Sunday, January 29, 2012
In September we moved from a town of 2,500 people to a city of 42,000. I know, right. We went from a place that had no stop lights to one in which I have to drive through two sets to take kids to school. The former was twelve (plus) minutes away the latter is about three or four...if I get stopped by both lights.
This time last year we lived a simple life. Right now it's...busier. It's busier because of said decision/relocation. It's busier because of our kids' ages (and honestly the number of kids we now have). It's busier because we've made it such, through many conscious and unconscious decisions. And it's fantastic. And we work hard and intentionally, to maintain that which we sought when living rural...homemade, from scratch, the importance of basics and necessities and having what we need not what we want. (That last one can be a toughy when living among the masses who have Apple this or that and other name brand items in abundance.)
This time last year I didn't have a cell. Didn't own one. Didn't have any desire (much the opposite, if we're being honest) to have one. The additional cost in my mind wasn't worth it. We didn't go too far from home, ever. After a gross couple months of winter, we took the plunge (ah hem, if we are still being honest, I was finally convinced) and bought a pretty cheap (!) but great plan that didn't put us in the hole or anywhere near the realm of the hole. Free phone, $15/month with a bunch of call minutes and a more than sufficient texting limit.
And it was handy.
And part of the motivation was the hope that a referral call could be received through it.
And it was. You remember, right?! The phone pretty much paid for itself that day.
Not pretty much.
Had I dropped it, stepped on it, and had it become irreplaceable - that day alone it paid for itself.
We moved. To the city. And everyone here and their dog (well, pretty much) has one.
And because of that, I've made a lot of friends through texting communication. More than email - that one surprises me. And, most definitely more than through our home phone...we could be in the minority of the population here who still has one. A landline...I wonder if our kids will actually know what that is as they grow up.
Sometimes I wonder, would I have so many whom I call 'friend' here, if I didn't have this little Koodo deal? (Yeah that's right. Koodo. I said it was handy, not fancy.)
Is that superficial to wonder, or is it naive or ?? Am I more content and socially involved because of this silly little thing I often leave at home or forget to turn on? I wonder some days. I wonder, as I sit here having just texted three friends, a husband, and a mother with questions, comments or dialogue in anticipation of the week to come. Are we too reliant and less communicative? Or, on the flip side are we more communicative but perhaps the thoughts and conversation is less personal or in depth. Have we made ourselves so busy that there is simply no alternative.
Or, should I just be grateful?! Should I be thankful that this is one of the means through which we have settled so quickly. The friends I've made: they aren't superficial.
And they all (almost) have cells.
I don't know the answer. But I often wonder.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Makeda met her best friend this past weekend. They were lovely together.
They clicked and their unique personalities were so complementary.
It was simply lovely to return to a place full of friends who had hoped, wished, waited, and fervently prayed for Makeda's arrival over the past several years...even if it did pour the entire weekend and a tree nearly stopped us from returning home.
We were blessed.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Around here we (ah hem, apparently) like our granola bars chewy. I say ah hem...and apparently, because how we like 'em can change as quickly as the days of the week. Whatever. Right now we like 'em chewy and so that's what we did. And that's what we ate. And that was a success. Oh, and we like 'em healthy. So we did that too.
Proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks is in the recipe below.
I know this because they ate 'em up. All of them. Actually, all of us. All five (!!!) of us. We all ate 'em, liked 'em, and I think I'll make more tomorrow.
Before I share this recipe - which, may I add is nut free (score for those whose children attend nut free schools and for those of us with wee ones who are getting used to finger food and whom we don't want to choke on chunks of nuts) - I have to say I am appalled at how many unhealthy granola bar recipes come up when I google "healthy chewy granola bar recipe".
Does that make sense? It seemed to me that over 3/4 of these so called "healthy" recipes included chocolate chips, corn syrup (they know that just because it has the word corn that doesn't make it healthy right?), brown sugar, etc. Ridiculous, people. Perhaps the word "chewy" somehow outweighed it's precursor?! One of life's mysteries, I guess.
