Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I LOVE Christmas -- sparkly lights on the tree, the magic, the carols, feelings of peace and love, spending time with family. I hate Christmas -- the expense, the stress, the self-imposed pressure to make it a perfect Hallmark card (even though you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and would almost prefer to just cancel the whole winter season) and the inevitable melancholy/letdown when it's all over. All the work and the worry, preparation, anticipation and then it's gone in a blur and you're left dazed. Holidazed. Wondering how it, like just about everything else in life, ended so fast. Months and months of waiting for one day. Then it's gone.

Having Michelle made Christmas fun again. It was exciting as a child when I looked forward to opening toys on Christmas morning. As an adult, it loses a little of its lustre. Somehow opening another sweater or pair of socks (no matter how cozy and welcome they may be on a cold Winter's day) doesn't elicit quite the same thrill as a doll or a teddy bear used to. Now I get to relive the childhood wonder of Christmas again, through Michelle. So I spoiled her. Of course. For one thing I love shopping at Toys R Us (even before having kids!) Now I have the perfect excuse! I started buying gifts months in advance. Any time I'd be out somewhere and see something on sale that I thought she'd like, I couldn't resist. Fairly early on she had requested her main present: Starlily the magical Unicorn. A cute but pricey little animatronic toy. I refused to pay full retail but I started to worry it may not go on sale in time for Christmas. Then I saw it in a flyer, almost half price. So I had to get it. Unfortunately Michelle was with me at the time so I very creatively stacked up the items in my cart to hide the enormous box (draping clothes over it etc.) Still, there was one small corner peeking through and Michelle exclaimed "MY UNICORN!! YOU GOT IT!" She wanted it right away. I explained to her that there was NO WAY she was getting it until Christmas. "Try to forget about it." I said. There was still a month to go, maybe she would. She didn't. She brought it up several times, asking to see it, play with it. I was adamant. I did give her several presents ahead of Christmas but I wouldn't budge on that one.

Michelle pretty much got everything she asked for, or even mentioned in passing. The beauty of buying for kids is that you can get a lot of gifts for under $10. I got a lot of things even at the Dollar Store. When she's older she'll be asking for name brand clothes & expensive electronics so I figure I'll enjoy this time while even a $1 jar of Play Doh and a $5 stuffed toy is appreciated.

Santa got off pretty easy at our house. Michelle had already asked me for most of the things she wanted for Christmas so when I finally took her to see Santa in mid-December there wasn't much left to ask him for. She'd asked for bears, books, cats, dolls, etc. Then all of a sudden Michelle announced that she loved dragons and wanted one. As luck would have it, I actually had a Ty Beanie Baby one of my own (I used to collect Beanie Babies long before I knew I'd ever have a child. I was a kid at heart!) and gave that to her. She was thrilled with it but then she thought the dragon would be lonely and needed a sister. So she was going to ask Santa for a "sister dragon." Hopefully he would know what she meant.

I decided to take Michelle to see Santa in Oakville. It was a day that I had to work nightshift and I was dropping her off at my Mom's but I went a little early, had her all dressed up in a red Christmas gown and headed to Oakville Place. It was 3 pm. I figured that was plenty of time to see Santa then drop Michelle and my Mom off before heading to work at 4:30 pm. But I wasn't accounting for Murphy's Law...Santa's hours were from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Friday. I made sure it wasn't dog day (the year before I tried taking Michelle to see Santa at Oakville Place and managed to pick the ONE DAY that he was only seeing dogs & cats for their portraits, not humans! What were the odds I'd pick the one day he's seeing pets?!) So this time, on a regular human day, I figured I had a 90% chance of us getting to see Santa. He'd probably take a lunch break around 1 pm or a dinner break at 5. Even if there was a line I figured it wouldn't be more than an hour. My Mom could walk around and shop while Michelle & I saw Santa & then we'd go home. We get to the mall at 3 pm and lo and behold there is a sign saying "Back at 3:40 pm. Santa is feeding his reindeer." As luck would have it, Santa had JUST LEFT FOR HIS BREAK when I got to the mall. Facepalm. OK so now I have to entertain Michelle for 40 minutes in the mall while she's wearing a fancy dress. This should be good. "It's Murphy's Law," I sighed, realizing that no matter what time I got to the mall, morning or night, that would be the precise moment that Santa would take his break. Because that's just how my life works.

