If this blog is a window to my life, I’m wanting to throw the curtains wide open and wave to any who may want to gape in.  I suppose that would be fine if I lived alone or if I lived with others who were equally bold and excited about their simple lives.  Neither one of those scenarios is true for me.  I’m blessed to live with a wonderful husband and two fantastic sons.  My life is so entwined with theirs that to throw open the curtains on what I’m doing or thinking is the same as making their lives public domain.  If this blog is a window on our lives together, they want the curtains drawn firmly shut, thank you very much.  Since those nearest and dearest mean more to me than any past time ever could, I have decided to accommodate them.  They will be able to live freely and happily without any fear that what they say or do might show up somewhere where others might find out about it.  I will live freely and happily writing notes to myself and building photo albums that only I will look at.  The important part is that we’ll all live together freely and happily.  So if you’re gaping in, see me closing the curtains as I wave good-bye to you.

My firstborn.  How many firsts have you shared with me?  Too many to count and as old as you get, the firsts don’t stop happening.

Early this morning, you washed, dried and put away dishes before school for the first time as a consequence for your untidiness.  You were unhappy about it.  Definitely not a first.  I stood, arms crossed, making sure the consequence was completed as required.  Also not a first.  You grinned at me and I grinned back, not for the first time and probably not for the last time either.

Later this morning, your smile sported some new hardware for the first time.  And later in the day for the first time that winning smile caused you a lot of pain.  Braces aren’t fun, especially at first but as always you manage admirably.

Tonight you went out and completed your first fitness test with Air Cadets.  You didn’t score first in all the events but you did in some and your attitude was nothing short of first-rate considering how much your teeth were hurting you and that you had homework awaiting you at home.

Now you’re attempting to brush your train tracked teeth for the first time.  It’s a lengthy process but you’re committed to doing it correctly and faithfully.

Oh my firstborn.  You think I enjoy it when things are difficult for you.  You think I’m laughing at you when first and foremost I’m smiling because I’m proud of you and so very glad that you were given to me.  You will always be my first and to my last breath I will treasure you and rejoice in all the firsts, seconds, hundredths and everything in between that we’re given.

Writing – most people don’t like to do very much of it.  I am not most people.  I really enjoy writing and do it almost every day.  Sometimes my musings show up on this blog, other times they’re entered in my nature journal.  There is the odd occasion where I even write to work through frustration, sadness or disappointment.  As great as all this writing is, it’s often very one-sided.  Well, if you don’t like something, change it, right?  I thought it would be cool to hear back regarding what I’d written so I went looking for penpals.  Through a freebie membership on Global Penfriends, I’ve found two people like me who like to write – Claudia in Basel, Switzerland and Jacky in Modena, Italy.  We exchange e-mails because that’s fast and easy but we also write each other snail mail letters because it’s fun to get something handwritten and personal in our mailboxes.

Here’s my first letter from Switzerland:

What fun to hear what Claudia’s life is like in a place as foreign to me as Switzerland.  Canada is just as foreign to her so she’s very interested in plying me with questions.  We’re ordinary women living ordinary lives who may never meet and yet we can build a friendship based on words.  Writing – I’m so glad there are other people out there who like it as much as I do.

I like shopping.  I really do.  So I was happy to go out last night while the boys were at Air Cadets and try to find colourful dishes for D and P.  (I went over the plan with DA previously and he smiled, then laughed and gave me the thumbs up and his full support for it.)  Orillia is a small town so there are only a few stores open late on a Tuesday night.  I decided to hit up Zeller’s.  They’re carrying the official winter olympic gear so I was hopeful that they might have some Vancouver 2010 plates and glasses available.  No such luck.  What they did have were some pretty Corelle dinnerwear pieces that you could buy individually.  I wasn’t too interested in pretty frou frou dishes.  I don’t think D and P would be either.

Right next to Zeller’s is Canadian Tire.  I figured that’s more a man’s store so maybe I’d have some luck there.  Look what I found:

These funky vintage style Kellogg’s plates are microwave and dishwasher safe and they were marked down 50%.  I knew D and P would like them.  I also knew they’d go for these frosty mugs for cold drinks.  Mugs with technology built into them are a hit with boys.  I only wish they had matching bowls and cutlery for these cool plates.  No such luck.

I don’t often bring a Canadian Tire bag home with me so D and P were curious as to its contents.  They reacted exactly as I predicted when I pulled out my findings.  D lunged for the Smacks plate and lime green mug and P happily snatched at the Frosted Flakes plate and red mug.  I should have broken out into a loud “Bwa ha ha ha” then because little do they know that these gifts are all part of my diabolical plan to get them to do what I want them to do.  I didn’t.  I held it in.  I’ll save my insane laughter for when the plan actually works.

