Friday, January 30, 2015

Evaluating January

So in the spirit of New Year's resolutions and being accountable and all that, I thought I'd check in and see how I'm doing thus far.

Books I've read:

The Husband's Secret -- Liane Moriarty
Between Gods -- Allison Pick
The Care and Management of Lies -- Jacqueline Winspear
Girl Runner -- Carrie Snyder
Shiver -- Maggie Stiefvater
Plus, a few books had to be returned to the library before I could finish them, so I'm waiting to get them out again.

I forgot to mark down the books I read after the first week of January, and now I can't remember what they all were :( I'll try to do better with this in February. Also, I haven't gotten a book review posted yet, but I'm aiming for two in February.

New recipes I cooked:

ABC Quesadillas -- Although Dave and I couldn't figure out why they were called "ABC," this recipe was a keeper. Sam ate half a quesadilla during a week where his eating was pretty sporadic. I bought a package of ten tortillas so we made five total. Dave took the leftovers for lunches the rest of the week. The only thing we didn't do is use three separate pans. Who are these people and, obviously, they have a dishwasher. We did, however, wash the one frying pan we used before actually assembling the quesadillas. This recipe is definitely entering our rotation.

I also made some recipes I hadn't made in awhile (read: years), and it was fun to discover some old favourites like rotini (I think my dad made this recipe up and we just called it "Rotini!" It is basically pasta with a chunky tomato sauce and lots of cheese), Moroccan Lentil Soup (similar to this recipe (without the vermicelli) or this one), Lentil Surprise, and Bean And Rice Enchiladas (use the filling from here (all mixed together) with the white sauce from here). Some of these will definitely be entering our more regular menu planning.

What day am I at with Bible reading?

As of yesterday I was finished Exodus 35, which is where I was supposed to be as of yesterday! Yay! Considering this resolution really fell by the wayside last year, I'm fairly pleased with this progress. And also, it's really interesting to read the Bible and realize how many of the familiar children's stories are like only ten verses long.
How many days did I drink enough water?

I started intentionally tracking this in my day planner on January 7. I don't think I was getting my two litres in before that. However, out of the 23 days since then, I've reached my water goal 19 times, which is pretty good. Also, I've been drinking less caffeine in the form of tea, coffee-hot chocolate, and Coke since I started this goal so I think that's a good thing.

What percentage of Sam's lunches were made at night?

I'm happy to report that 100% of Sam's lunches were made at night. Now to be fair, I make sure Sam's lunch dishes are clean sometime between after school and bedtime, and I make a list of what needs to be made, but Dave has been doing about 98% of the actual making work. However we are both happy with this system so I'm calling it a win!
Where are we at in Canada?

Yay! We've made it to Quebec. Look for Ontario and Manitoba coming up in a couple of weeks!

I didn't get out running many days in January. All my extra energy went towards hiring another teacher at the preschool, celebrating Dave's birthday, and dealing with sick kids. I hope to do better with this in February.
House cleaning:

I am thrilled to say that I am ROCKING this goal. Our entire house has been cleaned at least twice in January and the really awful rooms (I'm looking at you, Bathroom and Dining Room) have been cleaned weekly. It's a little depressing what this says about our house cleanliness before January but I'm glad I've found a routine which works. So far!
Bun baking:

I baked a batch of buns for Dave's birthday party. It was fun! And they all disappeared within about 24 hours so it's time to bake again :)

So it's almost one month into the new year, and I'm feeling pretty good about my resolutions. I'm hoping some of these become regular habits because they help my life feel much more sane.

How are you doing with your resolutions, if you made any?

And sorry, I broke one of my own unspoken rules and used repeat pictures in this post. But otherwise it would have been all words and that's kind of boring.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Very Special Birthday Party

