Daily blog: Change, Change, Change Part 2


I started this blog post yesterday by sharing a condensed version of our move to and from the country. A friend asked me to write about change and it may be trite to say that change is the only constant in life but when we see how much energy people expand to fight or avoid change, maybe we haven’t explored it as much as we should.

Let’s have a little brain lesson. I’m not a brain scientist, neither do I play one on the Internet. From my board-book level of understanding, our brains have three parts. The lizard brain is responsible for primary functions such as fight, flight, freeze, feed, fear, and fornication. The limbic brain is responsible for emotions, habits and motivations, the things you do automatically but not out of survival. And finally the frontal cortex, responsible for higher order thinking. So imagine that you’re driving your car. Your lizard brain makes sure you are breathing, your limbic brain is fastening your seatbelt and driving the car, and your neo-cortex is worrying about your grocery list.

The lizard brain hates change. The lizard brain doesn’t do the higher thinking. It’s not triangulating competing information. It identifies changes in patterns and reacts to them. Imagine you’re driving again. It’s dark and windy. Suddenly a leaf blows across your windshield and you slam the breaks. That fear response is your lizard brain reacting to a change in pattern, protecting you from the saber tooth tiger about to pounce. You didn’t take time wondering if this was a leaf or a deer, you just reacted. Your lizard brain hates change. Your lizard brain needs a steady state to be able to see the subtle move of the saber-tooth tiger among the branches.

Everyone who has ever accomplished anything has had to overcome their lizard brain. The lizard brain is the little demon on your shoulder telling you not to go for it. It’s the voice threatening you with loneliness and destitution if you speak-up, if you follow through with an idea, if you show your art, if you share your music. It’s the fear that keeps you in an abusive relationship or in a dead-end job. It prevents you from challenging the status quo, from pushing boundaries, from believing in yourself.

Every time I sing in public, my lizard brain is hard at work trying to get me off the stage. It’s stiffening my diaphragm, tightening my throat, reminding me that I am a fraud and wondering who the heck I think I am. Every time I get on stage, I remind myself that there is no threat. That my lizard brain evolved to protect me from saber tooth tigers and sharks, not from embarrassment. “There is no shark” is my stage fright mantra.

Some people are more beholden to their lizard brain than others. Some people are terrified of change while others seek it out. There’s something about challenges, like poison, that builds strength in increments. We train for the day we need to lift a car by adding 10 lbs to our back squats every week. We build a tolerance to Iocane powder by taking a little bit in our drink every day. Flexibility and resistance take practice.

When I started thinking about writing this post, I reflected on the changes our family had been through over the years. Our nine children are very resilient to change, each in their own way. They have wildly different temperaments, personalities, and challenges and they have been born over an 18-year span, meaning that we changed as parents between having Clara and Damien. Our circumstances have changed, our parenting style has changed, we got older, fought our own demons, thought better of things. Looking back on 11 moves in 22 years, switching from school to homeschool and back to school, changing priorities, correcting course and, of course, adding more children as we went along, I’m starting to see lessons emerge. Things we did — not always intentionally — to help our children manage big changes without losing themselves.

I’ll share them in Part 3 of this post. Tomorrow.

On the cost of having kids


 
My friend Andrea Mrozek from Cardus posted this article on my Facebook page asking for my thoughts: Many Canadians Too Cash-Strapped to Have Children. In the discussion that ensued, working parents noted that daycare was expensive, stay-at-home parents noted that daycare was not a necessity, those who have several children noted that the bills don’t multiply as the family grows, and those feeling the crunch noted that it doesn’t have to multiply to be unaffordable.
 
News articles about the affordability of children are a sure sign of Spring and their conclusions are as predictable as the proverbial lark.
 
The cost of raising children looms large in the eye of many and seems inexistent in the eyes of others. How critical “affordability” is to our family size decisions is prone to reflect our own values about family, money, and security, rather than our spreadsheets. Our upbringing, beliefs and life experience anchor our ideas about family and money. The financial argument comes to bolster the life decisions we already made.
 
The Globe article sets a figure of $13,900 a year to raise a child born in 2015. Yeah, ok, whatever. Daycare in Ontario will run you about $2000/month per child which adds up to $24,000/year give-or-take a few weeks. The figure looks astronomical when viewed as a bill but childcare workers earn less than the average parking attendant. I’ve been described as generous for paying my babysitters over minimum wage — throw in room and board for our nannies — but if I can trust my latte to $12/hour barista I don’t see why my children shouldn’t be. For if where our treasures are, there our hearts be also, our Nation’s vehicles rank above our children.
 