Today after work I found the rest of their kits at various Dollar Stores and the Bargain Shop.

D will use the lime green stuff and P will get the red and blue things.  I even managed to empty out a cupboard to make room for their new gear.  The plan is coming together.

As for rung one, we had our first infraction and floor scrubbing this aft.  There were no arguments.  The evidence was clearly in my favour.  I think I may put the rung two plan in writing and have us all sign it so that we’re all clear as to what is expected and what the consequences will be for failing to meet those expectations.  I’m so excited.  Imagine a house with no stray dishes with day old BBQ sauce stuck to them.  Imagine rooms that aren’t littered with cups with curdled milk in them.  Imagine launching sons into the world that actually know how to clean up after themselves.  Imagining it is good; making it happen will be even better.

D and P have been taking the front entrance way seriously.  Since we started “rung one” of the ladder, they’ve been careful to place their footwear on the mat, hang their coats on hangers in the closet and put their back packs in their assigned spot.  This is very pleasing to me and I’ve made sure that I’ve gushed a bit about it.  I’ve approached them individually, letting them know that I’ve noticed their efforts and how happy it’s made me to walk in a door that isn’t blocked by shoes, to put away my boots without first having to move their coats and to stride confidently into the house without fear of accidentally finding the back pack that doubles as a booby trap for unsuspecting parents.  At 12 and 13, my boys aren’t overly expressive, but a smile plays on their lips when I praise them and I can tell that they prefer to see me pleased than to hear me harping on them.

Even as I’m rejoicing in the early success of “rung one”, I’m already plotting to move them up to “rung two”.  One of the great things about kids is that as they get older they get more independent.  There was a time when I had to do everything for D and P because they were incapable of doing anything themselves.  Those days are long over.  D and P are both very capable lads, a fact that I remind them of often.  They still loved to be served and catered to but more and more I am saying “no” to that.  I won’t always be around.  They need to learn to fend for themselves.

I don’t prepare breakfast for the boys anymore.  They don’t catch the school bus early so there’s no reason why they can’t help themselves to something simple in the morning.  I make sure that there are a lot of easy options on hand for them.  I also don’t make lunches for D and P.  They have hands that work and can put together sandwiches as easily as I can.  I keep a good supply of meats, cheeses, fruits, veggies and snacks in the kitchen specifically with them in mind.  I also don’t make an after school snack for them.  They know what they’re allowed to have and not allowed to have before dinner.  They are aware of what they can help themselves to and what they have to ask permission for to eat.  I also don’t make anything for the guys after dinner.  If they’ve eaten well and are still hungry, they can ask for permission to eat certain comfort foods.  They must prepare those comfort foods though and no matter what or where they eat, my expectation is that they would clean up after themselves.

This is where we have pebbles.  D and P both like to carry their food to wherever they decide their next activity is.  They often forget to bring their dishes to the sink like I’ve asked them to.  There are three main areas where I find dishes in our home – by the computer, by the television and in the boys’ rooms.  When I call them to account, arguments often break out.  Each one swears that the offending dishes were not left there by him.  I’m not fond of donning the judge’s wig and going to court over these misdemeanors and disagreements.  I’m fond of an easier way.

The last two years I homeschooled, I bought the boys colour coded supplies.  D had blue pens, blue erasers, a blue pencil case, a blue ruler, blue duotangs, a blue binder…well you get the idea…his stuff was blue.  All of P’s things were green.  This really cut down on the “He stole my ruler” accusations and the “No, it’s my pencil.  No it isn’t, it’s mine” arguments.  It’s amazing how much time we saved when we didn’t have to spend even a moment deciding what things belonged to which child.  It also quickly revealed who was guilty of not caring for their things.  Can’t find your ruler?  Too bad, so sad.  Now you have to waste play time looking for it and still do the measuring assignment.

Since the colour coding worked for school supplies, I figured it might also work for dishes and cutlery.  I’d be willing to invest a little money to get better habits in D and P.  If I can, I’ll get some blue plates, bowls, glasses and cutlery for D and some green ones for P.  They will be expected to use these dishes for when they prepare themselves food.  I will have to decide a time when I want all the dishes to be in the kitchen sink for.  Inspection will take place and the guilty will not only have to haul their dishes to where they should have been, they will also be awakened a half hour early in the morning to do all the dishes in the sink, including drying them and putting them away.  We are a family that eats at home and there are always a good amount of dishes in the sink.  The same penalty will apply if I catch either boy using the wrong dishes.  D and P understandably are not fond of doing dishes so the consequence will be a good deterrent.