As expected, Michelle was running amok and driving me batty within 5 minutes. At least we found a Minion and got a picture with him. (A kind stranger even offered to take a photo of both of us.) I did some shopping. I even found a little red dragon (a sister!) for Michelle's other dragon when she wasn't looking. The perfect gift for Santa to give her. So at 3:40 we head back to Santa's throne & I notice (to my horror) that the clock on the sign has been changed. Now Santa's not going to be back until 4 pm?!!! I was LIVID. There was no one waiting but I figured we better stand there and at least have first place in line or Michelle won't get to see him AT ALL because I have to leave for work. A line-up quickly formed behind us. I tried to seem non-chalant about it. Michelle was losing patience. "Mama it's taking TOO LONG!" "I know but Santa's still feeding his reindeer, honey." Inside I was cursing Santa and his ill-timed lunch/dinner break. Michelle started running amok and throwing the artificial snow (cotton batten) around. "Michelle. Don't wreck the display honey. You'll get in trouble." Meanwhile I was thinking it would serve them right for making us wait. I kept telling Michelle to keep still and she wouldn't. Then another little girl, about Michelle's size but probably a year or two older stood in front of me and said "She doesn't listen very well, does she?" "No," I agreed, "she doesn't." The girl's mother whispered to her that that wasn't very nice but it made me smile anyway. All the other kids were standing in line quite patiently. Michelle was trying to make snow balls out of the cotton batten & it was getting stuck to her dress. My eye was twitching. I checked the time again. It was suddenly clear to me why Santa is Satan scrambled. Finally we heard a bell in the distance and it was Santa heading over with a couple of elves. "I hope you weren't waiting long!" he said to no one in particular. "Since 3," I answered, glaring.

At least the photos went well. Michelle isn't shy anymore. She actually smiled, looked right at Santa, talked to him, told him she wanted a sister dragon. I was thrilled with the photos (and they were worth the wait) but now I had to rush Michelle back to Grandma's, get her changed and head out to work nightshift.

As a child, I never got to believe in Santa. Mom said she refused to "lie" to us. Christmas was Jesus' birthday and that was that. I loved Jesus of course yet I always felt like I missed out a little. While the other kids were talking about Santa I just had to nod and smile (I didn't want to spoil it for them.) I figured I would let Michelle have both. She had a book about the Christmas story and knew about Jesus being born in a manger but I didn't see the harm in her enjoying the legend of Saint Nicholas too. "She won't know the true meaning of Christmas!" my Mom admonished. So I got Michelle to draw the Nativity for my Mom and write "Happy Birthday Jesus." That got Mom off my back anyway.

I started getting into the Christmas spirit full force in November. It's a family tradition to put the tree up in November (my Mom always did and I followed suit.) When you have an artificial tree I figure you might as well enjoy it for as long as you can (BEFORE Christmas that is, after Christmas I find it depressing and can't wait to be rid of it. I took my tree down on December 27th.) Michelle helped me decorate the tree. Of course it didn't look much like Christmas outside. Not that I was complaining. I'm not a fan of snow so I was glad it was late in coming. The problem was that most days were just cold, grey, rainy and depressing. We kept busy playing, having fancy Princess balls etc. One night when I was feeling adventurous I even took Michelle to a movie -- "The Good Dinosaur." It went really well. We both enjoyed it.

And whenever there was a nice day we took advantage and played outside. What were the odds of being able to ride your bike in December?! Maybe it was global warming. It was kind of bizarre but I wasn't complaining. I was actually hoping we'd just never get any snow at all (especially since I didn't invest in snow tires this year.) Well maybe a little bit on Christmas day would be nice. How can you resist a "White Christmas?"

Winter has always been tough for me but it was only fairly recently that I admitted to myself I have Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hate the cold, the snow, the long, bleak, grey days without sunshine. It drags me down. It makes me feel tired and weak and irritable. It drains my motivation to exercise and eat right. In 2014 I managed to lose 20 lbs in the Spring and Summer (with a diet and a grueling exercise regimen of aerobics and strength training) and then gained most of it back in the winter (when I stopped exercising at all and stuffed my face with whatever I liked.) So in 2015 I was determined not to let that happen again. The problem is I couldn't seem to bring myself to work out anymore and the cold weather makes me crave comfort food. I decided to go a little easier on myself (no strict diet, hard core aerobics or weight lifting) but still exercise every single day and count calories/try to eat healthy/sensibly overall. I started doing yoga again. It helps me find my Zen for a little while anyway (even though Michelle often interrupts me!) It also helps to lift my mood. I've managed to maintain my weight for the most part. Even with many cheat days over the holidays.

Of course Yoga is more than merely physical exercise. It is spiritual as well. It helps me to feel stronger, more balanced, more connected. Though I wish I could hold onto that feeling ALL DAY no matter what is going on around me (I haven't quite mastered that yet. I still get stressed out about things beyond my control -- which is just about everything!) at least while I am doing Yoga I feel at peace. While it is not strenuous, it is still a good workout. It uses all of your muscles, without straining or injuring them. It takes great strength to be able to balance and hold the poses, especially the headstand. It's my favourite pose. It took me years of practice to achieve it but it's like riding a bike, once you get it, you never lose it. As a single Mom most of my time is spent taking care of someone else. Yoga is one of the few things I do for me. I've realized I do need to take care of myself too. The key is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy so you'll keep doing it. And develop a diet that isn't too restrictive because if it feels like a punishment, you won't stick to it. And as soon as you stop, you gain all the weight back.