A few weeks ago the kids were invited to B's 6th birthday party. Since it was a Frozen theme, Dave designed the cards. He's an artist that way.
B's parents are so creative when it comes to party planning. One of the first games the kids played was "Cold Potato." It was hilarious to see how fast the kids passed it around.
Then it was time to try and toss a ball into Olaf. Rachel actually got one in but she might have cheated :)
About an hour into the party, there was a knock at the door, and it turned out that Elsa had heard about the party and dropped by for a visit. She pronounced B "Princess For A Day" and gifted her with wings and a wand.
Then Elsa played some games with the kids. Sam sat back, with a small smile on his face. When I asked him if he was okay, he responded, "I didn't think Elsa was real Mommy!" I think he was a little overwhelmed. Rachel, on the other hand, couldn't take her eyes off Elsa and was just in love with her. Even though Rachel has never seen Frozen and has only ever heard the soundtrack.
Elsa offered to paint everyone's nails or to give them a tattoo.
Sam got over his shyness/disbelief long enough to go and get a tattoo.
Elsa graciously agreed to pose so I could get some pictures. As Sam was in an uncooperative/ silly space, Elsa promptly declared him a rock troll, which Sam thought was hilarious!
Then I got some pictures of B in her beautiful dress, and with Rachel. Rachel LOVES B!
After another couple of games, it was time for lunch and cake. A frozen ice cream cake of course. :) Yum!
This was such a fun birthday party for our kids to get to go to. And I know they will never forget meeting Elsa.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Practically Perfect In Every Way

This past Saturday was a really good day. Throughout the day I took pictures of the things which made me happy, so you can see what constitutes a practically perfect Saturday in my books.
My Old Testament biblical scholar cracks me up! He finished this before breakfast so I was asking him what he was reading about. "After the escape from Egypt, there's a lot of wars. And I don't always know if it's Jerusalem or Israel who is fighting. And they always seem like they're going to lose, but they don't." I think it's actually a pretty good summary of the Old Testament. (Also, this is about his third or fourth time through The Brick Bible.)
Drinking coffee hot chocolate in my favourite mug is a must!
After the craziness of last week, I really appreciate that Dave took the kids to Tot Shabbat and I could stay home and get four whole rooms cleaned. It felt so good!
Each member of our family has their own favourite soap. After so many years of being single, and hoping, wishing, and praying for a family, it is a little ridiculous how happy this picture of all our soaps on a clean sink makes me :)
Sam went to a birthday party that was pretty much in the middle of nowhere but only ten minutes away from a tea room Janice has been telling me about for ages. Two whole scones with jam and cream and tea with Janice makes me pretty happy too!
And then we window shopped and I bought myself this fun necklace with some Christmas money.
Janice and I were talking about how we organize our lives and so we made an impromptu stop at Target to buy her a day planner! I heart organizing! I heart Target! I heart Janice and Sam! (And I can't even talk about how sad I am that Target in Canada is closing up shop. Dave even tried to cheer me up by saying we could go shopping at Target in The States some weekend, so you know how desperate the situation is.)
While Sam was at his birthday party, and Janice and I were having tea, Dave and Rachel assembled this shelf (also from Target) for Rachel's room. It replaced the change table. Rachel's room is looking more and more like a big girl room every day. I am thrilled that the shelf is assembled and I am even more thrilled that I didn't have to do it!!!
After a very busy week, I was so happy to have some time to catch up on my blog reading and commenting. You probably all noticed that :)
Sam and I are currently reading "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory." We are both loving it!
And a practically perfect Saturday ends with eating nachos, watching Friends, and cuddling on the futon with Dave.

What does a perfect Saturday look like for you?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Traversing Canada Tuesdays: Quebec

Bienvenu! This installment of Traversing Canada Tuesday comes with a guest author (Dave) and, right off the bat, an apology (how very Canadian). I had high hopes of writing a narrative history of Quebec, weaving various threads of history and culture into an enthralling tale. However, as I sit here on Monday night, I am realizing that this isn't going to happen. Quebec's story is long and complex, involving a centuries-long tug-of-war between English and French societies that continues today.
image from here
highlighting added by Natasha 

So, what you will get instead is a hodge-podge (or, in French, méli-mélo) of history, culture, sports, food, and personal anecdotes. Bon appetit!

The first few centuries of Quebec's history were defined by an ongoing struggle between the English and French. Initially the French had the upper hand; Jacques Cartier claimed the land for France in 1534, Samuel de Champlain established Quebec City in the early 1600's, and Montreal was founded few decades later. However, there were numerous battles with the English in the 17th and 18th centuries, and the English eventually won a decisive victory at the Plains of Abraham in 1759.

Another key part of Quebec's history were the voyageurs, fur traders who traveled from the St. Lawrence River, through the Great Lakes, and all the way to Saskatchewan by canoe to trade with Native peoples and sell their goods. They were responsible for much of the European exploration of the late 17th century, and are an essential part of Quebecois folklore.

Although the British were in control from the mid-18th century onward, the province still had very strong French roots, and the Catholic church played a crucial role in the province's social, religious and cultural life for the next 200 years.

More recently, the Quiet Revolution of the 1960's saw an upheaval of this social order, with more liberal, secular values taking the place of the rigid, conservative church/state control that had been in place for generations.

