Great Expectations

One thing I always try to do, as a parent, is not put too many expectations on my kids, in terms of their interests and what they might want to be in life. I mean, I do expect them to be kind people, and helpful around the house, and to work their hardest at school. But I also try not to assume that they will be doctors or lawyers or Prime Minister, or to dream that they will dedicate their lives to building schools in Africa before winning the Nobel Peace Prize, or to fantasize about them winning an Olympic gold medal (total fail on that last one, BTW). They have their own hopes and dreams and I want to encourage that, and support them, and watch them earn their own happiness.

Well – that’s the idea, anyway. Over March Break we went down to visit our extended family and there I saw my teenaged nephews, who are just at the age where they’re trying to figure out what to do with their lives. One of them is in Grade 11, and I asked him if he had started to give some thought to what he wanted to do, and he said he definitely wants to go into business. Which totally makes sense, because both his parents are in business-type fields, and he has a knack for it, and a real flair for entrepreneurship.

But my immediate reaction was: HMMMM.

Both Sir Monkeypants and I are engineers by training and it was in that very moment that I realized, with crystal clarity, that I have actually been assuming that my kids will do something technical. The Captain is good at math and really, really loves it, and his analytical mind makes him a natural for something like computer programming. Gal Smiley is all about the science – a few days ago at bedtime she spent a half hour excitedly telling me all the things they had learned that day in school about The Human Eye – and I picture her going into research, or maybe something medical. Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t have a clear cut preference yet but she enjoys school and works hard at it and I’m sure she will be able to pick and choose her future.

As long as it involves math, of course.

I’ve often pictured myself as being the gentle, benevolent parent, softly encouraging my kids as they pursue acting (and then thank me profusely at the Oscars) or supporting them through art school (where they respond by doing an acclaimed series of works entitled “Mother”) or cheering from the sidelines as they take gold in Olympic Freestyle Skiing. But it turns out, in the end, what I really want is for them to be just like me and Sir Monkeypants, to do what we do, to think like us and value the things we value.

Is it for validation, so we know they love and respect us? Is it because I really can’t put value on interests that don’t match my own?

I’m not super stressed about it – it’s just something to think about. And now that I’m aware of my own expectations – maybe I’ll be able to manage them a bit better.

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?

The Little Miss is in a very, very annoying phase right now where she just will not decide anything. You ask if she wants a snack, if she’s ready to leave for school, if she’d like to watch a TV show now or do a puzzle instead – it’s always “I DON’T KNOW,” shrieked in a voice of extreme distress, like I’m offering her Sophie’s Choice. GAH.

I mean, I have lived through two older kids who were not always the most self-aware people in the world. Kids who could not for the life of themselves figure out why working on this homework sheet was SO IMPOSSIBLE, and yet, five minutes after having a glass of milk and a cookie, it magically becomes quite doable. Kids who I saw clearly doing the Dance of Imminent Pee, and who yet continued to deny needing to use the bathroom, and although we are all committed to “logical consequences” I made them go to the potty anyway, “just to try.”

But this is different. It’s like any single time there’s any kind of option, she’s paralyzed. And angry about it. And boy, am I ever getting tired of either a) deciding every single thing on her behalf, or b) allowing nothing to happen, then living with the “logical consequences” of having a kid who is too dumb to pick a snack, or weeping due to the stress of having to select a movie to watch on a sick day, to too whiny to actually say “yes” when asked if she wants to sign up for soccer and then freaks out when she finds out all her friends are going and the team is full.

It’s exhausting.

I remember the first time ever that the Captain came over to me – he’d be just over a year old or so – and actually asked me for juice, using the word “JUS!”, and I got him some juice, and he was happy, and I was happy, and OH MY GOD the heavens sang. And I thought to myself, once they can ask for what they want, everything will be so easy! Everything will be awesome! Parenting will be a snap!

But now the youngest one has all the words she needs, but none of the wanting. Do you want to go to the store, or stay home? Do you want to use the bathroom here, or at your aunt’s house? Do you want to wear blue socks, or yellow?