The hardest part of moving to “rung two” will be remembering to faithfully do inspection and  being diligent to get the guilty up a half hour earlier than usual for consequences.   The good part is that now we are not a one-parent family.  DA will like the “rung two” phase and I know I can trust him to remind me and help me do my part of the agreement.  I still have to find those special dishes and go over this with DA (I’m very confident he’ll say “yes” to part two of the plan) and then explain it in full to D and P but as Hannibal used to say on “The A Team”, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  Yeah.  Life always feels better when a plan comes together.

In between boys, marriage, work and running a house, I sometimes indulge my artistic side.  Here’s my latest accomplishment:

The colours on this latest “masterpiece” really are fantastically bright.  It was such a pleasure to work on it when everything outside is so terribly dull and when most of my house is riddled with pebbles (LOL!)

On a happier note, I’ve been thinking about my pebble problem some more and it’s gotten me less frustrated and more motivated.  I realize that the problem started when we moved to this house.  Not only were we getting used to a new home and a new community but I was also entering a new phase in life.  After years of being a single mom, I was now a dating mom.  Eventually, I became an engaged mom and finally I am what I am now – a married mom.  In all that excitement we also transitioned from being a homeschooling family to a family that sent the kids to public school.  A lot of changes happened in a relatively short time and some good things went by the wayside.

Being on my own and homeschooling, I was able to devote a lot of time to D and P.  Being younger, they needed constant supervision.  I’m very good about cleaning up after myself and so I made my little charges clean up after every activity too.  Of course they did it because to not do it meant the wrath of mean ol’ ma and who wants that?  Not my boys!

When we moved here the boys were older and being busy with new and interesting things (namely DA), I left them more on their own.  Settling into the house took some time and not everything got a home right away.  As they got older, we also got more stuff and more stuff means more mess.  I wasn’t consistent about clean up with them especially as they grew to be able to do more things on their own that previously required my assistance.  I guess I  thought they would automatically internalize my clean up mentality but how could they really?  Clean up means different things to different people.  To me, clean up means leaving a room the way you found it.  To D and P it might mean that they put the bread away and put the lid on the peanut butter.  They’re not thinking about the crumbs, the sticky knife on the counter or the fact that they found the peanut butter jar in a cupboard and that maybe that’s where I want it put away when they’re done with it.

I’m getting annoyed with them because they’re not cleaning up the way I want them to and they’re getting annoyed with me because I’m constantly calling them and pointing out what I see as infractions.  First of all, I need to clearly define to them what I mean by cleaning up.  Then we need to use the “ladder method”.  What I mean by that is that we need to go rung by rung to get D and P to where I want them to be.  The top of the ladder is that they always leave a room the way they found it or better.  The first rung of the ladder is the front entrance way.  We need to start there.  The shoes or boots need to be placed on the mat (I may do plastic cut outs so they know where I expect them to be.)  Coats need to be hung on hangers in the closet.  Assigned hangers may be in order here.  Back packs will also have an assigned spot.  The retraining will start at the front door.  When we’re getting good at that area, we’ll move to the next recurring problem spot while still maintaining the good habits we’ve created at the last one.

What I like about this plan is that it’s not so overwhelming for me or them.  I simply can’t tackle all the problem areas at once.  I run out of steam.  It’s also unfair to suddenly expect them to leap to the top of my success ladder in a single bound.   Getting to the top is a step by step process.

The consequence for not meeting the front entrance requirements will be scrubbing the floor by the front door (after the guilty one has placed his shoes properly, hung up his coat correctly and put his back pack where it’s supposed to be of course.)  That smallish piece of vinyl flooring is always dirty in the winter anyways.

The first rung will likely be the hardest.  I have a feeling they’ll make it to the next rungs with a bit more ease.  Either that or I’ll have an amazingly scrubbed house.

Imagine that I’ve been given an amazing pair of boots from the most reknowned boot maker in the world.  These boots are unlike any other boots made.  They’ve been uniquely put together with me in mind and handed to me free of charge.  They’re beautiful.  Everywhere I go they draw comments.  I love the boots and do my utmost to take care of them.  They’re more valuable than anything else I own so I spare no expense at maintaining them.