This recipe for actually (!) healthy (!!) and chewy granola bars was originally found here. I'm going to re-write it for your viewing pleasure and edit the parts we, well, edited while throwing things in the mixing bowl. It was a good recipe though. I'm just too controlling not to change some part of it. (Insert smile, here.)
Actually Healthy and Chewy Granola Bars
2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup spelt flour
1 cup left over cereal bits (we used kashi)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup flax meal
1/4 cup (slightly less) oil (we used olive but I think I'll use coconut tomorrow)
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp blackstrap molasses (this stuff rocks in the Iron department!)
1 cup sugar free applesauce (...we added a bit more for a little extra...well...chewiness!)
Preheat over to 350. Toast oats for 5 minute in a dry skillet. In a large bowl, combine...everything. I like to do it all at once because it saves extra dishes and I'm kind of kamikaze in the kitchen like that. Just ask my mother. If you need more moisture just add more of the applesauce. Either line a 9x13" pan with parchment paper or tin foil, or give it a little spray with EVOO. Bake for about 25-30 minutes until slightly browned.
Oh, we added raisins to ours. And coconut. Unsweetened of course. Why, you ask? Why not?! I think sesame seeds would give an awesome crunch...and I'd add them tomorrow but it's supposed to be something like -25 C outside and I just don't want to get out of the car to whip into the grocery store that badly. You know?!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The phone rang this morning at 6:43am.
I hate early morning calls.
It almost always means someone is critically ill, injured, or dead.
Sorry for scepticism but it's true.
(Plus, I went to bed late and really wanted those extra few minutes of sleep. But mostly because of the dark thoughts above.)
Turns out, however, when the weather hits a temperature feeling like MINUS 45 (with the wind factor), school around these parts gets cancelled.
Okay, Debbie Downer maybe give the day a chance next time eh?!
On a slightly separate note, in past years (being the practical people that we are) Ben and I have always given each other very useful Christmas gifts. We've done super fun things such as winter tires, a new built in Central Vac (canister), and a wood burning stove. Each year said items have come in fantastically handy. Fantastically.
This year we thought (and purchased) along the same lines for the boys. We figured that seeing as we now live in (what we anticipated to be) such a cold winter climate, we would gift them with something fun yet something to give them a little energy outlet. We got them a (sports package only, as far as they currently know) Wii.
(I can't believe I just said booya.)
Monday, January 16, 2012
I grew up being taught the importance of budgeting. I never remember a time when there was frivolous spending. That said, I also don't recall having felt restrained by the comment "oh, that's not in the budget"...well, perhaps when I wanted an article of clothing as a teen that was completely absurd. My parents always spent just what was necessary and taught us to do likewise.
So, here we are now a single income family (we can count Parental Leave if you'd like as it is definitely factored in the budget, but it will run out and seeing as we don't live in the same province as we did when it started, there is no job awaiting my return). We've always lived so that I don't have to work (though I always have up until this point) but the additional income is good and definitely helpful.
And now we are five: using more power, kids in school (we pay tuition - not sky high fees but definitely not public school rates - and can I just say that pre-school in Alberta will rob you blind), sports activities, and well, we eat more. Boys eat a lot, people. And five people eat more than four. I know, intelligent statement of the year right there.
While we cannot manipulate certain aspects of the budget such as the mortgage, schooling (the school/education route we have chosen for our children is very important to us), insurance and gas, monthly savings and investments etc, there are certain areas we can shave and we do have choices as to how we will do just that. Our kids are currently each in one sport which will possibly overlap into two, for a short period of time in the spring. But that's one way we can save a little. We do lots of free, family (or after school) activity without spending money. We spend a lot of time outside, on bikes and at the park. We have our own soccer ball, hockey sticks, ice skates, legs (yes! we use them a lot)...you get the point. While it may not all be on organized teams, as long as the kids are getting out and working out the energy - and socializing and skill building - we're happy with that.