I DON’T KNOW.

I’d probably be a lot more sympathetic if I wasn’t already deciding a million different things for myself every day. In addition to my own personal needs I have to decide what everyone is eating for lunch and dinner, what everyone needs for appropriate outerwear, what the family errand schedule for the week looks like. I have to decide where we’re going to store everything, whether the garbage needs taking out immediately or if it can wait until tomorrow, what gift we’re getting for our nephew’s birthday next month.

I’m already at the max. It’s time for someone else to start picking some things around here.

Blog on a Hot Tin Roof

Tin Ceiling pic by Brianna Lehman on Flickr Creative Commons

This coming Sunday, March 23, marks a pretty big day for me – the 10th anniversary of my blog. Ten long years I have been writing in this space, creating a little nook on the big wide web where I can just be myself. Ten years, 1488 posts, and so many, many words about Dance Show.

It’s a milestone, to say the least. The traditional 10 year anniversary gift is tin, but the modern version is diamond jewelry, so you know, use your own judgement.

I’ve had times when I was very prolific, times when the words just flew out of my fingers. I’ve had times when I didn’t have anything to say (but it didn’t seem to stop me from blogging anyway), and times when I had lots to say, but no time to get it all down. I’ve had times when I wondered why exactly I did this, and what my goals were, and if I should be working on a brand; and other times when I’ve just written little stories for myself only and not cared if anyone ever reads it. (Well – you’re still under obligation, Sir Monkeypants.)

Somehow or other, I’ve kept it going and now it’s one of my biggest treasures. A place where I can instantly be taken back to happy times, sad times, great memories that might otherwise be buried under the day-to-day whirlwind of chores and obligations. A place where a small snapshot of my family is captured, a sliver of a history book that will show my kids who I was, who they were, who we were together.

A place where I feel comfortable speaking in my own voice, sharing my own thoughts. Free to write what I want, when I want, and because I feel the desire and need to tell stories with words.

Blogging is an odd thing, a publishing platform that can be used in so many ways. It’s sometimes hard to say what, exactly, it is, or what, exactly, it’s all for. But I know this: for me, it’s beautiful. Moments of my life captured in 300 word chunks. Perfect little phrases shared with others who also write perfect little phrases of their own lives. A base that launched me into a community of lovely, thoughtful minds sharing lovely, thoughtful stories and tales and comments of their own.

It’s the literature of my life. Happy anniversary.

When I’m Dead

The Captain found a 10 cent coin (or 10…somethings) from Hong Kong in his room. We have no idea where it came from or how it got there (worm hole through the Earth? STRONG POSSIBILITY), but between this and our recent visit to my friend Miker’s coin collection, he’s now all of a sudden enamoured of Coins of the World. He’s my junior numismitist.

I have a handful of coins from other countries that my grandparents brought back for me on their various travels (sadly, a much smaller collection than it was, as many were stolen in a break-in at my mom’s house many years ago, and that makes me SO angry, because I’m sure they got like, a dollar for my 25 cent Chinese coin, but it meant something to me, and thieves SUCK THE BIG SUCKAGE, so there). Anyway, I got out the coins at the Captain’s request so he could pour over them.

So he’s looking at the coins, then every three minutes or so I get this: “Mom, when you’re dead, can you leave these to me?” And also, “I mean, in your will, after you die, you will say these are specifically for me?” And this too, “I can have these, right? After you’re dead?”

Sure, buddy, although please try to remember I am currently still breathing over here. Memo to self: put poisonous cleaning supplies on a HIGHER shelf.

This comes soon after I was snuggling with Gal Smiley on this green chair we have in our family room, a few days ago. I warned her to be careful of the arms because the chair used to belong to my grandmother and it was special to me. So Gal Smiley asks if that means I will be passing it on to someone when I die, and if so, could it be her, and would I mind mentioning that in my will?

VULTURES.

