A Lazy Mom's Guide to Birthday Cakes

Every year I try to make the kids’ cakes myself and every year it is a huge flop. I always spend a ton of money and wind up wishing I had just spent $20 at the grocery store for a custom cake. Seriously, it’s $20. Why do I even bother anymore?

I’m not sure, but here’s what I have learned. This year I made this lemon cake with lemon buttercream icing. It was perfectly dense for decorating and delicious to boot.

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The Delight of a Hobby

**UPDATE** Use the code BETTERPHOTOS for 50% off Kelly's photo course for yourself. Code expires October 31, 2017. 

While I stay home with my kids full time, I do not normally find that there is much extra free time in my day. There is certainly more time to accomplish housekeeping tasks and grocery shopping (things I do with kids in tow), but the things I do that interest me the most always happen after bedtime.

I also believe that it's critically important to hang onto your hobbies and interests, especially when you have small kids. Everyone knows the benefits of self-care, and cultivating your interests is a great way of taking care of yourself.

I personally have a few key interests, and those who know me well will immediately think of knitting. I do knit, a lot. Especially this time of year, with Christmas approaching. But, like most people, I do not have singular tastes. I have always owned a DSLR camera because I've always loved to take photos, and I've been fortunate enough to be close with several people who are exceptional photographers, so have been able to learn through osmosis. Until recently, I didn't put much effort into really improving the quality of my photos, but on our recent family trip to Italy, I found myself dismayed that I wasn't able to capture the beauty of what I saw around me. I couldn't take a good photo of literally amazing and incredible views.

Around the same time, Kelly Lawson was running a promo on her online photo course, and from our AirBnb in the middle of Tuscany with weak wifi, I bought it on my cell phone. When I got home, I devoured the course and immediately started to practice my skills. I literally cannot believe the difference in my pictures. It's shocking. My equipment has never changed, but the quality of my photos has significantly.

This has had an interesting side effect, in that I now want to take pictures all the time. The camera comes with me everywhere. I can barely keep it charged, or my SD cards cleared out. I'm always looking for new subjects, so lucky for me when we had some good news in the family. My sister-in-law got engaged over the weekend, and I convinced her and her fiancee to let me take some shots of them. It's not hard to make happy people look happy, but it is a thrill and privilege to shoot subjects other than my kids.

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On having two small kids

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Yesterday at 9:30am I could already tell that both boys needed a nap. Sam always naps, but it's not often that Charlie does anymore, so I was excited at the possibility of them napping together later in the day. Of course though, tired kids are often cranky kids, and right before lunch we had an epic meltdown situation, which doesn't happen too often, but does happen. While both boys were acting out and crying, I was calmly cutting up an apple in the kitchen, not quite ignoring them, but certainly not reacting to their bad behavior. And I was laughing to myself, because a year ago this would have sent me into a panic and I would have been freaking out right alongside them.

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When we brought Sam home from the hospital, not a lot changed right away. Except for the overnight wakings/feedings, I think most people would agree that having a newborn is easier than a toddler. Since a newborn doesn't need much, our days still revolved around Charlie. We would spend the mornings out, the baby would sleep in his stroller or car seat, and then we would come home for lunch and Charlie would nap. I quickly learned though, how difficult it is to bring two kids out of the house on my own, and gradually, as Sam required more routine (especially for sleeping) learning to manage two kids became really really difficult.

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I vividly remember this one time that shook me so much, I avoided leaving the house for weeks afterward. I took both kids to the playground at Rockwood when Sam was maybe 2 months old. There were several daycare groups at the playground at the time, so there were dozens of adults and kids running around everywhere. Charlie, being only two, climbed to the top of a slide structure only to get too scared to come down, while a lineup formed behind him. He couldn't maneuver to turn himself around and climb down, and he started to panic and cried for me. I watched helplessly as I tried to figure out if I was comfortable leaving my infant alone on the ground in the stroller with this many people at the playground in order to scale the structure to get him. I had a moment of intense anxiety and panic, and then I was rescued by the 5 year old daughter of a friend. She came out of nowhere and held Charlie's hand, helped him back down and then played with him until we left. My relief was so intense, I cried. If a playground could render me desperate and helpless, how would I ever be able to leave the house again comfortably with both of them? How could I keep them both safe? How could I give one of them what they needed without ignoring the needs of the other?

This was a really difficult adjustment, and I didn't handle it very well for awhile. If you are like me, when you are still trying to get the hang of something and you are low on sleep and adult interaction, you feel like a failure. I cried a lot. I drank a lot of coffee. But life goes on, and after awhile we did get back out there. 

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I guess maybe the moral of the story is that sometimes things are just hard. Even things you think you are prepared for. I'd already had a baby, so I thought I knew what I was in for, but I was surprised at how much there was to learn this time around. Just keep going, and feel comfort in the knowledge that it's not just you. I adjusted, tried some new things and ultimately figured it out, and now (I think) we are flourishing. Our days look different now, but it's been a process of figuring out what makes us comfortable and allows me control over them when needed to keep us all safe and happy. 