Now imagine that one day I’m wearing my amazing boots and a small pebble manages to find its way into one of them.  I stop, take off the boot, empty out the stone, put the boot back on and continue on my way only to find that now the other boot has a pebble in it.  I stop and empty that one out too.  As I walk along the pebbles keep finding their way into my boots.  I look at the boots and wonder why.  I refer to the manual to see if I’ve overlooked something in terms of caring for them.  I even try repeatedly to contact the boot maker.  For some reason, he isn’t returning my calls.  This problem goes on and on.  How do you think I feel now about my amazing boots?  They still look good, they still fit and they still draw positive comments.  They’re not all bad but that one little problem changes my feelings towards them.  Before I just loved them.  Now, I’m a bit irritated with them especially since I can’t figure out why the pebbles keep getting in when I’ve done everything I know to properly care for them.

Those boots are my children.  They were a special gift knit together uniquely and handed to me.  They are more valuable than anything else I have.  In fact, they’re priceless.  I know their worth and do everything I can to properly care for them.  They are so special that I don’t mind investing a lot of time and money into them.

The little problem with my boys is that they don’t clean up.  I come home from work and their shoes and coats are in a heap in front of the door.  The back packs are carelessly tossed where they impede walking into the house.  It’s a small pebble.  I can remedy the problem by cleaning up.  It takes under a minute.  I walk into the kitchen.  Someone has made himself a hot chocolate.  The opened mix is still on the counter.  So are the milk and the scissors used to open the new bag.  There’s a little hot chocolate mix spilled on the counter.  It’s another small pebble.  I can remedy the problem by cleaning up.  It takes under a minute.  Now I turn to use the computer.  A child has been there before me.  The computer screen has been lowered.  There’s a plate and cup sitting beside the screen.  Someone’s had a croissant.  The crumbs are on the plate and beside it and there’s a little bit of melted butter on the computer table.  On the other side of the screen there is an assortment of pens and pencils and an Ipod with its charger.  It’s a small pebble.  I can handle it.  It only takes about a minute to clean it up.  By this time I realize I need a bathroom.  A child has been there too.  I can tell.  There are wet, bunched up socks on the floor beside a wet, bunched up towel.  Someone has taken a shower.  The shower mat that’s usually hung over the shower door is now on the floor as well.  It’s a small pebble.  The problem is remedied easily in another minute.  As I go about my business, I discover many more small pebbles.  This isn’t an unusual day.  I am irked at the small pebbles.  I’m irritated at all the minutes I spend getting rid of them.  I wonder why they’re there at all.  My attitude towards my amazing sons, which should be one of love, isn’t.  I’m frustrated with them.

Some days I keep dealing with the pebbles.  I call them to my sons’ attention and insist that they are taken care of.  It’s tiring work.  Every time I turn around there’s a new pebble to bother me.  Other days I try to put up with the pebbles.  I can do this for only so long.  Eventually our house becomes more of a rock beach than a home.  My significant other isn’t very fond of pebbles.  He notices them and points them out to me and expects me to do something about them.  Some days I feel like punching him.  Doesn’t he know that I’ve been trying and trying and trying to do something about this problem and nothing I’ve done has worked so far?  Most days I try to explain to him that yes, I see the problem and yes, I feel that something has to be done about it and that no, I’m fresh out of ideas how to permanently remedy the pebble problem.  No matter what I do those pebbles just start appearing again to aggravate me.

I don’t want to get rid of my amazing boots but I don’t want to wear them and be annoyed every ten paces or so.  What consequences can I give my sons that they’ll learn to do what they’ve been taught to do?  How can I explain to these two, who should know by now, that these little problems have turned into a mountain for me – a mountain that obscures my view of them?  If I persist at making them clean up they’re angry with me and life is even more tiring.  If I let it go, my spouse is upset with me which is just as fatiguing.  Is this parenthood?  Trying, trying, trying and getting no noticeable results?  Is this marriage?  The problem is mine and mine alone to deal with?  In the end, all I have are a lot of questions and an amazing pair of boots that I should be enamored with but in reality don’t want to be close to.  They hurt me.  Over and over and over again they hurt me.  They tire me out.  They make an easy trip that much longer and harder because somehow I’ve let them be flawed.  All I can hope for is that the boot maker gets back to me on this one.  And that I don’t lose it and seriously hurt someone before He does.

I have lived roughly one third of my life with two very healthy, active boys.  Hanging with these two at a resort I knew that my time there wouldn’t be about getting manicures and going shopping.  Doing time with my guys involves action – lots of it.