Evolution of the Bathroom Door

My use of the bathroom door has changed. Here’s the history:

Baby in the house: Bring baby with you to bathroom, leave door open, you’re half naked anyway from nursing.

Toddler in the house: Bring kid to the bathroom with you, sit them on the floor, lock door to keep them from creating any disasters while you attempt to pee as quickly as possible.

Preschooler in the house: Pee with door open to reassure them you are not dead.

Age 5-6: Pee with door closed and locked, otherwise kid will freely enter and ask a lot of really embarrassing questions.

Age 7-8: Pee with door closed, but with child on the other side yell-asking if you have seen their blue socks, not the ones with Buzz Lightyear, but the Thomas ones, and also, can they have a cookie?

Age 9-11: Pee with door closed, then open it to find kid waiting on the other side with fresh bottle of juice they’d like you to open, and also, can they play video games?

Age 11 and up, I am guessing: Never see the inside of the bathroom again, as it is always full of some kid or another.

Remember when a trip to the bathroom meant some nice, quiet, private time? When does that come back? SIGH.

At Home

We’ve been hit again – this time, a crappy chest cold is making its way through the family. I came down with it yesterday and I feel pretty darn crummy – not bad enough to avoid my usual chores and work, but bad enough to want to whine a whole lot, drink copious amounts of tea, and wear the biggest, fuzziest, socks in the world. You know how it is.

The kids all have it too, to some degree, which means we have been doing the usual dance of Who Should Stay Home? There’s no doubt in my mind that the following symptoms mean staying at home: fever, vomiting, listlessness to the point of being willing to or even asking to take a nap, breathing or asthma issues, and possibly broken bones.

It’s the grey areas that kill me, and almost always leave me feeling like I’ve totally wimped out. So I’m looking for some feedback here – would you keep your child home under the following circumstances? Or would you send them to school?

Situation A – Child has plenty of energy, but has a sniffly, runny nose, which you suspect will gross out the teacher and probably spread germs to most of the other children in the class. But if the child stays home, you will end up with tissues on the floor of every room and a kid at your elbow declaring themselves SOOOOOOO BOOOOOOORED every five minutes until you want to give them up for adoption. What do you do? Does your answer change if you have a dentist appointment that morning?

Situation B – Child has plenty of energy for annoying his sisters, and no symptoms other than a chesty cough. You know that he has asthma and gym first period, which will likely combine to cause some sort of incident if you send him to school; but if he stays home, he’ll likely cough once an hour then spend the whole day playing video games and rotting his brain. Do you send him to school with a note to sit out of gym, knowing he is going to throw it away in embarrassment and run around anyway? Or do you keep him home and try to convince yourself that six hours of Mario Kart is educational?

Situation C – Child complains of vague symptoms like “sore throat,” “stomachache,” or “headache,” but seems otherwise fine. Do you send them, risking a call from the school an hour later reporting your child has vomited on the classroom floor? Or do you keep them home, only to find them jumping on the couch after snarfing a secret loot bag full of Skittles they found in the back of their closet? Does your answer change if said child pulls this kind of complaining all the time, or is a rock of stoicism and never usually complains about anything?

Parenting – it’s all grey areas, isn’t it?

Skating Rink, Bowling Alley, or Indoor Pool?

So I realize these are not the most exciting photos in the world, but here you go:

newfloor1

newfloor2

What we are looking at here is a newly re-poured concrete floor. That is flat. And level. And GORGEOUS.

I mean, the kids are going to have to live with crooked overbites now, and we’ll probably never take another family vacation again, but who cares, have you SEEN the sheer flatness of our basement floor?

newfloor3

This means our plan to solve the basement issues with plenty of excess dollars has worked, we think. It has to cure now for two weeks, and then hopefully we will be back on schedule. Big shout out to Floor Solutions, who did this work super speedy and super well and everyone there was so nice and kind and really cared about our project.

(But apparently, cared nothing at all for the straightness of our children’s teeth.)

