Monthly Archives: February 2012

Flower power

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Azalea in bloom

Although February is almost over, it doesn’t look like winter is departing any time soon.  We got 6 inches/15 cm of snow last weekend and more is expected tonight.  My garden is hardly visible under the layers of snow and ice.  It will probably be at least mid-April before I see any sign of green.

However, in the interim, I have my own little flowering oasis in a corner of my bedroom. Thanks to my crazy azalea, I get to enjoy a beautiful flowers plant to enjoy throughout the winter.  This year, I have had the added bonus of an orchid in bloom.

While I consider myself to be a competent and knowledgable gardener, my azalea blooms every winter, with little or no encouragement from me.  I put it outside on the back porch as soon as I can in the spring – once the risk of frost has passed. It stays out there until there is a threat of frost and then I bring it back inside. During the winter, it lives in a west-facing window in our bedroom.  And every year,  it starts to bud in early December.  Usually by Christmas, it’s in bloom and stays that way until mid-March. 

Close-up

The only attention I ever give the azalea is to cut back some of the branches.  A master gardener once told me that a mature plant could be cut back by up to a third every year.  So I usually try to shape it a little bit every spring.  Every 2-3 years, I change the soil.  Of course, I water it regularly in the winter.  In exchange for my benign neglect, my azalea goes into a blooming frenzy during the winter months.  What’s not to like about this arrangement? 

Still blooming

I am not much more attentive to my orchids.  I water them no more than once a month – when the bark in the pot feels completely dry.  Since orchids apparently prefer to be watered from the bottom up, I put 2 pop bottles worth of warm (not hot) water in a sink and let the plants sit in it for a couple of hours. The trick to getting orchids to bloom is to fertilize them regularly, so I throw some orchid food in the water with the plants.  Since I started feeding my orchids, they bloom at least twice a year, often at the same time.  Like azaleas, orchids bloom for several weeks, even months. 

starting to bloom

Blooming beauty

As much as I like winter, thanks to my orchid and my azalea, I have lovely flowers to look at every morning.  Even better, I hardly have to do anything to get them to bloom.  This trick doesn’t seem to work as well on my garden, but by the time I can get outside, the weather will be warm and the tulips will be coming up.  More flowers in my future.

A bump in the road?

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Today was not a good day. 

M got into a fight with another child at daycare today.  Apparently, it was unprovoked and M hit the other child several times in the face.  M’s story is different – he accidentally bumped into the boy while playing a game and the other child responded by pushing him and bending his fingers back. It is hard to know what really happened. But as far as the daycare is concerned, M’s is the one whose behaviour is the problem.  

All this stems from the incident a few weeks ago when M used a racial insult in a moment of anger with a group of boys. One of the boys is very hurt and refuses to talk to M, even to let him apologize. For his part, M has not handled the situation well – he continues to follow the other boy around and call him names. He may say he’s sorry, but from the other child’s perspective, M doesn’t seem like he is. He is certainly not walking the talk.

As we explained to the program coordinator and the head councilor today, M is clearly stressed and anxious about this situation.  It doesn’t justify what he is doing, but this has been his pattern for the last several years – M gets anxious about something and starts lashing out.  The program wanted to suspend M but I suggested to them that based on our experiences with the school, this would only add to his anxiety.

In the end, we agreed that M would not be permitted to play active games inside or outside for a couple of weeks. March Break is coming and that may be enough of a break for all the kids.  We have suggested to M that instead of trying to verbally apologize to the child who isn’t speaking to him, he write him a note. M also admitted to us later that he hadn’t eaten his bagel today.  we know from experience that the days when he has the most trouble with other children are the days when he hasn’t eaten his lunch.  So we also suggested that one of the staff check in with him when he arrives to ensure he eats.  We will be reminding him every morning.

I am trying very hard not to be discouraged about the situation.  I told the daycare staff that it was a bump in the road; we had encountered similar hurdles in the past and gotten over them.  But I am not sure I even believe myself.  What if M can’t pull himself together and gets suspended from the program or worse, asked to leave?  I know I am getting ahead of myself, but I certainly got the sense from the program coordinator today that M was on pretty thin ice with the daycare. 

Part of me wonders why my kid can’t do more to help himself.  We have explained to him over and over that he crossed a major line and he can’t force these boys to forgive him.  That he should just leave the boy who is still angry at him alone.  Find another group of kids to hang around with at the daycare. But he is his own worst enemy.  

So at the moment, I am feeling helpless and anxious.  It doesn’t help that I had a multiple migraines in the last few days and feel physically worn out.  I want to crawl back into bed and eat potato chips – not the most mature response.  Rationally, I know we will get through this.  Despite the program coordinator’s view if his recent behaviour, M has gone through much worse.  Emotionally,  however, it is another story.  I know we are doing all the right things for M:  medication, therapy, advocating for him.  But right now, it doesn’t seem like it is making much of a difference.

