Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summer Snapshots: Camping

Today our family is celebrating Eid - so you'll have to forgive me for not answering any emails or comments until tomorrow. It's also Yousuf's first day back at work (working on holidays seems to be a running theme with us...pffft.), and so we are trying to cram in as much special family time as the day will allow. Which OF COURSE, includes the making and eating of many Ramadan Cake Pops. It's an Eid tradition, you know. We wish all of you a very blessed Eid today, and hope that you enjoy love, peace and happiness today, and always. Eid Mubarak, and remember that the Mabel's Labels Do Something Good Giveaway is still open! xoxoxmahreen


We spent our weekend getting ready for Eid, hanging decorations, cooking and baking and filling the house with sensory delights. Our garlands are hung, our wacky menu has been planned (courtesy of Inara and Nissa - Inara asked for "Eid Challah" to add to the Ramadan Cake pops. Sigh.), and we are now in full-on festive mode. It was a splendid way to spend the last weekend of summer - Yousuf starts back to Professorship today, and Inara follows after the long weekend. This last blast was the perfect way to go out on a great big high.

I'm spending the day fully immersed in family time, but there is still much to share about the summer that has passed (all too quickly for my liking, I should mention once more, just for good measure). Today's installment of V2B Summer Snapshots includes photos from our first family camping adventure, at a sprawling state park on the (slightly-bacteria infested) south shore of Lake Ontario...

...where we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to put together the tent. It was a gigantic eight-man contraption that was loaned to us by Yousuf's sister and her husband.

You know that saying about too many cooks in the kitchen? I suspect the same is true about tent-raising, and after a few vain attempts at "helping" but really just getting in the way, I decided to retire to the comfort of my camera and leave the rest to the experts.

Inara is now a Tent Expert, or so she claims. I actually think she was far more useful than I was.

Behold, La Casa del George! This roomy getaway is tall enough to stand up in, and even to jump on air mattresses without bonking your noggin against the roof. Don't ask me how I know.

After all that hard work, it was practically time for dinner. And one person in particular was plumb tuckered out, because tent-raising is no easy task, you know. I know from experience that it is definitely not for the faint of heart.

I think that this was the best sleep the poor man has had in over five years. Badly sleeping babies will do that to a weary soul. Yousuf looked so peaceful that we barely had the heart to disturb him, so we quietly arranged dinner while Sleeping Beauty worked hard to earn his nickname. After a while the sun began to set, and we thought SB must be getting chilly, so we started a fire to keep him warm...

and took some more pictures of the cozy little scene that was created...

...while Yousuf slept on, oblivious. Truly the man was in his element, out there amongst the trees and sounds of nature lulling him into a deep, relaxing slumber.

(I cannot believe how different he and I are. Give me a comfy bed and room service any day and I'll tell you how comfortable sleeping can really be.)

Sleeping Beauty had impeccable timing too. He woke up, refreshed, just in time for the time-honored tradition of The Roasting Of The Marshmallows. This is a George Family Tradition in which you attempt to peel of layer after layer of crisp, toasted marshmallow until you can go no further.

Yousuf is a master at this.

It was the girls' first time roasting, and they were lovingly indoctrinated into the fold with the help of their Grandparents. I don't think it will be a memory that is soon forgotten.

I spy with my little eye...

Correction: Inara was indoctrinated, while Nissa went straight for the mallows, sans roasting. She's all about quantity, not quality, that one. Within a few moments, she was covered from head to toe in mallow goo, and she was on cloud nine...and going higher with every sugar-laden bite.

I never stand a chance when it comes to marshmallow roasting, it takes far too long and one has to have a certain tranquil calm about them to get it just right (and I wonder where Nissa gets her impatience from). It's not for me...but! This certainly was for me. ALL FOR ME.

It was a thing of beauty. I shall miss it terribly.

Campfires too, are a thing of beauty - Inara and Nissa had never been so close to dancing flames and crackling logs. We kept them well back, and showed them how to take slow deliberate steps so as to not accidentally fall close to the flames. They listened well, and we had a grand time together, alternating between raucous story-telling (thanks to Papa's expertise), and quiet, introspective gazing as the fire told it's own tale, glowing stronger in the fading light.

Fire, fire, burning bright.
In the forests of the night...
(all due apologies to William Blake, but we like our version better!)

Taking pictures of campfires is one of my most favorite things (says the girl who prefers hotel getaways to any outdoor expedition). In general, I find inanimate objects to be far more satisfying to photograph, as they tend to not run away or pitch a fit when they get annoyed by my endless clicking. But fires are different, they aren't exactly inanimate - and they have life all their own, one that draws the eye in and soothes the restless soul. We all felt it every evening, after the stillness brought on by the setting sun.

Our nights were spent tucked under blankets, huddling together as we fell asleep to the chirping of crickets. Every night at around 2am, Yousuf and I would be woken up by the rising crescendo of coyotes calling, and answering - the howls echoing all around us under the cover of darkness. The melodies were thrilling, and eerily haunting. Listening to those calls gave me goosebumps every time. A few hours later we'd wake again, this time to the morning calls of birds and babies, who woke up as the sun rose every morning. This was not, I soon discovered, ideal - as you can see here:

 So NOT ready to wake up. Need caffeine stat.

Nevertheless, we all clambered out of the warm blankets and into the cool morning, blinking against the sun's rays and thanking our lucky stars that we had only a short walk to endure before we were welcomed with a hot breakfast. And caffeine. Thank goodness for grandparents with RV's, because this is as "roughing it" as I am ever going to get:

Camping in style!

Mornings at the campsite were peaceful, so peaceful - there was nowhere to rush off, no schedule that needed keeping, it was a forced disconnection from the world that was a welcome reminder to just...be. And to enjoy the sky above us, the trees all around...