In other news, it is back to being True Winter outside in Ottawa, with windchills of up to -25 and tons of dire warnings about frigid temperatures in the news. I feel like I have been a relatively good sport about winter up to this point, but now there is no amount of hot cocoa in the world that can make me feel like re-embracing winter. We had two nicer days last week and that is IT, Mother Nature – TIME TO LET IT GO. I MEAN IT.

No, I did NOT mean that kind of let it go. SIGH.

Skiing and a Recipe

Vegan Black and White Cookies

We had a lovely family day yesterday, with all of us heading out for some downhill skiing. Sir Monkeypants took the older two kids for the first time in December and since then the three of them have been hooked; yesterday they convinced me and the Little Miss to try a beginner lesson. I doubt any Olympic events are in my future but it was fairly fun.

Also, the way Gal Smiley yelled “PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA!!!!” at me all the way on my first trip down the bunny hill will live on as one of my favourite memories of all time. Pizza it is, honey.

Anyway, just a quick post today as I’m swamped with work (catching up from last week), dealing with The Basement Crisis (we have decided to just throw money at the problem and hope it goes away), and of course, those Olympics are NOT GOING TO WATCH THEMSELVES. Mostly I wanted to post the recipe for the Black and White cookies, as requested by Sarah and Javamom.

This recipe is from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. If you have any interest in vegan cooking at all, I highly recommend buying everything Isa Chandra has ever published. I have several of her cookbooks but her cookie book, plus her little cupcake book and pie book, are priceless. I love it that her recipes always try to use generic ingredients in inventive ways – I mean, I CAN figure out that a regular recipe that calls for yogurt can be “veganized” by using soy yogurt instead, but her recipes don’t just swap out butter with “vegan bread spread,” but rather actually bake with real stuff.

I have made dozens of recipes from the cookie book and they are all delicious and fabulous. But one word of warning, if you do buy this book: for some reason, I always have to add more flour to have the recipes turn out. I do not have this problem with any of her other books, and the cupcake and pie books are fine. But in the cookie book, it’s standard to add about 1/3 cup more flour for every 1 cup the recipe calls for (so, 1 1/2 cups becomes 2 cups, for example). I don’t know why this is – she talks in the intro about how she measures her flour by scooping, while I am a strict Grade 8 Home Ec Spoon-and-Level-with-a-Knife measurer, so maybe that is it, or maybe it’s the flour I use (Five Roses Unbleached). It’s a mystery.

Anyway, here is the Black and White cookie recipe, with my change for additional flour added. These cookies are a little fussy, but WORTH IT. They would make an excellent substitution for birthday cupcakes or for fancy Christmas parties. I froze some as an experiment and they freeze and thaw well, but they do stick together if stacked so it’s best to freeze them on a pan then bag them, or at least put a little wax paper between layers.

The NYC Black and White Cookie

1 cup soy milk (I use rice milk as my son can’t have soy)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract (find it at the Bulk Barn, or use 1/2 teaspoon zest)
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (original recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

For the icing:
4 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup boiling water, plus several additional tablespoons of hot water
2/3 cup chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life brand for allergy-safeness)

Preheat oven to 350. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper – actually, three is probably better.

Mix the soy milk and lemon juice, and let it sit one minute to curdle (if using rice milk, it won’t curdle, but that is okay; real milk can be used if you aren’t vegan and it’ll curdle something awesome). Add the oil, sugar, vanilla, and other extracts and whisk until blended into a smooth caramel-type mix.

Add the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir well to form a very thick batter, kind of like very thick cake batter.

Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup or an ice cream scoop, scoop up a bunch of batter and pour it out onto the cookie sheets. The pile of batter will spread quite a bit – if you have large cookie sheets you’ll be able to barely fit eight cookies on a sheet (the recipe makes 16 cookies), but if your sheets are smaller you might only fit six or even four per sheet. If they end up spreading so that they touch it’s not ideal but won’t hurt the tastiness, so just throw them in the oven and break them apart when they come out. Don’t worry too much about making perfect circles, either, since they spread so much they will turn into circles on their own.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Let them cool for about 2 minutes on the pans, then peel them off of the parchment paper and place them face-down on a rack to cool. They’ll be lightly curved on the bottom (what was the top when cooking) and nice and smooth and flat on the top (what was the bottom when cooking).