At 13 and 12, D and P are eating machines.  They need fuel for the ants in their pants.  We ate one time at the restaurant at the resort.  It was kind of pricey but this particular breakfast was all you could eat for one reasonable price.  We definitely ate our money’s worth.  D snapped this lovely pic of me.  I’m looking a little droopy eyed but that could be because I was working on my second giant plate of heavy duty food.  Or it could be because it took us almost eight hours to get to the St. Hippolyte and I don’t always sleep that well my first night away from home.

The rest of the time we used the kitchen in our condo to drum up meals.  P ate a lot of bologna and being a boy couldn’t help playing with his food and hamming it up for the camera.

Eating well gave us a lot of energy for skating on the lake.

Here we are showing off our incredible technique.  You can’t see it in any of these pictures but there was a small fireplace on a skid in the middle of the skating rink.  It was cool to go skating in the winter and have it smell like camping in the summer.

When we got tired of the cold, we went to the activity room where there was usually something to do.  D and P had a great time shooting some pool and I had fun running around the pool table to shoot pictures of them.

Every afternoon, the resort staff had activities planned.  D and P were interested in kicking butt in the Wii tournament.  They ended up being too strong a team and got separated and paired up with some of the younger boys.

The pool was a hit with the guys.  I tried to swim a bit.  Boys don’t swim.  They cannonball and whip balls at each other and see who can stay underwater the longest.

When the D and P did get tired, we spent some glorious time marinating in the hot tub followed by some relaxation time  in the sauna.

I managed to convince D to do some hiking in the Laurentians with me.  We veered off the beaten path to try to get to the top of a bluff.  D made it by swinging himself from tree to tree.  I only made it part way.  I couldn’t hold my camera and use my arms to pull myself up at the same time.  It doesn’t show in the pictures, but the way up was glare ice.

I still had a pretty far reaching view from where I made it to.

D’s clever way to get down was to slide on his jacket.  I ended up doing the same thing.  The path we forged was insanely slippery.

P and I hiked an easier trail the following day to a place called Belvedere Lookout.  There’s nothing separating you from a huge drop here.  P and I didn’t venture too close to the edge.

Here’s the view.  Those buildings are part of the resort.

This is what they look like closer up.  The long lodge like building on the bottom is one of the original buildings on the resort.  We stayed in one of those units.  The colourful building higher up is one of the newer places to stay.  I got to see the inside of one of the units and was very impressed.

This is what our condo looked like – rustic but comfortable.

D and P were excited to try cross country skiing.  It turned out to be harder than they thought it would be.  They had some dramatic falls that I hate to say had me in stitches.  They got up, though, brushed themselves off and tried, tried again.  I followed behind on snow shoes so that my hands would be free to snap photos.

These pics were just for fun.  We had been hearing about the American skier Lindsay Vonn and saw her pose on the front of Sports Illustrated.  D and P are mimicking her form.

We wouldn’t be truly Canadian if we didn’t throw some hockey into our vacation.  The boys were very happy to borrow these sticks and net to play Canada’s favourite game.  I was happy that they let me be a spectator.

Last but not least of our vacation pics is P after his big win.  You could borrow games from the activity room and D and P thought Texas Hold ‘Em looked like fun.  It didn’t take P long to outwit his brother and take home all the cash.  He was pretty happy with that outcome.

What’s missing in our photos is DA.  We did see him while at the resort but not that much.  He had to work long days and when he came back to the condo, he ate and crashed.  We could have taken some fun pics of him snoring on the couch but we’re a nice family so we went easy on him.

That’s it.  That’s what relaxing with the boys looks like.  And this is what mom looks like when her boys are happy.

The bad news is DA has to work this weekend out of town.  That means that he won’t be here for Valentine’s Day or Family Day.

The good news is the boys and I have been invited to go along on this business trip.

The best news is that I got the time off from work so going is doable.

Lord willing, we will leave on Thursday after I’m done delivering, travel for about five and a half hours and then spend the next five days in a resort in St. Hippolyte, Quebec.  Did you see that number?  Five whole days in a resort!  Apparently, we’ll have a condo with a hot tub in it and have access to all the resort amenities.  I think spending Valentine’s Day with the love of my life in a lux joint like this is going to make up for a lot of those more lonely, pathetic Valentine’s Days.  I’m totally pumped to be pampered!

Every now and then, the sky blushes in the winter.  It happened on Saturday and luckily I had my camera with me.

This is Couchiching Park with a lovely blue and pink backdrop.  So pretty!

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time.