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Yesterday morning we got off to a rough start, but in the afternoon my kids napped together and I was super productive in a quiet house. I even drank a hot coffee. When they woke up refreshed and happy, the tantrums from the morning were a distant memory.

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NB Series: Fall Bucket List

I have been terrified for summer to end. I really got into a good routine with the kids, which relied very heavily on being outside. I am extremely unprepared for spending entire days at home when the weather keeps us from venturing out. I cannot possibly watch Moana anymore than I already do, and honestly my kids deserve better than a TV babysitter. Just a few weeks ago if I didn't have something planned for us to do I would just pack everyone up and head to the beach, but the cooler weather means I have to plan a bit more ahead of time.

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This week was sort of a litmus test for easy activities to do in the fall, and more often than not I found myself taking the kids to the playground. It's ironic actually because the best playgrounds in our area are attached to schools, which of course are back in session so off-limits to us through the day. I'm sort of a snob about playgrounds because many aren't designed with small kids (under 3) in mind. Generally any elementary school is safe, but through the school year we are forced to look elsewhere, and thankfully there are other good ones in the city. Some of the ones we like are Rainbow Park, Carleton Community Center, Rockwood Park, Little River Reservoir and The Children's Forest at Irving Nature Park.

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So while I am definitely prepared for my tour-de-playgrounds this fall, I am determined to continue exploring the unique and kid-friendly areas in and around Saint John - most likely by hiking - and I encourage anyone who is interested to join us. Here is our fall bucket list:

1. King's Landing - This is sort of a big one because it's a bit of a drive so we will probably go on a weekend, but I have it on good authority from many trusted friends that this is a great place for small kids and families. They are even doing a promotion for the month of September where you can get a free pass with your library card. Details here.

2. Farm Tour - Sunday, September 17th is Open Farm Day this year. I don't have a plan yet for where to go, but I definitely want to take the kids to see how food is grown, pet some animals and generally just run around in a safe and controlled environment preferably with other kids. Does anyone have a plan for this already? Care to share your ideas?

3. Harrigan Lake - This is actually on one of the trails at Rockwood Park at the entrance by the zoo. We have done this trail many many times and it is a family favorite. Definitely the type of thing I would only do with another adult present, but a gorgeous walk and when the leaves start to turn this will be stunning. We will most certainly wind up at Rockwood many many times this fall. There is so much to do there - it is truly a wonderful public park that is really well taken care of and offers tons for kids and families to do.

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4. Ultimate Dreamland - We actually have not been here yet and the kids will freak so I am looking forward to this one. We will certainly be looking for friends to join us on this one! This is just outside our nap-safe drive zone meaning whenever we go I will be guaranteed to be sitting in the car in the driveway while the kids sleep.

5. Blueberry Hill Nature Preserve - Another place we've never been but I hear the trail there is relatively easy and well-maintained. Easy to access, and close to home. Thumbs up from me, can't wait to check it out.

6. Sussex Bluffs Trail - I have actually hiked this before, and I remember it being a little tough but it is only 2km, so definitely doable. The top of the hike may be a little worrisome with small kids if you don't trust them because there's a drop-off, but this is a beautiful hike and the view is worth the trek. This will probably be another one we do on the weekend because it is a bit of a drive for the kids (another car nap). I am actually already hoping to go September 23rd, because there is also the Etsy Dairytown Market in Sussex on that day and I would love to attend. The kids will certainly be less interested in that than I am so I will likely drop them off at a playground with Rob while I poke around the sale.

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7. Harbour Passage - I walk Harbour Passage almost every time we go uptown with the kids. The walk from the HMCS Bruswicker tires them out enough that they are not climbing the walls when we go into shops or the Market. The path was recently expanded and there are several installations on the path that the kids love to play on or run around. Uptown is a great place to take the kids for a walk - I have spent many afternoons picnicking in King Square while Charlie chased the pigeons, and so far he has not contracted any illnesses from them. Right now I REALLY want to visit Rogue Coffee on Grannan Lane, and if that means a long walk on Harbour Passage so the kids don't destroy the place, so be it. Coffee, anyone?

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I am sure that there are others, but this is the list for now. I post this to keep myself to this, and to remind myself of all the options available to me as much as to encourage anyone else to get out there. So much of my confidence in parenting is tied up in making sure that we spend time outdoors using our bodies and exploring nature. This is why I get so worried about the changing weather - I am their best mom when we are not cooped up at home, so how will this season go? Motherhood is so amazing/weird/wonderful/scary/sad/depressing/joyful, isn't it? I can't believe two small boys can make me feel so insecure sometimes, and so confident others. Ah, well. Life.

Other activities going on in Saint John this fall (that we will probably also be at):

  • Saint John Touch a Truck, Long Wharf, September 16th
  • Gallery Hop, Uptown, October 13th (I'll be there with adults, no kids *glug glug*)
  • Remembrance Day Ceremonies, Harbour Station, November 9th
  • Free Admission Day at New Brunswick Museum, November 9th
  • Saint John Sea Dogs, we regularly attend - GREAT for kids.
  • Queen Square Farmer's Market, they will continue for awhile yet!