I tried to make the season fun for Michelle. She wanted to play in the snow. When there wasn't any, I had to get creative. We made crafts, played with Play Doh, did puzzles etc. Going Christmas shopping was dangerous if Michelle was with me. I had a hard time saying no. "Mama can you get this?" and I'd think, oh Hell it's only $5, sure. Except that if you do that 10 times, it's $50. I just remember being a kid and asking my Mom for things when we were out and the answer was always no. I try to give Michelle "Yes" as often as I can. One of the things she picked out was this little Magic Christmas Tree. It starts out as just a cardboard tree then you pour the solution on it and overnight it puffs up into a little Christmas tree. (It's just salt crystallizing in ammonia but it's pretty magical to a kid. Even to me!)

Michelle made Christmas cards for Grandma & Grandpa, Auntie May and me. She's gotten very good at writing letters. She recognizes all the letters and writes them all perfectly except that sometimes her "S" comes out backwards but it's cute that way I think.

Michelle loves to draw and write and is eager to learn. She's almost finished her a workbook on the alphabet and I got her one on numbers. She is a bit of a perfectionist though and gets frustrated with herself when she can't do something perfectly right away. I tell her that it's OK. She's just learning. She's only 3 years old. I encourage and praise her constantly to boost her confidence, let her win at games etc but maybe I've gone too far. One day I heard her tell my Mom "I KNOW that Grandma! I know EVERYTHING!" After I stopped laughing I told her that while she does know an awful lot for her age that she certainly doesn't know EVERYTHING. No one does. Even at a ripe old age. There is more to know than anyone can ever know. That's the beauty of life. You never stop learning.

Michelle and I both look forward to visits at Auntie May's. Michelle always has a ball playing with her cousin Reggie and I always laugh my head off talking to May. We all went downstairs and played Hide and Seek as a group. Michelle's Hide and Seek game is not strong (as you can see).

There is a lot of room to run around at Auntie May's and Michelle LOVES running amok. She pulls Reggie, Shannon and even me into her games. She doesn't give you a choice. It's amazing how strong she is. She can pull someone twice or even three times her size! She pulls poor Shannon around like a ragdoll. Shannon is so shy and soft-spoken compared to Michelle who is loud and outgoing. Michelle tries to boss everyone around. She usually gets her way. Part of it may be my fault for indulging her so much but I also think it's a Leo quality to be a natural born leader. She will rule the world!

Michelle was extremely excited about Christmas. She kept asking every day if it was Christmas yet. She loved opening the windows in her Advent Calendar each day and having a little chocolate. And I let her open several presents ahead of time because I knew Christmas Day would be sheer chaos and the fewer things to open the better. Plus she'd have more time to enjoy her toys ahead of time.

On Christmas morning we came downstairs in our pjs and found two presents under the tree. I read the tags: "To Michelle From: Santa" and "To Ann Marie From Santa." She got the "dragon sister" she asked Santa for and I got a bath gift set. She was so excited I think she was more excited over that one present than everything I gave her. It was worth it to see the wonder in her eyes. "Santa came!" Then I brought down the rest of her gifts.



Michelle actually wound up having four Christmases...1) On Christmas Eve with me (I wanted her to open and enjoy half her presents the day before because on Christmas we were heading to my Mom's and I knew there wouldn't be much time to play with her new toys.) 2) On Christmas morning, just her and me. 3) Later on Christmas day (afternoon/evening) with Grandma & Grandpa. 4) The day after Christmas with the whole gang at Auntie May's.

Of course Murphy's Law can't let a special occasion go by without ruining it. Usually at least one of us is sick for Christmas. This year Michelle caught a cold. The day before. Her nose was running non-stop and was red to match her red dress. She was still in good spirits and loved her presents on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day she started to run out of steam. She was utterly exhausted by the time we got to my Mom's.

 Michelle fell asleep on the ride to my Mom's and was a little groggy even while we were there. She had to lie down while she was opening her presents but she was happy with everything from Grandma and Grandpa. I was feeling pretty groggy myself after a rough night with Michelle crying about her runny nose. A kid with a runny nose is the WORST. At one point I thought she'd had a breakthrough and learned how to blow her own nose but then she would never do it again. So of course it would drip and drip and we'd go through 3 boxes of Kleenexes and it was sheer Hell. Merry Friggin Christmas. I guess it was better than vomiting and/or diarrhea (which was my own personal nightmare LAST Christmas.) There always seems to be something at this time of year. Some people insist "You don't catch a cold from the cold," but fail to explain why people get more colds, flu etc in the Winter.