I have 9 children. Beyond “do you know what causes that?” the questions I get most often are “What does your husband do?” and “How can you afford it?” My husband is a self-employed consultant in the Defense sector. I moonlight as a technical writer. We never considered finances in our decision to have more children because we never had to. We’re well-off by any definition. Not independently wealthy, the money runs out at some point. My children have to pay their way through University and start holding part-time jobs at age 14. How can we afford it? The same way everyone else does: by not spending more than we make. But don’t let the large family aureola blind you: we are not frugal. We have two dishwashers and two laundry rooms for crying out loud. We could be debt free but we are not. If we were, we could pay for our children’s post-secondary education. It’s all about choices, and most people have choices. We may not like them but we have them.
 
Numbers are numbers. I don’t want to argue about numbers. You can make a statistic admit anything if you torture it long enough. I have friends who have more children than I do on a third of our income. I have friends in the States who do it without health insurance. I have friends with special needs children, orphan conditions, and one income. Whatever your financial excuse for not having more children, I can put you in touch with someone who blows it to smithereens. And the truth is that it won’t change your mind. Because the reason we don’t have more children is because we don’t want to have more children. It doesn’t matter how much we like an idea, our actions make our path.
 
We do not want more children. As a culture, as a collectivity, as a civilization. We admire attachment, vulnerability, and self-sacrifice as the idiosyncrasies of the saints, not as ideals worth the skin off our knees. We condemn individualism in others but we would rather be caught dead than dependent. Functional happy families are about everything our culture despises: self-sacrifice, unconditional love, giving until it hurts. Once a year, Learned Academics release a study stroking our victim narrative: “I would have had 10 kids but for the cost…” so we can avoid admitting that children simply ask more than we can give.
 
When I worked for a Member of Parliament, I received a letter — or rather my boss did — from a woman who had to move back with her parents after her divorce. She had two children and a full-time job as a clerk but her income was not enough to keep them housed and fed. It’s a common story in my area. The five of them, two grandparents, one mom and two children squeezed together in her childhood home. She wrote to complain about the hardships of living on a fixed income in a ballooning economy. “Do you realize, she wrote, how humiliating it is for a woman to move back with her parents because she can’t afford to support her children?” And all I could think of as I drafted my — I mean my boss’ — reply was everywhere else in the world where ganging up together to face hardships is the norm.
 
The cost of raising children is as high as it is because we expect to do it all on our own. Our delusion of independence is an anomaly for which our culture will be remembered. Assuming we leave enough children behind to do the remembering.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Large Family Eating: Meal planning edition


I’m not back to my normal level of cooking and photographing yet so this week I thought I would bore you with my high tech meal planning tool and how I use it.

First, a few ground rules.

  • I do not shop specials. We live in the country and the mileage involved in shopping specials makes it moot. My time is valuable.
  • I buy all my meat from Costco. Costco’s regular prices usually match grocery store’s sale prices. Someday I will buy ethically produced, grass fed, local meat. I just don’t have the enough cycles to submit to the waiting-lists-suddenly-buy-a-whole-hog game. Someday.
  • My husband does the Costco. He always buys the same things and I figured out how to use them. It’s a modern version of the hunter/gatherer gig: he brings home the mammoth and I cook it. We buy meat, dairy, eggs and bread at Costco, among other things.
  • I do the produce and grocery runs two or three times a week.
  • I’m not sharing how much we pay in groceries every month because (a) it’s obscene, and (b) it increases every week these days.

My meal planning tool is called a clipboard. By that, I mean an actual board with a clip on top where I can affix paper and tuck a writing implement. On the piece of paper, I write the days of the week and I leave room for notes. Notes are usually events or activities that have an incidence on meal preparation. For instance, if we are going to a party or if I need to have supper ready earlier than usual or if I am coming home from an afternoon activity later than 3pm, etc. (because if dinner hasn’t started by 3:00, it’s not happening.) On the right hand side  is a grocery list column, to write…. The grocery list! I know: high tech doesn’t even begin to describe it.

(If you think that Excel would do all this for me, (a) you are probably right, (b) you have never seen me use Excel, it’s stand-up comedy; and (c) some teenager stole my mouse and I’m using the track pad on my lap top 100% of the time. Using Excel with a track pad is prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms under  “cruel and unusual punishment.” I don’t get paid enough for that shtuff.)

 

There’s always song lyrics on my lists. This one is from Taylor Swift ‘s All Too Well. That song is superbly written. I have a songwriting hobby that is mostly limited to listening to other people’s work and wishing I could write like that.

Once my little spreadsheet is written, I take the clipboard with me for a walk. We have a pantry and two freezers, both of which contain things I can’t remember. I make a menu based of the mammoth parts my husband has hunted down from Costco. Then I check the grocery items I will need to accompany said pieces of meat. I write everything down on the paper with a pen. At that point, I might also ask the family for input since, you know, there is never anything good to eat here. At that point, my entire family might answer: “I don’t know. Food?” And this is how I end-up with hundreds of dollars’ worth of nothing good.