I know that i will feel better tomorrow morning.  I also know that M is basically a good kid – his aggression comes from fear and anxiety, not an inherent character flaw. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching the phone every afternoon for the next 2 weeks, just in case the daycare calls.

A “touchy” situation

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ipod touch

ipod touch (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Several months ago, M began agitating for an IPod Touch. He already had a Shuffle, a gift from his grandfather who won it at work.  Plus he had a Nintendo DS and access to the computer and Wii (technically his dad’s).  So why in the world would he need another electronic device?

Turns out having the latest and greatest electronic device is the 21st century equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. When his dad asked him why he wanted an IPod Touch, M burst into tears and started crying about all his friends had one and he was the only one who didn’t. His father launched into a lecture about how there was always somebody else who had what we wanted and just wanting stuff because our friends wanted it wasn’t a good reason…not exactly what any child wants to hear.  I think M started crying louder, just to drown out his father. 

We didn’t make any promises at that point, other than to say we would think about it. After talking to a number of friends with children the same age, we decided he could get one, with the condition that he pay at least half from his savings.  We didn’t actually commit to a purchase date.  I think we were both hoping M would forget about it. 

M continued to raise the issue and this weekend, he finally got his IPod Touch. He’s paying about 3/4 of the full price.  He has been advised that he can’t take it to school – the school board doesn’t allow devices with cameras. Of course, he spent as much time as he was allowed either playing games or downloading new games. 

I still have very mixed feelings about the IPod.  On the one hand, he has enough trouble limiting himself to 30 minutes a day of media time, just with what was already in the house. We’ve never counted listening to music as part of his electronics time, but if he is listening to music on his IPod Touch, what’s to say he won’t also be playing games?  Hardly fair to ask a 10-year old to police himself. 

On the other hand, M wanted this enough to put up most of his savings. Making decisions about how you spend your own money is an important part of growing up. If we had given it to him as a gift, I’m not sure it would have been as meaningful.  Nor do I think there would have been as much impetus to take care of it.  In both scenarios, losing it means it’s gone – it won’t be replaced.  But having invested his own money, hopefully M will be sufficiently motivated to take care of the IPod.  He hasn’t ever lost his Nintendo, although he has misplaced it more than once, at karate, the bottom of his knapsack and myriad other places around the house. 

So we’ll see how it goes. I fully expect that he will continue to protest about how much time he gets. I also expect that there will be moments when I will wonder what the hell was thinking I and/or how did I let myself be talked into letting him get the IPod Touch (easy enough to blame it on my husband, since he is a much big fan of technology than I am).  But M needs to take on more responsibility for making his own decisions and living with the consequences.  And as hard as it is for me,  I need to let him.

“You’ll have fun when we get there” and other lies we tell our children

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English: I took this photo of cross country sk...

Image via Wikipedia

Every Saturday morning, from the beginning of January to the beginning of March, we go cross-country skiing.  We belong to a club, where M takes lessons and my husband and I go off on our own and ski. for 2 hours.  

Given a choice, M would not go – he would much rather stay home in his pjs and watch TV and play computer games.  In his place, I would probably trade hanging out at home for spending 2 hours out in the cold.  But since we are the adults/parents, we’ve decided that skiing is a fine way to spend a Saturday am. So every week, when M whines about going, we tell him the same thing: “you’ll have fun when you get there.” 

This morning, M didn’t complain much about getting ready.  It snowed fairly heavily yesterday, so there was a nice thick blanket of snow on the ground.  The last couple of weeks have been icy, which isn’t a lot of fun for skiing.

My husband and I decided we would skate ski, as opposed to classic.  We left M with his class and headed out.  We weren’t very far along before I realized it was going to be hard work.  The heavy snowfall meant that the groomers hadn’t had time to set the trails – a snowmobile pulls a contraption behind it which flattens out the snow.  But the trail was narrower than usual and there was a fair amount of snow piled up along the edge and my skis kept sliding off the trail and getting stuck. I realized after about 10 minutes that I would have been much happier on my classic skis – I am a much stronger at this technique, while I am still learning to skate ski.  Skate skiing is to classic skiing what running is to walking – much faster and more demanding of your arms and shoulders.  Plus it seemed like we were going straight uphill.  It wasn’t long before I wanted to curl up into snow bank and whimper.  Everything hurt – my triceps, my shoulders, my hips, my thighs.  We were skiing in the woods and the trees were blanketed with a heavy layer of fresh snow.  But despite the lovely scenery, I was not having fun.