The next day was the big party with THE WHOLE GANG. Michelle was still sick but at least seemed to have more energy and was excited to go to Auntie May's and see all her cousins. I was worried about her getting others sick but the reality is we're a big family. With 7 kids, odds are at least 1 (or 3 or 5!) will be sick at any given time. I know once Michelle goes to school it will be an uphill battle to keep her from catching EVERYTHING. A room full of kids is like Germopolis! I remember the last time I took her to the doctor with a fever/flu/cold and the doctor said "It's actually not a bad thing when kids get sick because it builds up their immunity." I guess. It's still Hell on wheels when you're dealing with it. Especially during the holidays. I was worried she was going to look like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer in all her pictures but looking back now you can't really tell. At least she didn't have any bumps on her head (that's the other Murphy's Law before special occasions. Kids will usually fall and bang their heads into a wall or something.)

Christmas with the whole family is always CHAOTIC to say the least. So many people, so much noise, so much going on. It's a blur of family and food, presents opening, kids running amok, laughter, conversation and before you know it, it's over. Everyone is packing up their things and getting ready to go. This year we celebrated my dad's birthday and Christmas on the same day. My dad's birth name was Christmas in Italian -- Natale. He changed it to Tony when he moved to Canada. Mostly so people wouldn't call him Natalie.

It was late December when the snow finally arrived. Michelle was thrilled. "It's SNOWING Mama!" I was less than enthused. "Oh great." I went out to shovel the driveway. Michelle wanted to help. She was eager to play in the snow. There wasn't a lot but it was enough and it was packing snow (a little freezing rain mixed in made it stick together) so we were actually able to build a little snowman and snow kitty.

The snow is NOT my thing whatsoever but I feel obligated to grin and bear it for Michelle's sake. So I play with her in the snow and I look forward to when she wants to go back in to warm up and have some hot chocolate (truly the only part of the whole experience that I actually enjoy.) Every time it snows Michelle wants to play outside and I can't say no. I roll my eyes, bundle us up and head out, kneeling in the snow, trying to make a snowman (even when it's not packing snow and it just falls apart in your hands) until my fingers and legs are numb. Because that's love. I found a new snowsuit for Michelle on sale but I couldn't seem to find adult snow pants at a reasonable price so I just wear two layers of track pants (and the snow soaks right through so I basically freeze my butt off, literally until we can go back inside and get changed!)

Michelle loves when I pull her on her little Frozen sled. It's exhausting but I run around with her until I'm ready to pass out. One day we'll have to try tobogganing on a big hill but I'm not sure our little sled would hold both of us going down a hill! I may have to get a real sled for that. Some people love winter sports -- skiing, snowboarding etc. I've never tried or had an interest. Number one because they're expensive and number two: I HATE SNOW!!!


The bottom line is I can put up with just about anything if it meets these three conditions: 1) It makes Michelle happy. 2) It's cute. 3) It makes a great photo op! I'm a photoholic and I can't resist a photo op (as evidenced by the hundreds, make that THOUSANDS of pictures I've shared in this blog, on Twitter etc.) Time goes by so fast, even the winter. I feel obligated to capture every moment. Michelle is growing so fast it's scary. She's not a baby anymore. Of course she'll ALWAYS be my baby.

Michelle's new thing recently is asking me if she's a teenager. Every day she asks "Am I a teenager yet?" as if somehow magically overnight she would have been transformed. Every day I remind her that no she's not and she won't be for another 10 years! I tell her to enjoy this time while she's still a kid because this is the most fun, carefree time of her life, with no responsibilities and nothing to do but play. "Why do you want to be a teenager?" I asked her. "So I could stay up late, wear makeup, do whatever I want." "Well you already do that and you don't even need to be a teen!"

I shudder to think what Michelle will be like when she's a teen. She's starting to get the teen attitude already. She's already a Diva, loves makeup, fashion, is moody, has to have her way and thinks she knows everything. Even the sarcasm has started. If you ask or tell her something she doesn't agree with or approve of she'll say "Ooooooookaaaay." She rolls her eyes and says "Oh brother!" and "Oh boy!" One day she asked me to get something for her and then when I got it right she said "That's TOTALLY the one I meant!" I mean, like totally. Some phrases she picks up from me. "Oh dear!" "Not helping!" and "Awkward!" are some of mine. I'm REALLY careful not to drop F-bombs around her! That's the last thing I need to have her saying! Other phrases she picks up from TV/movies: "It happens, happens a lot!" "Dude! I am OUTTA here!" But some she just makes up on her own. Like "Phew-sers!" (It's like saying Phew but with an attitude.) "Where did you learn that one?" I asked. "I made it up!" she told me. Some of her other daily phrases are "Am I a teenager YET?!" and "You're the funniest, cutest, sweetest Mama EVER!" (which is my personal favourite!) Some of her sayings are random & make no sense: "This is funner than a grasshopper in a bowl!" "This is funner than a pickle in a beanbag!" Yes. My kid is weird. I try to discourage her from saying "That's stupid!" I explained that especially when you're referring to people it's VERY rude to call them stupid and that she should say "silly" instead if they're doing something ridiculous. Then she called her Grandpa an "idiot." He laughed it off but I told her never to talk like that. (Unfortunately I let a few "stupid idiots!" slip now and then. Particularly when I'm driving. But it's hard enough holding back the F-bombs. I don't know if I have enough restraint to hold back when someone makes a bonehead move like cutting me off suddenly and slamming on the brakes or changing lanes without signaling or looking to see that the lane isn't clear and nearly killing us. I do a lot of commuting and unfortunately there are a lot of...silly people on the road.