Another area we manage is food. We have a date night budget which is used from time to time when we (the Mama and Daddy) eat out, go for coffee together, rent a movie, etc. We try to keep this just for the two of us and it isn't huge. However, if one month we go for supper as a family we may dip into this as eating out obviously cuts way into the grocery budget. Obviously.
Speaking of the groceries. I've had many conversations this past week with friends and acquaintances about the grocery budget. It would seem - based on other families of either 4, 5, or 6 members - our monthly food spending is often half of that of other families. Whoa. That's stopped me in my tracks several times. The looks I get...it's actually kind of funny. I think though, it's such a simple area to cut back and save. And so, if you're struggling to spend less or wondering how on earth you spent that much this month, I'll give you some of the rules and tricks we try to live by from month to month. Little bits each month could make a huge difference on the year...especially in a growing family (currently or anticipated!). Because while EI (parental/maternity) is helpful, it certainly doesn't replace the salary.
Keep in mind my frugal, well planned, food budget spending is genetic. It's a personality trait long worked on. Ha ha. That said, we do eat well and there's always plenty to go around and these boys (and actually the wee girl) eat a lot. Some days I truly believe in the hollow leg concept.
Some of our food budgeting strategies...
We do a lot of our shopping at Superstore and some at Costco. I try to purchase items in large quantities (or bulk) when possible. That doesn't mean I'll buy the most dirt cheap item or 'no name' brand simply because the dollar amounts the lowest (quality is very and definitely more important!) but if the cost per gram is less on the no name oats or the bulk oats over Quaker then yes, I will buy the no name. On that note, items in the bulk section are often more costly than if you were to purchase the large "family" pack size in the aisle. True story. This happens more often than not and I'm always surprised when it does.
I always have a list. I stick to my list.
We eat a lot of fresh produce. (You can get lots of it, often organic, and for a great price frequently at Costco...try to buy seasonal, too - that will always stretch a buck.)
I don't buy pre-packaged. Period. We don't buy juice boxes, mini chip bags or granola bars (that falls under the unhealthy category anyway and you know my feelings on that), or other pre-packaged items. We don't have crackers (such as Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Ritz, etc) around here. Those, along with so many other pre-packaged items are not only costly per box but they are also not really all that great for you. We do buy rice crackers from time to time. Often from Costco.
We don't have juice at all. We drink water and milk and...ah hem, and an adult beverage from time to time...that adult beverage will often come out of our Date budget line.
We minimize the condiments. Not because of wanting to pinch a penny but you get used to things based on past habits, right? Our boys have had ketchup once in their lives. Yep. One of us doesn't like it and the other could care less so we don't buy it. We use mustard as a main condiment (when necessary) and it's dirt cheap. We don't use jam. We don't need it. It's expensive-ish, has sugar, and we substitute berries (picked for free locally) or bananas in our sandwiches. We only use honey in baking as one of our substitutes for sugar (the other being apple sauce...home made and unsweetened). We don't buy dips and and have dressings for salad only. That said, there's a smokin' awesome recipe below for hummus which is a fantastic dip.
We eat a lot of nuts. Almonds and Walnuts mainly. Whole. Skin on. Not salted. The omega factor alone is enough to make you nearly want to live on them. And, while a large bag isn't cheap they last forever and are so good for little (and hopefully bigger not-so-much) growing bodies.
We buy our shampoo and other toiletries in big boxes. (We do like our certain brands though.) If an item is on sale for a discounted price if you purchase multiples, and especially if it's something we can freeze or that won't go bad, then we will purchase multiples. I make all baby food from scratch and it's fantastic how far a butternut squash really will go.
Snacks include nuts, raisins, home made granola bars, muffins (I fill them with all sorts of filling ingredients such as oats, flax, raisins, coconut, whole and spelt flours), loaves, cheese, pretzels (these, I consider one of the more 'junk food' options we purchase but it's a filler and we do buy them in bulk often and the kids think they're a treat).
We do eat meat. Often. So don't go thinking we're livin' on a dime and eatin' veggie.
