer was immediate:

On the island! This way it will be double the fun!

Trampo-freaks entertaining the neighbourhood
Trampoline Island

(it has not occurred to my little country bumpkin that the patch of grass behind our patio door is our only backyard. The pond belongs to the Crown according to the developer and the developer according to the City.)

Cloudscape
Plane

Last weekend, my husband took the children for a turn in the canoe. The pond is a rainwater catchment area landscaped to serve as a recreational path and  bird sanctuary. The children returned from their expedition with tales of seeing Aaron-the-Heron (and his partner-in-majestic-flight Erin-the-Heron) up real close and meeting a little water mammal in the cracks of the man-made retaining wall. My husband was proud to be fit enough to portage his vehicle to and from the pond. I never had any doubts.

Our teenage daughter and son ran around the pond taking pictures of the expedition laughing as they heard kids yelling from their backyards: “They have a CANOE!!” Meanwhile I could just imagine the exasperated look on their parents’ faces. “Two years doing just fine telling the kids we weren’t allowed on the pond, and they move with their 8 kids and A CANOE… There goes the neighbourhood!”

Since September we have not taken nearly enough time to pause and spend time doing something cool with the children. This little expedition around our suburban paradise reminded me just how simple building memories can be. In a large family, all too often the heroism is not in the endless march of chores but in being able to stop long enough to do something else.