One day Michelle asked me for a tablet! I said "You're only THREE years old! And I'm not even entirely sure what a tablet IS!" I don't even have a tablet or any of the other fancy gadgets most people seem to have these days. I'm sure before long she'll be teaching me about them. I'm a little more modern than my Mom anyway. She doesn't even have a COMPUTER. I have a laptop, though it's old, on its last legs and keeps freezing/shutting down...I keep putting off getting a new one. I'm also putting off getting the dishwasher fixed. The credit card bills rolling in after Christmas were bad enough!

For one little girl Michelle can make a LOT of noise. No one could accuse her of being quiet! She's a one woman band -- she'll drum on anything in sight, play her little recorder/flute (it's annoying as HELL!) and sing her own little songs. Sometimes I'd ask her "Where did you learn that song?" thinking it was from a TV show or something. "I made it up myself," she explained. Though it was just one verse repeated over and over, I was impressed that she is already showing an interest in songwriting. Considering I've written close to 1000 songs myself, she may have gotten it from me! She was belting out one of her little tunes, "Queen of the Stars" and even let me record her singing it. (I finally had to just turn the camera off. I don't know how long she would have kept going. Maybe forever.) In case there is any doubt, Michelle IS the Queen of the Stars. And she's the only one.

Here is the video from Youtube:

Michelle singing her original song "Queen of the Stars"

She also let me get a video of her counting to 100 (which would take a bit too long for a video. So she went by 10s.)

Michelle counting to 100 by 10s:


Every New Year I make resolutions. I don't normally stick to them (does ANYONE?!) This year one of them was to be healthy -- to work out, keep counting calories and improve my diet. In the spirit of eating healthier, I decided to try making recipes from a cookbook I got for Christmas. (Be afraid: this may actually be the 5th sign of the Apocalypse!) I don't cook. Well, that's not technically accurate. I do have to cook and eat to survive however, I DON'T make anything fancy. I DON'T attempt to make gourmet meals out of cookbooks because I SUCK! Anytime in the past when I'd tried to make something, it never worked out. I thought I was following the recipe but something would always go horribly awry.

At our big family Christmas celebration however my brother Chris' beautiful girlfriend Christina sat down with me and talked about their gift to me -- the book "Jamie's Food Revolution" by Jamie Oliver and a cute set of turquoise ramekins. Christina told me that when she was young her mother taught her to cook and it made Christina love cooking. I told her that my experience was quite the opposite -- my mother HATED cooking, acted like it was a loathed chore and wouldn't let us near her in the kitchen to help. She said we'd be "under foot." I wound up being pretty much the same. I detest cooking but I can't stand anyone being in the way when I'm in the kitchen either (I'm a control freak which well-meaning past boyfriends learned when they tried to help. Luckily some of the men I dated loved to cook and were AMAZING cooks so that saved me even having to enter the kitchen. Of course I'm on my own now and have no choice.) Christina explained that the ramekins were to hold the ingredients after I cut them up so I could let Michelle pour them into the pot and feel like she was involved. That did sound like a cute idea (and Michelle often asks to help with things -- I've let her help me stir the bowl etc before because I didn't want to be like my Mom and discourage her, make her feel like she's in the way.) Anyway, I was reluctant at first but after looking through the cookbook there were several recipes that sounded appealing and that I wanted to attempt. They didn't sound too hard. I tried to think positive. This will be a culinary adventure! Maybe it will be fun...

The first step was making a (LENGTHY) list of ingredients I would need for the first few recipes and heading to the grocery store. I was sort of dreading it for two reasons. 1) I had Michelle with me and shopping is rarely a relaxing experience with her. 2) I had to buy things I wasn't used to (including things I didn't know where to find or even WHAT THEY WERE!) I didn't go to my usual grocery store because I thought it may not have some of the fancier ingredients. Without naming it, the grocery store that I did go to I will NEVER shop in again! Though it wasn't entirely their fault, it was a TRIP THROUGH HELL.