I make hummus. It costs about $1.25 - $1.50 for me to make about 2 1/2 - 3 cups worth. It costs double, if not triple that at Superstore for not as much in quantity. Hummus is such a versatile, healthy (!) snack or addition to a snack and we love it around here. I'm rather kamikaze in the kitchen (what?! I know, right). So, to make this uber complicated dip try to follow along...
Grab blender. Into said blender pour: 1 can of chickpeas (or 1 can of white kidney beans...they are a new fave) with all but 2 tbsp of it's liquid. You can just get rid of remaining liquid. Add 3 pinches of salt, 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/2 clove of grated garlic, 1/4 cup tahini (sesame) paste, 1/8 cup oil. Blend. Taste. Enjoy. We like ours with veggies, taco chips, or rice crackers. Makeda often enjoys it mixed with sweet potatoes and Balkan yogurt.
Speaking of treats, we buy popcorn (the actual kernel to pop on the stove - again, this concept is derived from both the pre-packaged no-no and the health factor) for movie night treats. Taco chips for our layered dip supper nights. And, from time to time (seldom) a bag of potato chips - those won't really set you back though, will they. I make cookies for the Daddy who, from time to time will indulge. We never buy them. All these items are very inexpensive. We don't buy cookies, cakes, muffins, donuts, others "baked" or ready-to-make treats. I'm pretty sure they are mainly edible oil products aren't they?
We buy whole grain any and every thing. It fills everyone up more quickly and for longer.
If I know I'm going to make muffins or a loaf with them, I will always look for overripe bananas which are always priced 50% off. Why not?! They're just getting mashed up anyway. Tricks like this can save a bundle - and they add flavour to the baking.
We use coupons from time to time but more so, look over flyers at the start (or end) of a week. I won't run all over town for a single item from one store and another from another store (that would kill the gas budget) but I'll try to plan it into my week.
So there you have it. Perhaps it all makes sense and seems obvious. Perhaps there are a few tricks and tips in there to help you shave a buck or two this month. I hope so. Do you have any tricks up your sleeve? We don't live near the US border so crossing over for gas, cheese, or milk isn't optional. Coupons in Canada don't look anything like coupons in the US...though from time to time we do definitely cash in on those.
I don't menu plan because, while I'm crazy ornery for some reason this carries zero appeal to me. We do have a pretty good meal rotation/repetoire which I draw from so when making that grocery list I mentally figure a couple of our go-to's into that.
And, I make it a bit of a game with myself too...how little can I spend?! How much can I save?! How well can we eat while putting some aside to add to the food budget for the following month?!
It's actually rewarding.
Who doesn't like a challenge right?!
Friday, January 13, 2012
We shared, upon receiving our referral (actually, upon passing court) that our desire was to keep Makeda's birth name as her middle name and to give her a new first name. That had always been our wish and plan and momentarily - just prior to opening our referral and seeing her photo - we brushed over the fact that if she did not at all look like a "Makeda" we would change our decision. We'd never given any thought to whether our boys would "look" like a "Noah" or a "Tait", prior to (or just after) their births but for this time was different.
And, I always thought that after we transitioned from "Mihret" to "Makeda Mihret" to simply "Makeda", that would be it. She would simply be "Makeda"...plain and simple.
But it's not.
And she responds to all three of the above names.
And I love that.
And what I love more is when I hear one four year old boy call her by either of the two former (above) names or combination thereof, and she turns and smiles at him. It rolls off his tongue...it's second nature. "It's her name, Mama. It [Mihret] is her real name too." It's as if on some level he knows the deep, sacred importance of maintaining her birth name. It's as though he wants her never to forget. Neither does he want us to forget. As with their bond, it is of utmost importance to him. Because he knows it is of utmost importance to her. Somehow - purely, simply, intricately, he knows. And, it is soft and sweet and gentle when he says it.
It carries innocence.
And while we may fail at times, to maintain and honour as much of her culture and heritage and identity as we should (not for lack of effort), this is perhaps one of the simple yet deeply pervading ways in which we can.