Fries for Friday’s dinner? Check.

(Normally it would be written in French but I made this one just for you).

And there you have it. Large family, high tech, meal planning. The clipboard lives in my purse afterwards.

Before I let you go, I just wanted to share our Sunday meal. My friend Sue’s amazing pulled pork (which I took from the freezer) and beer bread. I had never made beer bread, I didn’t even know what it was, but I got the idea from one of Simcha Fisher’s “What’s for supper?” blog posts. Since I want to be as awesome as Simcha, I decided to give it a try. It’s seriously amazingly good, especially with pulled pork. I used this recipe: http://www.food.com/recipe/beer-bread-73440 and yes, I sifted the flour and it turned out perfectly.

This will definitely make you as awesome as Simcha in the kitchen. As for the becoming a gifted writer and successful blogger,  I’m still working on it.

What’s for supper vol. 5: The generosity of others


This week’s dinner round-up was delegated to the generosity of others. I bring meals to others in their time of need, that’s my shtick, and it has been a singular blessing to have my family fed by others as I recover from last week’s health crisis. Feeding the hungry is at the top of the list of corporal works of mercy in the Catholic Church, it shouldn’t be surprising that a hot meal in a time of need feeds the body as well as the soul. Still it’s one thing to bring a meal to a friend in need and another one to receive it. Words cannot express the gratitude felt when someone takes-on the intimidating task of feeding a family of 11.

The days of the week have all been mixed-up and I can’t really remember what we ate when. I also wasn’t home for 3 days and goodness knows what happened then, food-wise. All I know is that some pizza was ordered and when I came home from the hospital one of my children exclaimed: “We were like orphans! It was AWESOME!”

ON THE FIRST DAY

(Which might have been Monday? Or was it Sunday? Yes it was Sunday because I missed Mass.)

When I came home from the hospital, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. My oldest daughter had been to Mass that morning and asked our parish priest if he would come to our house to give me the anointing of the sick. It was the first time in my life that I was sick enough to receive the anointing of the sick and it deeply moved me. He also brought me Communion and pizza for the kids. Corporal and spiritual works of mercy in one fell swoop, he’s an awesome guy.

ON THE SECOND DAY

My mother came to spend the day with me. Sometimes a girl just needs her mama. My husband made me some liver and onions. Of course, the kids were not too eager to share so we still have leftovers. Anyone? Sadly, 3 meals of liver and some pretty hardcore iron supplements didn’t impress my hemoglobin much. It went down further and I was back in hospital on the third day.

ON THE THIRD DAY

IMG_4205The children ate at the IKEA cafeteria while I went back  to the hospital for a blood transfusion.

IMG_4114
If canned yellow beans don’t pump you back up, what will? *Big Wink*

IMG_4307 I wanted to post a picture of my hand and my IV pump but I thought that the sight of blood and a big needle might make some of you squeamish. Instead, here is the picture of me before the transfusion and after the first unit.  That’s just the difference it made on the outside. I was also given some delicious hospital food. A friend came to pick me up at the hospital and drove me home. I felt like a blood-doped athlete and joked about starting my marathon training that evening.

ON THE FOURTH DAY

A friend who always has a lot of common sense wisdom to share suggested that I eat ice cream 3 meals a day until my heart felt better. I might have done that on the fourth day. I might need to find a way to do that without needing to wear maternity clothes because that ain’t helping much. See “marathon training” above. Training starts with “waking and talking at the same time.” The things we take for granted, I’m telling you…

ON THE FIFTH DAY

Collage_Sue soup

I received a visit from two dear friends who brought me soup, casseroles and chicken broth. In case the first 4 volumes of “What’s for Dinner” have not made that point clear, feeding a family of 11 day after day after day is hard work. It looms really large in my daily horizon. It’s more work than homeschooling, it’s more work than breastfeeding, it’s more work than laundry, it’s probably 50% of my daily effort expenditure, 365 day a year except for that blessed week at Family Camp when we hire a camp cook. If I were to leave for a weekend away (*snort* like that ever happened), I would need to make or plan all the meals in advance. When I give birth, I make sure I have a month’s worth of dinners in the freezer, make that three months for twins (we bought a second deep freeze for the occasion, if you are expecting twins do it, it will be worth every penny and you’ll make it up in savings on pizza and take-out, take my word for it.) When friends bring me meals, it is the single most helpful thing they can do to keep me off my feet. Because even when I’m supposed to be resting — as I am now — the question “What’s for supper?” invariably lands on my desk every day around 4 pm. It’s just the way the world goes round.

ON THE SIXTH DAY

Collage_cake twins bd

It was the twins’ 4th birthday. There’s always a party here to keep your mind off what ails ya.