Michelle didn't want to ride in the cart. "Be a good girl then and walk nicely with Mama," I told her. I tell her this every time we go shopping. Each time she promises she will but then proceeds to run amok and drive me crazy. One of the main things I needed was cauliflower for the Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake. I went to the section and the shelf was bare. How can a grocery store be OUT of a vegetable? I had to settle for a mixed veggie bag of broccoli and bits of cauliflower. Then I had to find fresh herbs -- parsley, cilantro, rosemary. While I was searching, Michelle was running amok and apparently touching everything in sight -- running her hand along the edge of a shelf where she hit something sharp and next thing I knew: "Mama! I cut my finger!" "How did you manage to cut yourself in the vegetables?! And we JUST GOT HERE! I still have all the shopping to do!" I usually have an emergency band-aid in my purse. Of course when I actually need one, I don't. I just wiped it with a Kleenex and tried to calm Michelle down. Things didn't get much better. Michelle went running away from me (which I told her never to do because it's not safe and a bad man might grab her -- though frankly, I pity the fool that would try!) asking me to buy things, complaining it was taking too long, etc. I was getting stressed out. Then there was the bean aisle. "Cannellini beans." WTF are Cannellini beans? Apparently they didn't exist. There were Romano beans, lentils, red and white kidney beans etc. Luckily I was on the ball enough to know that "Garbanzo beans" are actually Chick peas but I was S.O.L. with the Cannellini beans. By the end of my shopping trip I was exhausted, frustrated, discouraged. Michelle was whiny, impatient, impossible. The first part of my "culinary adventure" was a bit of a fail. But I had some lots of good food to fill the fridge and cupboards and hopefully I'd be eating a delicious home-cooked meal very soon!

Jamie Oliver is of course a brilliant chef but he seems to forget that not everyone is. So when he says that a meal can be made "in 19 minutes" I can only assume he means in "expert chef" minutes which translates into 2 hours in hopeless amateur minutes. I don't have super sharp knives. I can't dice up vegetables in 2.2 seconds. My first attempt was the Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake. Not to toot my own horn but it did turn out really well! Even Michelle gave her "Yummy!" seal of approval. Michelle doesn't particularly like cauliflower so being able to hide it amid the macaroni was priceless. The problem was it took longer than expected to make and created a HUGE mess. There was cheese stuck to EVERYTHING. When I make store bought Mac & Cheese (Annie's Organic & Natural is my fave brand) it's easy as pie. You boil the noodles, add milk. butter & the cheese powder and you're done. Using real melted cheese, it was stuck to EVERYTHING. The pot, the bakeware, bowls, spoons, everything. And since my dishwasher has been broken for months now (I keep procrastinating getting it repaired because I'm afraid & don't want to spend the money) I have to wash the dishes by hand. I made other recipes, some of which turned out great (delicious and nutritious) but were a nuisance to make/clean up. Others were an epic fail. Suffice it to say, I will NEVER make a recipe that uses cracker crumbs. EVER AGAIN! The homemade meatballs were delicious but not worth the 3 hours it took out of my life to make and clean up that spaghetti dinner.

There was at least ONE huge success, a recipe that I will continue to make -- Spring Bean Vegetable soup. I've already made it twice, the first time I made the Italian version with diced tomatoes and noodles and the second time the regular version with "Cannellini beans" which it turns out are called White Kidney Beans in Canada and which I luckily already had on hand! I even let Michelle help (as Christina had suggested) by pouring some chopped veggies from the ramekins into the pot. And I let her stir. It was nice for her to feel involved and she loved the soup. She said it was delicious and I was thrilled to get 10 vegetables into her in one meal! So thank you, Christina! After the soup success had built up my confidence I decided to attempt to make the Shortbread Cookie recipe someone had given me before Christmas. At the time I thought it sounded easy -- just 4 ingredients. How could I screw that up? A couple of ways actually -- first I bought the wrong kind of flour (whole wheat instead of regular flour). Secondly I miscalculated how much butter I needed to buy and ran out & had to substitute margarine. And thirdly I only had one measuring cup and most of the sugar stuck to the butter in the measuring cup. Needless to say the cookies were awful. I actually ate them anyway and started to like them. My Mom however (who is the one I was making them for, supposed to be for a Christmas surprise because she loves shortbread) HATED them. This time around I had 2 measuring cups and all the right ingredients and they turned out PERFECTLY! Unfortunately they were so good that I ate half the batch (gave the other half to my Mom) and gained 2 lbs. Maybe it was better when I couldn't bake...