We can honour her birth mother through maintaining use of her birth name. Not in replacement of her given first name but rather in conjunction. Just as her two worlds meet and she will always hold a part of both, so too will her names reflect this phenomena.
I love that Mihret turns when she's called. Either way. With the use of either name she responds.
I hope, I truly yearn, to honour her birth mother's greatest sacrifice if only in this small way...every. single. day.
Monday, January 9, 2012
I realized recently while I'm sharing lots of what is taking place in this crazy journey of ours, I've neglected to post some "real" updates. You know, the kind you notice weekly (sometimes daily) regarding growth and change and all that fun kind of stuff. So, here we go. In point form so you don't lose interest and in hopes of my long-windedness not getting...well...just that.
- When I picked her up in Ethiopia, Makeda's wee body weighed a whopping 8.2 kg and her legs curled under her as do those of a newly born babe. She had gained a mere 1.2 kg in a six month period (whilst in orphanages) and she maintained that for another month and a bit once home with us. Now, weighing much closer to 10kg, she not only mastered crawling Christmas Day, (prior to that for nearly a month it was the army crawl), she is making her way along furniture quite quickly and proving that when I tell her brother's to move their stuff, I am saying it not for nagging purposes.
- She wore 3 - 6 month clothing and some of that was big. Her feet drowned in 6 month socks. She now boasts 12 - 18 month attire always and those 6 month sock are about to be consigned.
- While she arrived home on Sept 24, Makeda didn't gain weight until sometime late November. I know this because at her specialist appt in late October she hadn't gained a single ounce. We also know the culprit of such weight maintenance (and not gain): Giardia. It's nasty. I can tell you this first hand because, well apparently we like to share in this house and Makeda shared nicely with me. She also came home with another rather serious "disease" which is now gone and for that we are thankful. If I could offer up a single piece of really good advise: immunize your family. That statement includes those who aren't traveling to Ethiopia but who will be in frequent, loving contact with your child. I don't feel I need to disclose what exactly she had but fortunately, we are happy to report she is completely happy and healthy - as are we.
- She didn't have a single tooth when I brought her home at a day short of ten months. After her first tooth popped about ten weeks ago, she's cut another four. There's never been any complaints from her. Ever. Well, except for the diaper. Apparently she complains out the other end and while I would take this any day over sleepless nights and napless days, the cloth diapers (and wipes too!) can get rather rank. Not complaining'...just sayin'.
- Makeda now signs..."all done", "more", "please" are all part of her repertoire of hand signs. They are the basics and we feel that with so much to teach, learn, and experience not only in the first year (plus) of life but also with so many other stimuli being thrown her way, these really are the only ones she needs to learn for now. She does, however, also love to blow kisses and wave hello/good-bye. She has acquired a few syllables used for specific people/puppy.
- The girl has attitude. Not always but when she's seriously opposed to something and perhaps just a bit overtired she shares her pre-adolescent, perhaps genetic, most definitely female-estrogen induced attitude. Make no mistake.
- There is no longer any food she will not eat. For awhile eggs seemed out of the question but once she turned one and we could feed her scrabbled eggs including both the yolk and the white, she proved to us that tastebuds do change and she was more than happy to chomp away.
- Speaking of eating, she does that a lot. I often overlook the fact that she has a healthy appetite for a one year old. Currently favourites include sweet potatoes/butternut squash, hummus (homemade from either chickpeas or white kidney beans), plain (balkan!), whole yogurt, to name a few. Her favourite snacks could include homemade granola bars (recipe to follow very shortly) and bananas. She prefers savoury over sweet and this doesn't surprise us as the Ethiopian diet is definitely more of a spicy, flavour-filled one. She likely ingested such flavours in utero.
- She's not had any illnesses other than the two she came home with in September. Healthy kid.
- Though some days I forget and cannot believe she is one, she's proving daily that she truly does know exactly what is going on everywhere. This can now be understood when something is being taken away from her and she screams and cries in protest. Oh, that sad sad cry.