We had to stop frequently – at least my husband did, so I could catch up. Finally after nearly an hour and a half, we came to a cabin where most of the ski classes had gathered to rest and have a snack, including M’s.  When I asked him how he was doing, he didn’t look thrilled but he seemed in reasonably good spirits.  His group took off in one direction and we went another. By this time, we were going downhill more than uphill, so it wasn’t as difficult.  Still hard, but not excruciating.  I was enjoying myself a little bit more.

We had not seen hide nor hair of M’s group for most of the morning, but all of a sudden, we seemed to be tripping over them. The first time M passed us, he was at the back of the pack, but still making an effort. The second time, he was climbing a hill and just before he got to the top, he fell and make a huge production of getting up.  As he passed me he yelled, “I hate skiing!”  The third time, we passed him, he wouldn’t even look at me.  He wasn’t even pretending to have fun.

Most Saturday mornings, I am not very sympathetic to M’s complaints about skiing. But this morning, I understood how he felt.  He isn’t the fastest skier in his group and when you are as competitive as he is, you are either first or a loser.  He is a good skier – better than me – but I understand what it’s like to compare yourself to others.  On classic skis, I am a confident skier – I have good technique and speed and I feel comfortable skiing  But on skate skis, I am slow and my technique is ok, but not great.  Plus, as the morning went along, the wind picked up and it got colder.  Or maybe, because I was tired, I noticed it more. 

By the time we all met near the parking lot, M was clearly tired and made a bee-line for the car.  On our way home, I didn’t ask him if he’d enjoyed himself.  I told him that I had found it tough going, but that I was glad I had gone out.  Not every ski is a great one.

Tomorrow looks like a perfect day for skiing.  We can take our classic skis – I’m sure we’ll enjoy ourselves.

Compromise or capitulation?

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Entire Gaming SetupM is allowed a 1/2 hour of “electronic” time per day.  This includes Nintendo DS, computer, Wii and TV. The quid pro quo is that he has to get ready and out the door on time for school. Most days he does pretty well at getting ready in the am. But shutting down the computer or turning off his Nintendo after 30 minutes is much harder. We try to give him a few minutes warning, but it is often a struggle to get him to shut down the device.

Us:  Time’s up – you need to turn off the computer.

M: Just a minute, I need to finish this game.

Us:  You’ve had your 30 mins, time to shut it off.

M:  I need to finish this game.

Us:  How long will it take?

M:  Not long?

Us:  How long is not long?

M:  I just have 3 more lives and then I’m done.

Us:  That’s too long. It’s time to get off the computer.

M:  You just made me lose all mt lives!

At this point, he usually slams the top down on the laptop and storms off.

Tonight M got off the computer without too much prodding and set the table.  He asked if he could go back on after supper and I agreed.  He finished his supper before we did and went back to the computer.  I told him he could stay on as long as it took us to eat our supper. Since M often professes not to have heard us when we ask him to do something while he is on the computer or on his DS, I asked him to repeat what I had said, just so we were clear.

So M  had a bit more computer time – about 10- 15 mins. I am usually the strict parent  about electronic time and tend to enforce the 30 minute rule. But he was reasonably polite about asking for more time and I was still eating my supper.

When his time was up, M turned off his game as requested. But then he asked if he could go on and download some music to his IPod shuffle. Of course I said no. I explained that I wanted to use the computer – we only have one laptop – and his time was up. He countered that downloading songs shouldn’t count as computer time since that was when he played games.

These kinds of discussions are a slippery slope with M. Of course, it makes no sense to the adult mind, but to him it makes perfect sense. There is little point in arguing with him. I told him he couldn’t use the computer again and he stomped off to the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later to try to plead his case a second time.  At this point, he started being rude. I told him he would lose 5 minutes of electronic time tomorrow if he didn’t stop.  He made a few more snide comments and stormed upstairs. I heard his door slam shut and then loud banging. I have no idea what he was doing, but the banging got louder. Clearly he was trying to get my attention, but I wasn’t biting.

Eventually he came back downstairs to the kitchen, where he proceeded to take the bulletin board apart and scribble the various papers and phone numbers with a black sharpie marker.

At this point, I asked M if he wanted to watch TV with me. I had already offered to play a game with him, but he turned me down. I figured TV would distract him away from whatever path of destruction he was wandering down. Plus it didn’t require a lot of energy on my part. 

As we were sitting on the sofa watching Phineus and Ferb, I wondered if I had brokered an effective compromise – TV instead of computer?  Or had I capitulated in the face of M’s fit of pique?  On the one hand, I didn’t give in to his demands for more computer time.  On the other hand, he got TV, which put him well over his 30 minute limit.  He was obviously spoiling for a fight and I refused to go down that road with him. So maybe it was more of a compromise?  Maybe it was neither compromise nor giving into him, but rather the most expedient decision, given the circumstances? Sometimes parents have to buy a little peace, before their child covers the kitchen in black shapie marker. 