I know there are a lot of people who LOVE to cook (I dated some who did. I kind of miss that! Especially the gourmet Hungarian dishes to die for! Sigh.) I am just not one of them. When I hear other women going on about cooking, excitedly exchanging recipes etc I kind of feel like I'm from another planet. The same planet I'm on when people talk about drinking wine etc (I can't stand wine. I don't drink alcohol because it tastes awful to me.) I am not sophisticated. I am not a foodie. I am a junk food junkie and I'm happiest eating pizza and drinking a Coke Zero! For Michelle's sake I do make sure to serve fruit and vegetables and to make reasonably healthy meals most of the time but for the most part I don't plan on serving any more gourmet meals. It's just not my thing. It's not for everyone. I'm an odd duck and the things I enjoy (writing, art, music etc) may not be for everyone. I remember in high school English class when the teacher gave us an assignment to write 10 poems (a Haiku, a sonnet etc) and I was THRILLED! I wound up writing 20. The rest of the class was grumbling like they'd rather have a root canal. So I've painted hundreds of canvases (only a few of which I ever sold), written tens of thousands of poems (only a handful have been published), written hundreds of songs (many of which are on Youtube but so far none have gone viral or made me rich and famous! LOL) but I am not good with cars or computers, not handy, not a techie, and (even if I can actually follow a recipe now) NOT a cook. I used to feel like maybe there's something wrong with me because I'm not like other women/moms. I have no interest in being Martha Stewart. I hate cooking. I can't stand entertaining. When I have people over I literally order pizza, KFC or Chinese. Their preference. But I'm realizing that it's OK. No one is good at everything. Wouldn't the world be a boring place if we were all exactly the same? Embrace who you are. Don't try to be everything/everyone. I do however want to encourage Michelle to do whatever she enjoys. And if she likes cooking, I'll encourage that. It does however seem that she's an artist like her Mama and her niece Shannon. She also loves to dance. And I may have to put her in gymnastics. Just recently she did the splits. I didn't know she could do that! I have heard that you're more flexible as a child and you lose flexibility as you get older, unless you work on it.

Michelle has asked to go to the park a few times. I explained that even on the days when it doesn't snow it's still Winter and not quite warm enough to go to the park. Then I remembered the indoor park/playground we had gone to last winter. Michelle wasn't too keen on it at 2 years old but she's much more outgoing/fearless now so I thought we'd give it a try. She absolutely LOVED it! She was running amok, making friends with other kids, crawling and climbing and running and sliding. I was happy to watch her and take pictures. Sometimes she'd disappear from view for a bit while she was in the upper level. I started to panic a bit & call "Michelle!" then she'd appear, laughing.

While most other parents were relaxing on the other side of the room, trusting that their kids (some even younger/smaller than Michelle) would be OK, I pretty much followed Michelle around, tracking her every move to make sure she was OK. It's a tough habit to break. I tend to be a hoverer (aka Helicopter Parent/Control Freak.) Well for one thing I'm a photoholic and I couldn't bear to miss out on those smiles when she comes down the slide. For another thing, I wanted to make sure that she was OK and didn't get hurt. One kid fell and banged her head on the floor, another injured his hand on the slide and it took the parents a while to get to them. Michelle at one point fell through the rope climbing wall and was trapped. Luckily I was right there to pull her leg out. I may be a little overprotective but I think that rather than holding Michelle back from being adventurous that it actually helps her to feel secure. She has the confidence to try things because she knows it will be OK and I'll always be right there to rescue her.

One little boy there, two years old, was screaming inconsolably and his Mom couldn't seem to calm him down. He had no interest in going on the slides. He just wanted to go home. The lady probably would have just left but she came with a relative and another child who was actually having a good time. "Why don't you try the slide? Look how much fun that girl's having," she said, motioning to Michelle who was grinning ear to ear. Sympathetic to the woman's frustration I told her that when Michelle was two she wasn't feeling it either. "But he's been here before," the woman said. "He liked it last time. Today he's terrified of everything." "My daughter went through that too," I said, "she used to love the sound of the vacuum cleaner. All of a sudden she was terrified of it and covered her ears and screamed. She suddenly hated loud noises. It's a phase. He'll get over it." "I hope so!" I was happy to see Michelle having such a good time, playing nicely with other kids, being a little adventurous but cautious at the same time.

My little girl is growing up more every day. It's terrifying. She'll be starting school in September and Michelle is excited about it. That makes one of us! She will LOVE school. She loves being around other kids, loves learning, enjoys drawing, writing letters etc. I save all of her artwork. Even though it's Winter Michelle seems to be dreaming of Spring and Summer as much as me. She does pictures of butterflies, flowers and portraits of us on the beach. Her drawings are always smiling. Even the flowers, numbers, sheep and sheep's bellies. She even did a couple of Halloween pictures (a bat and castle in Transylvania and Clawdeen Wolf from Monster High.) Michelle says she wants to be Clawdeen for Halloween but I told her it's 9 months away and she may change her mind. She keeps wanting to watch Halloween movies and play with her Zombie Babies lately. I'm just glad it's not Christmas that she's obsessed with because I don't like hearing/seeing anything to do with Christmas after it's over. Not until next November anyway!

I registered Michelle for Kindergarten (apparently you have to do it really early so they have an idea of class sizes for September.) Michelle was so excited she wanted to start school right away. I however, was less enthused. I felt like Marlin, Nemo's dad in "Finding Nemo" when he's nervous about his son going to school "If you're not ready maybe we could wait a year...or two." Unfortunately that's not an option for human school. Michelle came with me to register and coloured a page in a colouring book while I filled out the paperwork. They were impressed with how polite and well-behaved she was and how well she could stay inside the lines. Michelle wanted to see the classrooms. The Principal was kind enough to give us a tour. Michelle was thrilled. She got to go in the Kindergarten class and meet the teacher and students. Little girls were coming up to her and wanting her to play. I explained that we weren't staying, that she'd be in school in September. On the upper floor there were some older girls who said hi and said how cute Michelle was. The Principal remarked that not all new students were as eager as Michelle. Some were crying/clinging to Mom's leg and screaming "NO! I don't WANT to go to school!" I don't think I could handle it if Michelle reacted like that. It will be hard enough for me to leave her. My sister said it was rough with my niece and nephew when they first started school. Luckily Michelle is very outgoing and WANTS to go. It will still break my heart to leave her. I'll probably go back home and cry after I drop her off!