Montreal and Quebec City are both known for having a European feel to them, with lots of cafes and great restaurants. However, Montreal's well-established Jewish community has also made its own gastronomic contributions, with delicacies such as Montreal bagels (and yes, these are totally different from bagels in Toronto!), smoked meat and deli food of all sorts.

A local favourite which has recently gained more widespread appeal is poutine, which is fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Recent variations on this theme have included pulled pork, maple syrup, and even butter chicken (!), but I much prefer the original, preferably purchased from some greasy-spoon diner in Montreal.

Language and Culture
As you may recall, Quebec is not an officially bilingual province -- its only official language is French and, outside of Montreal (which is quite bilingual), this is definitely the dominant language. This has resulted in a separate ecosystem of French TV shows, magazines, and pop stars, who are wildly popular in Quebec, but virtually unknown elsewhere in Canada. Notably, Celine Dion got her start as a teen star in the French music scene in the early 80's, before attaining more widespread fame in the 1990's. However, she has continued to release French-language albums alongside her English albums, and these have generally done very well in French Canada.
Natasha and her friend Sarah at a "Keep Canada Together" rally in Montreal
October 1995
Quebec has also retained a strong sense of its own history and identity. Many Quebecois (that is, people from Quebec) see themselves as part of the nation of Quebec first, and the country of Canada second, if at all. In fact, there were two significant referendums on Quebec separation in the 1980's and 1990's, with the most recent (in 1995) resulting in a 50.6 to 49.4% vote to remain within Canada. Today, there are still Quebec-focused parties at the provincial and federal level, but the question of separation has largely faded into the background, politically. Outside of the separation issue, Quebec is one of the more liberal provinces in Canada, with a strong social safety net and progressive attitudes on many social issues.
Another photo of the 1995 rally
Personal anecdotes
You may have gotten this far and found yourself wondering "Why on earth did Dave decide to jump in and write this blog post?" Well, my dad was born and raised in Montreal, and I spent many long weekends, stretches of summer vacation, etc., as a kid visiting my grandparents there, as Montreal was "only" an eight-hour drive from my hometown (near Kitchener/Waterloo).

Although much time was spent sitting and visiting with my grandparents (oooh... exciting!), a few more active highlights come to mind, as well:
Dave's grandma at her condo in Montreal
(Rachel is named after this grandma!) 
  • Going to see baseball games at Olympic Stadium. Until 2004 (when they moved south of the border and became the Washington Nationals), the Montreal Expos were one of two Canadian baseball teams, and my grandmother was a big fan. The Expos featured many young players who went on to have stellar careers, such as Larry Walker and Pedro Martinez. 
  • Visiting Old Montreal, and checking out the various historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and general old-world surroundings.
  • Practicing my not-all-that-fluent French skills on cashiers, waiters, and whoever else was in my path. Fortunately (and probably in large part because I was a kid), people were generally friendly and patient with my attempts, although the conversation wouldn't last all that long before they would take pity on me and/or run out of patience and switch to English.
  • Visiting Mount Royal (the mountain in the middle of the city, for which it is named), which features a huge park and great views of the city.
  • Montreal has the unenviable distinction of featuring both bitterly cold, snowy winters and hot, muggy summers. Fall and spring are quite nice, but many of my memories of Montreal involve either freezing or sweltering; on one spring visit, we left Waterloo in warm weather and sunshine, and arrived in Montreal that evening to such snowy conditions that we had to shovel out a spot before we could park our car for the night. Fun times!
  • On the other hand, visiting a bakery for fresh-baked bagels was always a huge treat.
Other tidbits
Here are some other bits and pieces that didn't fit elsewhere in my incredibly well-organized post.
  • Because of its large expanse of northern lakes, Quebec is able to rely heavily on hydro power; in fact, 97% of the province's power is hydroelectric.
  • Speaking of which, Quebec has over one million lakes. Take that, Minnesota!
  • Quebec is the world's largest producer of maple syrup. Mmmm....
  • The province has a strong science and technology industry, including Bombardier (who invented the snowmobile in 1922, and has since branched out to trains and planes), aerospace, software (such as Ubisoft, whose main development office is in Montreal), and pharmaceuticals.
  • And finally, a quick shout out to some of Quebec's more unusual place names: there's Asbestos (gee, I wonder what the main industry is there...), La Tuque (which means "the [wool winter] hat", named for a hat-shaped mountain nearby), and Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! (yes, the exclamation marks are part of the name, and no, I didn't just make that up).
Canada Close Up: Quebec, by Marguerite Rodger. Published 2009 by Scholastic.
Wikipedia articles on the Expos, Celine Dion, Quebec place names, and Ubisoft.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Week In The Life -- Friday

