Action de Grâce

Par une belle journée d’automne, nous avons passé de bien beaux moments sur notre propriété en campagne. Pour l’instant, il ne s’agit que de champs et de forêts. Mais un jour, nous y construirons une maison. Si vous cliquez sur la première photo, vous pourrez toutes les voir en pleine grandeur.

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 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.).


–          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.


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.

Simplicity Parenting – A talk by Kim John Payne

I went to a parenting talk last weekend and on the request of a few mamas from my community babywearing group I decided to do a quick write-up on the presentation. This will be a quick job, in the interest of posting something while it’s still fresh, as opposed to a fully researched job. If you are a Kim John Payne/Simplicity Parenting fan, please keep in mind that I did not know Kim John Payne until I went to his talk and have not read the book (although it is currently in my Amazon shopping cart). I am writing this post off the top of my head while my four youngest children are enjoying breakfast on a Sunday morning (and possibly watching some mindless tv, yes, there, I said it.)

Continue reading “Simplicity Parenting – A talk by Kim John Payne”

Do one thing a day that scares you

I always thought this was the stupidest advice. It usually comes with examples like “Jump off a plane” (with a parachute) or “swim with sharks.” I always think “You’re supposed to be afraid of sharks!” That’s why the human race has made it for so long. That’s why have the Darwin Awards.

Do one thing a day (month, year…) drips with self-indulgence. The bucket-list variety of fear-facing is often costly, self-centered and just plain counter-intuitive. When someone pays a small fortune to indulge in a one-shot deal, the cynic thinks the money would have been better spent elsewhere. No greater good is advanced when the affluent takes navel-gazing to a dangerous level. When it’s not dangerous, it tuns into a long Eat, Pray, Love -style insult to decency, an ode to emptiness.

And yet, heroism is made of the same willingness to overcome fears and obstacles, to face the insurmountable, to push the limits of intuition and self-preservation. Oddly enough, the self-centered and the self-less share the strength to push through: one outward, the other inward. It breaks my heart when I think about the wasted potential for greatness sunk in a dark hole of egotism.

Fear facing is what places us in front of our limitations, allows us to look at them in the eye and walk over them. But more often than not, the biggest growth happens quietly, discreetly, in a whisper rather than a bang. When we choose to give of ourselves past the point where it hurts. When we find meaning through challenges and difficulties. The fears that paralyze us through our ordinary lives are not the big ones, like sharks and heights, but the smaller fears of failure, judgement, discomfort and pain. The limitations we need to overcome are not physical obstacles but self-imposed, dictated by the demands of comfort, affluence, predictability. The real hero doesn’t shop which fears are worth overcoming. Real heroes face the fears that are thrown at them with grace, dignity and strength.

I have no desire to swim with sharks, jump-off a plane or sink my family’s hard-earned money into some international adventure tourism attraction. I just pray that I will have the courage to overcome the insurmountable when it shows up at my door. When fear will choose me, instead of me choosing it. And I also pray for the courage to overcome the molehills that my fear of failure make into so many mountains. Because what is the use of swimming with sharks when I’m still afraid of high school science?

What are your scary monsters?

Work, daycare and the absence of both Pt 2

I finished part 1 of this series by questioning why it was so hard for mothers to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to care for their young children. The previous post wasn’t strictly about daycare but the undervaluation of a mother’s role and experiences is an important consideration when discussing the interactions between women, daycare and the workplace.

In the Globe & Mail article,

I am quoted saying:

“Right now, I will be paying more in child care than I will make at work part-time, but I will keep my job, my benefits and my continuity of employment. The money that it is costing me to go back to work, I see it as an investment in my career.”

Continue reading “Work, daycare and the absence of both Pt 2”