Collage_Birthday twins

No hair was burned in the making of this collage.

ON THE SEVENTH DAY

My mother will be back to make some meals to get me ready for next week. Because that’s the beautiful thing about feeding your children: IT NEVER ENDS! Not only is my mother still feeding me, she is feeding me times 11! Except that now it’s different. I know because I have children and someday they will still need me. And I will still be there.

What’s for supper? Vol. 4: More muffins and spaghetti sauce


What did we eat this week?

MONDAY


Monday was Labour Day. My husband took the children to visit family but it was David’s turn to process our family’s friendly virus. I took a pass and stayed home with the sick and the underage. We had chips and ice cream for supper. Yes we did.

TUESDAY

Remember the Thai squash soup with coconut and shrimp I made last week? I usually buy a second bag of shrimps to add to the leftover (because there is soup leftovers but never shrimps). Then we have a second round of squash soup.

WEDNESDAY

Collage_Spicy peanut pork

Last weekend I mentioned making Spicy Peanut Chicken (with pork) in the slow cooker. I warmed it up on Wednesday and we ate it with fresh corn. My 9 year-old son announced that he was thirsty so I asked him to go get the water jug for the family. Without missing a beat he told me, very matter-of-factly: “No, I’m just going to get water for myself.” Err, no buddy, please bring back the water jug for the family, said I. “Ok then, I’m not thirsty.” he replied. “You can still get the water jug please. Which led to him saying no, me taking away his plate until he came back with the water jug, and he stomping away to get said water. Friends, if you wonder how we can raise such self-centered children in a family of 11, imagine if we had stopped at 2! Believe me, the world is a better place because we have 9 and it’s not because we are superior human beings. Pride runs strong in that gene line.

THURSDAY

collage_spaghetti sauce

Spaghetti sauce day. My children and I are not fond of chunks in our spaghetti sauce. I like to put all the veggies and herbs in the food processor and give them a whirl. I don’t puree them to soup level but I find that along not having chunks, it mixes-up the flavours nicely. This specimen has red bell pepper, cremini mushrooms, onions, carrots, celery, garlic, fresh herbs from my potted garden (basil, chive and parsley), dried oregano and sage. I saute the veggie mash in olive oil, add an entire Costco pallet of tomato sauce and 3kg of ground beef. I stir until the meat is all separated and let it simmer forever. Add salt and pepper to taste et voila. That day, I also made orange cranberry muffins and oatmeal chocolate chip muffins. Our homeschool had to be on auto-pilot and we didn’t get around to do history and science. Note to self: you can’t cook up a storm and homeschool at the same time. I use this recipe for the cranberry orange muffins. I use frozen cranberries instead of fresh and it works fine. Just a note about the streusel topping: it’s a simple mix of sugar and orange rind. I prefer to put the orange rind in the muffin batter. The streusel falls apart when freezing anyway. On a more positive note, sugar mixed-up with orange rind and left to sit on the counter for a day can be eaten with a spoon or melted over a candle and shot-up your arm, oh my goodness, someone make it stop!!

STILL THURSDAY

Collage_znoodles

When I did a Whole 30 back in January I had to stop eating pasta. I discovered zucchini noodles and I actually prefer them now to pasta. I don’t have a veggie spiralizer so I use my veggie peeler and peel the zucchinis until I am almost peeling the tip of my fingers (sometimes I do.). Lucas enjoys chopping the leftover zucchinis with a big knife. As an aside, I used to pay a whole lot of money so my kids could do just that at a Montessori preschool. Which brings me to homeschooling preschool: stop worrying already!! If I got a dime every time a stressed out mom asks about a preschool curriculum, I could retire happy. Preschools need a curriculum because they are accountable to their clients. Preschool is just life. You need to live with your children and engage with them positively. Read to them, snuggle with them, let them help with cooking if you have the patience to do so. Take them outside and show them the dirt: here’s your preschool curriculum.

Back to the zucchini noodles… I slice an onion or two in very thin slices, smash some garlic and saute everything in olive oil with salt, pepper and dried oregano, then I cover for a while to let it steam a little. Zucchinis lose their water like nothing else so 6 zucchinis is barely enough for two adults. Unless they are the giant ones that neighbours leave on your doorstep.

Collage_znoodles with sauce

 

 

 

 

 

FRIDAY

Collage_crepes

My teenage daughter announced that she would make crepes for supper. I said: “Fine!” She used the recipe from Ricardo but I prefer Josee di Stasio’s recipe. I usually quadruple it — that would be 4 cups of flour and a whole dozen of eggs — add beer to the milk and keep it in the fridge in an air tight container. The kids will make crepes for breakfast, snack or lunch using the batter all week.

Et voila, this is it for this week. I’m sparing you the weekend because it ended-up in take-out pizza.