Michelle wanted to play dress up (she was Minnie Mouse and I was a Princess Fairy or something) and then she was dancing with Dracula Mickey (or, Count Mickula). She made me fish him out of the Halloween decorations in the basement. My little Goth girl. Though she loves Mickey, it's Sponge Bob who truly has her heart. She told me she wanted to marry him! I told her a couple of things may dampen her wedding plans: 1) She's 3 years old. 2) He's a cartoon sponge. She loves dressing up, wearing makeup. She's very much a girlie girl, which I'm glad about because so am I (though I did go through a Tom Boy phase growing up.)

While a real vacation isn't in the budget at the moment I was able to take a mini 5 minute vacation on my lunch break one day at work. I still have minutes at a tanning salon (which I got back when I was going to the Dominican Republic years ago). They never expire. I figured I might as well use them, not to get a tan but just for the mood boost of feeling like I've been in the sun. I close my eyes and pretend I'm lying on the beach. It was a nice break in the day. The light, the vitamin D was like a shot of Summer in the middle of Winter. I really should get one of those sunlight lamps to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Between hating winter and never getting enough sleep, it takes a toll on my mental and physical health. Yes I'm sad to report that I didn't get to keep my bed to myself. In my last post I mentioned that Michelle had her own bed in her own room. At first she was excited about it. She kept saying she loved her cozy bed. It seemed too good to be true that she would actually sleep in it and that I FINALLY after 3 years had my bed to myself again. Unfortunately it didn't last. Michelle started waking up in the night to go potty and then wanting to go back to my bed. Or she'd wake up crying, say she had a nightmare and wanted to sleep in my bed. Then she used the excuse that she's afraid of the dark (she never used to be.) So I let her sleep with me. She always says she'll sleep in her own bed "tomorrow night" but tomorrow never comes.  My Mom says I should just force her to stay in her own room but I'm not doing that. I had night terrors as a kid and wished I'd had someone to comfort me. (My Mom NEVER allowed us in her bed.) I used to line up an army of stuffed bears to protect me from the monster under the bed. The cat often joins us as well. So I'm co-sleeping with a kid and a cat. Michelle rolling over and kicking me all night and Ali clawing at my feet. Good times. Needless to say I don't always (make that EVER) get a good sleep. Some nights I just lay there. Insomnia has always been a problem for me though. My brain doesn't come with an off switch. I just keep thinking. Memories, worries, to do lists, ideas, you name it. One night I actually got up and wrote a song: "Sleepless Night." Here's the video on Youtube:

It felt good to write again. I used to write songs every day now it's very rarely. I want to paint again too. I think it is important for Michelle to see me doing things that I love. She likes to create art and music as well. It's something we can share together. Maybe that can be our mother-daughter bonding experience (instead of cooking!) Though we share a lot of experiences anyway -- playing dress up, making crafts, building with Lego, sculpting with Play Doh, having tea parties, reading, playing games, catch, hide and seek, tag, doing puzzles, playing with dolls, going on day trips, watching movies. It will be hard for me when she goes to school. I'm used to having her there all day. My Mom said that as exhausting as it can be watching Michelle (when I go to work), my Mom misses her as soon as we go. Michelle gives my Mom and Dad something to look forward to. Keeps them active and feeling purposeful. She has brought so much joy and meaning to our lives. It's not always easy but she's more than worth it.

We're into February now! I can't believe it. Time flies, even in the worst of seasons. It will be Spring before we know it. Though I love Spring and Summer it will be sort of bittersweet this year. Each day we get closer to Fall. September. Michelle starting school. My little girl is growing up. I start getting teary just thinking about it. It will be hard for me to let go. Some kids have to be dragged kicking and screaming, holding on to Mama's legs. Instead Michelle is anxious to go, eager to start her adventure. I'll be the one kicking and screaming, trying to hold on to her, not wanting to let go. As a newborn she needed me for everything. Now there are more and more things she can do on her own.

This post turned out a lot longer than I intended. I started it in mid-January and just kept adding to it. I always have a hard time with the photos. I have so many that I can't decide and wind up including hundreds. I'm glad I take so many pictures though. It is my way of holding on. Time goes so fast. I started this blog when I was pregnant. Now she's 3 and turning 4 this year.
"Am I a teenager yet?" Michelle asks for the millionth time.
"No baby," I say. "Don't be in such a hurry to grow up. Just enjoy being a kid. Life goes by so quickly as it is."