I did remind him that he would only get 25 minutes on the computer or his DS tomorrow.  We will see what happens when he remembers.

Fruit, seed and nut bars – without added sugar

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Fruit & Nut Breakfast Bars

Fruit & Nut Breakfast Bars (Photo credit: suavehouse113)

Since I don’t eat any dairy or refined/artificial sugar products (both give me terrible migraines and make me feel ill), I can’t eat much in the way of prepared baked goods, desserts or snacks.  My naturopath recommended I try Lara Bars.  They aren’t bad, but I don’t like most of the flavours and they are expensive.  I tried a few recipes I found on various websites, but they didn’t work out – mostly because I am lazy and didn’t want to spend a lot of time making them. Some of them just tasted nasty – no sugar, no dairy, no fun.

However, I eventually did find a recipe on enlightened cooking, which I have adapted to a make a bar that is pretty tasty.  Plus it is quick – about 10 minutes prep and 15-20 minutes to bake.  The only equipment you need is a food processor, a square pan and parchment paper or foil.

Ingredients:

1 cup almonds (with skins)

1/2 cup apricots

1/2 cup dates

1/2 cup raisins

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds (unsalted)

1/4 raw  sunflower seeds (unsalted)

1/4 cup cacao nibs

2-3 tbsp apple juice or water

1 -2 tsp maple syrup (optional)

 Start by grinding the almonds in the food processor until they pieces are relatively the same size.  Add dates/apricots/raisins and grind with almonds, then add the seeds and the cacao nibs. Add apple juice/water and/or maple syrup. Mixture should stick together but not be too wet.

Pour the mixture into a cake pan lined with parchment or foil and pat it down, so the top is relatively even. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a 300 degree F oven.

Once the bars are done in the oven, I let them cool completely (otherwise they will fall apart as you cut them up) and cut them up into about 12 -16 bars.  I store them in a ziploc bag or a plastic container (if I can find a matching lid which at our house is like winning the lottery).  

You can use any dried fruit/seed mixture you wish – the dates help bind everything together but I have made the bars successfully with raisins soaked in hot water for a few minutes (they were as hard as rocks having languished in my cupboard for too long).

I don’t think these are exactly a low-cal snack.  According to the original recipe, each bar has 208 calories. The author recommends using an 8×8 cake pan and cutting the final product into 8 squares. Since my bars are much smaller, they will likely have fewer calories.  They are certainly more nutritious than potato chips, which is one of the few prepared snack foods I can actually eat.  The bars are yummy, so the challenge for me is to only eat only one at a time.

Feeding my kid’s addiction…to reading

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Books

Books (Photo credit: henry…)

M loves to read. On weekends, it is not unusual to find him on the sofa with his nose in a book.  He has three bookshelves in this room and just about every shelf has books on it.  I regularly trip over piles of books beside his bed when I go into his room to say goodnight.

We are regular library users. We live relatively close to a library with a fabulous children’s librarian. I started taking M to the “Parent and Me” reading groups when he was about three months old. M got his own library card as soon as he was old enough and regularly searches for books in the electronic catalogue and reserves them himself.  Has been diligently working his way through the entire Garfield backlist. Not one of my personal favourites, but I console myself with the fact that he is reading.

M doesn’t get everything he wants. As he reminds us every couple of weeks, he still doesn’t have an Ipod Touch, even though most of his friends do. But he does get books, as gifts at Christmas and his birthday. And every month, we buy at least one book from the Scholastic flyers he brings home from school. M usually brings home 2-3 different flyers and he will go through them a circle what he wants. In recent years, Scholastics has also been offering electronic games, but we are pretty firm about just buying books. It’s fair to say that we probably spend a couple of hundred dollars a year on Scholastics.

In my view, it is money well-spent.  M likes to have his own books.  When he was little, we would read his favourites over and over.  His dad bought him a box set of Captain Underpants when M was born and by the time he could read them himself, the pages were falling out.  Scholastics offers a broad selection of  books, including popular series like ‘Wimpy Kid” and “39 Clues,” as well as non-fiction.  M really likes graphic novels and there is always a pretty good selection.  

Buying a couple of books is also a way to cultivate M’s love of reading. My husband and I are both huge readers, but so were my parents and neither of my brothers read much. There are  lots of reasons why we want him to read, but part of it is just for the pure pleasure it can bring.  A good book can be an adventure, a learning experience and laugh-out-loud funny, all rolled into one.  

M spent the better part of yesterday afternoon reading a book. I didn’t ask him to put it down and go outside and play; I just let him enjoy it.  It gave me a good feeling to see him so absorbed in a story. And earlier tonight, I wrote another cheque to Scholastics, so he can have more books on his shelves.