6:20 am -- I was diving into Exodus this day.
6:57 am -- Since I went to bed at 10:15 the previous night, I didn't get a blog post written, so I used this time to blog. And blogging means resizing pictures. Do you all have to resize your blog photos too? It's such a pain!
7:53 am -- Sam and Rachel were given the opportunity to eat breakfast. I also ate my breakfast too. And searched through the flyers for good price matching deals.
8:29 am -- We were getting ready for the walk to school. We walked this day, as opposed to taking the Chariot or the toboggan.
9:20 am -- We were home and it was time for doing dishes, laundry, and drinking tea and hot chocolate before heading out again at 10.
10:55 am -- Rachel was visiting Sam's class and I was helping to hand out pizza at lunchtime at Sam's school. Sidenote: Sam's teacher offered to have Rachel visit his class on days when I do pizza volunteering. I so appreciate it and Rachel loves having the opportunity to go to Sam's school.
12:02 -- Lunch was extra pizza in the car on the way to an emergency board meeting at the preschool. Rachel played with some of the kids while we met.
2:32 pm -- After the board meeting I drove out to the country to buy summer sausage at the Old Order Mennonite farm we always get it from.
2:44 pm -- Rachel, tired from her busy day, fell asleep in the car. Thus in the ten minutes of time I had, I drove home to unload bags, left Rachel sleeping in the car, and drove back to school to pick up Sam. I rarely do that but I just didn't have time to change Rachel into winter clothing and then walk.
5:26 pm -- After school, Sam and Rachel watched a video and I talked to my friend Karen on the phone for about an hour and a half.

5:37 pm -- Dave got home from work and I headed over to Janice's for a Girls' Evening, where I forgot to take pictures. Oops. It was a lot of fun, and after everyone else left, Janice and I ended up talking for another couple of hours about life. I got home around 11:30, and was in bed by around midnight.

Thanks for reading along with my Week In The Life. It was a crazy busy week to document and I'm very much looking forward to having way more time at home and way less time at the preschool this week.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Week In The Life -- Thursday

Welcome to Thursday!
6:19 am -- Starting my daily Bible reading.
7:03 am -- I just couldn't seem to wake up this morning so when Rachel came downstairs I convinced her to cuddle with me. Next thing I knew, I woke up and it was 7:43. Ooops.
7:48 am -- I ate my breakfast quickly so that...
8:09 am -- ... I could go deliver flyers.
8:42 am -- I got home in time to take Sam to school. Then Rachel and I finished the last few houses of flyers.
9:33 am -- Rachel watched some Franklin while I had a shower and got ready to leave the house at 10.
11:30 am -- Rachel and I were done yet another morning at the preschool observing a candidate for our teacher position.
12:54 pm -- I had a busy hour of phone calls, eating lunch, drinking tea, and feeding Rachel lunch.
1:01 pm -- Our Sauble Beach vacation photo book arrived! Yay! And then we were off to the preschool for more observations.
2:42 pm -- Rachel wanted to finish her painting before we left.
3:04 - 3:20 pm -- We arrived early to pick Sam up from school so we took some pictures :)
3:37 - 4:33 pm -- It was a busy hour of doing laundry, making beds, cleaning up from Donny's overnight stay, and washing dishes!
5:18 pm -- Dave set tables at LOGOS while I had an impromptu photography lesson.
5:45 pm -- I tried to put my photography lesson into practice!
5:48 pm -- I'm getting a little better...
6:22 pm -- And maybe there's even more improvement in this one. I'll keep working on it! I taught my session of LOGOS, had some conversations, and drove Tessa and Willem home. We don't normally do that, but tonight their family needed an extra driver :)
8:32 pm -- Sam, Rachel, and I looked at our Sauble Beach book while Dave collected our garbage and recycling. Then we all looked at it together.
9:49 pm -- I read (way more than I was planning on) to Sam, and then he went to bed. I tried to do a few things around the house but I was way too tired so at 10:07, I went to bed.

And that was Thursday.

On Monday, you can read all about today, and then I will be done blogging a "Week In The Life" for 2014. And yes, I know it's 2015 already, but this is also what a typical week was like in the fall for us. And sadly, it did include about this much preschool stuff. It's been a crazy year.