- Jealousy. Truthfully, we have been so blessed. The only jealousy seen from her brothers is between the two of them when they are both vying for her attention. She was so long awaited that her brother's don't show an ounce of jealousy. We are so grateful. They are helpful and eager to play with her (most of the time...they are human after all) and help make her smile. They love to praise her when she reaches new milestones and do what they can when they are asked. It's incredible.
- And, while my intention isn't to make it sound like everything is perfect (we are human after all), this journey - Makeda's coming home and integrating into our family - has been more seamless than we could ever have hoped or prayed for. Often it is as if she has always been here. And so, when she is reminding me at the top of her lungs, that she no longer wishes to be in the car, I have to in turn remind myself what a gift it is to listen to that scream...even if some days it takes everything in me not to return the favour at a pitch only dogs can hear.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
I'm exhausted. Such a great day...couple of days...week - it's been a fantastic week. But the days have been packed and the evenings likewise and I want to get some stuff down here, in this space, except my brain won't work coherently. We found a fantastic (soft, chewy) granola bar recipe I want to share very soon. Excellent for wee helping hands, (near) toothless mouths, and even the biggest of kids love them. But not now. I'd likely leave something pivotal out.
So for now...joy.
Overwhelming beauty. Mercy abounding.
She brings just that to our family.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
So far it's been good to us.
So far, it's been nothing but great to us.
How could we not be thankful, grateful, rejoicing, feeling most blessed.
I've been thinking over the past few days, how odd it is that with one turn on the hand of a clock we feel this fresh slate...a new outlook, opportunities perhaps felt or at least perceived in abundance, energy renewed by the advance of a single second, minute, day, year. It's just odd.
How was last Saturday to Sunday any different from the ones before, or the one before that even?
It is though isn't it? Different. New. Exciting.
I'm excited. Not for any reason in particular. The year ahead is promising. Some plans already made bring even more anticipated joy. One small six year old did indeed verbalize his love for this place. Our home. He echoed his Mama's thoughts, as the sun shone on our way to school.
And, as for the goals? The ones that aren't New Year's Resolutions because apparently I don't like those three words...how are they going?
Well, day four and they are great - thanks for asking.
Running: check. Dressing More Care-Fully: well, our last two days of holidays didn't count right? Since the start of school and work, ah hem (that would mean) yesterday, I can say there has been success in the wardrobe department! Doing Something For Makeda's First And Second Families...For Her Orphanage: they have received hard copies (hand delivered!) in abundance. And, in return I have received a photo of their faces (oh the joy) while they looked through them all. They've seen their child...one of their children. They know she is doing well. They know she is thriving. More importantly, they know she is happy and oh, so loved. I hesitate to share said photo. Perhaps another day. It's part of Makeda's story and I'm not sure it's mine to share. Facebook: HA! I laugh in the face of Facebook (and yes, that's another tick on the "it's going great" list). Saying Yes: hmmm, let's just say there's been lots of Take The Cake and Chutes And Ladders going on around here. A few additional deep breaths have been taken and a little less Raised Voice to report. Sugar: well, I never claimed perfection and as soon as all that freaking Christmas goodness is gone, serious strides will be made. Mark my words.
A sweet, sweet friend (and uber talented girl to boot!) came to visit and if you live in the Thunder Bay area or somewhere thereabouts, can I please put in the most fantastic word on behalf of Ilo Photo. What a talented, gracious couple...with four young kids! We were blessed to have (most of) them visit, and enjoy a crazy fast photo shoot. (Like I said, they have four young kids so she knows how to snap quick and quality!) We weren't all able to be there as it was during a work day and so we had a local company take family shots over the break. More of Ilo's work and our other photographer to come...but for now...enjoy this sweet little "oh no! don't let her fall!!!!" shot that makes me smile each time I look it over...
Yes, 2012 has indeed been gracious already.
And we welcome it with open arms and joyful hearts.