While they are cooling (it doesn’t take long), mix up the icing. Mix the powdered sugar with the boiling water and stir very well, then dribble in more hot water a bit at a time until you can stir it smoothly – it should not be runny but should be easily spreadable and kind of glossy. Frost the entire smooth tops of the cookies with the vanilla icing, right out to the edges. You should have about 1/2 cup of icing left over at the bottom of the bowl – don’t eat it, you need it!

Now take the chocolate chips and melt them in the microwave or in a double boiler (in the microwave: 1 minute on power level 60, stir, then 30 seconds to one minute more at 60, stirring every 30 seconds). Make sure it’s really melted well or your chocolate icing will be lumpy.

Add the melted chocolate to the leftover icing and stir well – I had to add a little more boiling water to the mix to help it be spreadable and to keep the chocolate from lumping up.

Test the cookies with your finger to make sure the vanilla icing has developed a bit of a crust. Then, spread the chocolate on half, and put the cookie down to finish drying completely.

The recipe suggests that they are best eaten the day they are made, but trust me, I had NO PROBLEM eating them on the second day. Plus, as noted above, the frozen ones turned out well (good thing, because if I didn’t freeze them I would now have 16 black and white cookies in my belly).

The recipe makes 16 palm-sized cookies but you can also make 24 smaller ones if you like. They’re quite sweet and eating one of the regular sized-ones is on par with having a cupcake, I’d say.

Enjoy!

Look To The Cookie, Elaine

I made these yesterday:

Vegan Black and White Cookies

Unity Cookies! The Black and White! As made immortal by Seinfeld (“Two races of flavor living side by side in harmony.”)

They are vegan, so my son can have them, and they are divine. They are TOO divine. I am still on shaky stomach ground and the last thing I need is a dozen palm-sized discs of pure ambrosia just sitting there in the kitchen. On Valentine’s Day, no less, when dessert calories are FOR FREE. Sigh.

So I’m back to eating more-or-less real food (if cookies count as real food), and back to working, which means I can only tangentially check in with the Olympics from time to time during the day, which is just so sad. But while we’re talking Olympics, some random thoughts on that:

Why was Sochi selected as a Winter Olympics location, when it was like, 18 degrees Celsius there yesterday? Clips I’ve seen of the city show palm trees – PALM TREES – and no snow on the ground; snow on the ski slopes is said to be icy and they are actually salting it (which I totally do not get) to keep it in good shape. I should probably just go and Google for info about the climate of Sochi, but I’m too busy eating cookies and watching coverage. But I do wonder: what made them think this was a winter-type playground area?

And this: I watch a lot (A LOT) of figure skating, and I have noticed that Western/American culture seems to be the de facto culture of figure skating. There were Russians skating to The Addams Family and Jesus Christ Superstar, Germans skating to the Pink Panther, I saw some guy from the Czech Republic skate to Dueling Banjos. What’s that about? Are these people training in North America, maybe? Or is The Addams Family actually a world-wide phenomenon? I am mystified.

And lastly: I have discovered I have an endless appetite for any and all Olympic sports, except hockey. The hockey games (which, amusingly, feature the exact same break-time cheers, like DAY-O and We Will Rock You and CHARGE!, meaning, I guess, American Culture really IS universal, and the unity cookie was right all along) are just like any other hockey game and I can’t get invested. Meanwhile, listening to the commentators for things like snowboarding and biathlon and luge is SO charming, because they are so deeply passionate about their sport, and know all the inside details and scoop and history, and when they start squealing with joy over the tightness of the competition it’s just delightful.

Now I’m off to work, and eat cookies, and sneak glimpses of the figure skating, and ponder race relations. Happy Valentine’s Day!