...and the little sun-kissed faces that peeked out from behind tabletops, beckoning us to forget our cares, for a little while.

Nissa's favorite part of the trip was any moment in which she was happily ensconced in playing in the dirt. If we even thought about prying her away, we got told off - two year-old style:

Well okay, then.

Because our plans to swim were thwarted by yucky bacteria, we decided to hike instead. We entered the cool quiet of the forest at mid-morning, and emerged at lunchtime a little dustier, a little tired, and full of interesting stories. Satiated by a grand adventure, I always like to say.

Moss grows fat on a rolling stone...

Wandering about under the canopy of trees we spied tiny woodland creatures out of the corners of our eyes and fantastical growths under our feet. We explored to our hearts' content as we swung on vines while the girls chased butterflies, balancing on gigantic fallen tree-trunk beams, and exclaiming with delight as the world around them became their own private playground.

 Donut Tree

The following day, which was our last day camping, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the beach had reopened (despite one employee telling us otherwise. Grrrr!). We didn't discover this until after dinner, when the shadows had grown long and the water had gone cool...yet we weren't to be deterred.

The girls were determined to swim and play in the sand and so, bolstered by their enthusiasm, we dipped one toe in...and then another, following their lead. Before we knew it, the waves were washing over our knees and toes, pulling us all into the current of another simple moment, another grand memory, and caressing us with the laughter of little ones as they scampered around us, barefoot in the sand.

We each embarked on our own adventure there on the shore, which is the very beauty of being outside for days on end. After a little while, I found myself hovering less and less, worrying even lesser, and marveling a great deal as I watched the girls discover the great wide world all on their own. There wasn't much else for us to do, other than sit back and marvel along right beside them.

Found Treasure - they are sitting in a bowl on the piano right now, my reminder to be open to all the unexpected surprises that hide in plain sight.

My own personal slow-mo Baywatch moment. A magnificent view, I'd say.

 While the girls are off playing, I like to sit around and channel my inner Sophia Lauren. But I don't think she ever had a soggy diaper lying around in the background.

Pure happiness. And a really cute tushie too.

Baby sis - happy in the dirt. Again. 

We called it a night when we were just too cold to continue, although we tried our hardest to stick it out for as long as possible. We finally left the beach, hand in hand, soggy diaper in tow, with the sun at our backs, smiles on our faces, and in Nissa's case - sand in our shorts. Really, we couldn't have asked for much more. I took this single shot as we were headed back to camp, glancing back at the most perfect moment:

All of us slept soundly that night, after our busy evening on the beach - and had a slow start the next morning. We took our time to pack up our tent and gear while taking breaks to enjoy one last catnap, one last page of a favorite book, one last giggle together...enough to look back on fondly. Which we will, about everything minus the big welty bug bites that we all brought home as souvenirs. Ouchie.

Inara said that the bug bites were one of two things she didn't like very much about camping. The second thing was - you know, the leaves.

Nissa being cajoled out of an astoundingly terrific tantrum - which will be the subject of it's own future post. It was THAT good.

Can we camp? YES WE CAN!

(That last picture makes me want to get us all matching "Go Team George!" t-shirts.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Litmus Test Of Stupidity.

Whenever we visit the museum, Inara and Nissa's favorite exhibit is always the one about the Underground Railroad. We were there this morning, and instead of seeing all the new exhibits they wanted to go straight to their old stand-by, "The Railroad With No Trains".

They think that the subdued lighting is peaceful, and they love that the exhibit is rarely, if ever, crowded - allowing them free rein of the space. They look forward to dressing in tattered rags and squeezing themselves into the hiding spots of re-created attic spaces. They pretend to "row to FREEEDOOM!" in the little wooden boat with the beaten-up oar while Inara looks for the North Star above.

It all leaves me feeling very, very uncomfortable.

Yet at the same time, I wonder if there is something to be said for the sweet breath of life that is swept into this tiny exhibit every time we are here. As we stack firewood in an old shed that was a safe house for escaping slaves, Inara hums to herself, blissfully unaware of the horrors of the past. I wonder if I am doing her a disservice by ignoring it.

So I ask her about it.

"Inara," I say casually, as we perch on rough stools and pretend to eat roots to survive.

"Do you know, sweetheart - do you know what the Underground Railroad really was?"

She putters around the table, holding a pot with a hole at the bottom that paints a dismal picture of a time not so long ago. "Oh sure, mama. I know exactly what it was."

"Well, I'd really like to know what it was. Do you think that you could tell me?"

"Yes, but only if we go in the rowboat first."

Settled in the rowboat (her name is the Maple Leaf - which reminds me that as a Canadian, my history involving slavery is so strikingly different from that of my American-born children), we row over a carpeted lake, quietly, quietly. It's dark and we are not allowed to make any noise, the only light comes from above, given to us by the twinkling blanket of stars.

"Well, Mama," she begins. "the Underground Railroad was a way for people to escape, a way for them to find a better life...." but she doesn't finish her sentence. She begins again with the same words, only to falter. And then she asks Yousuf, who is seated behind her, "But Daddy, what kind of people would need a better life? What are they escaping from?"

(I'm personally relieved that the question has been directed towards Yousuf. How would I even begin to talk to my five year-old about slavery?)

Yousuf doesn't miss a beat. He is not one to candy coat the uncomfortable truths of any situation, and this is no exception.

"From slavery, Inara. The people were escaping from slavery."

Inara nods, sagely. "Oh, yes. Slavery. But what is a slave, Daddy? Is that someone who works outside all day?"

I realize that we are entering that sacred place and time, the one where we are about to say or do something as parents that will be so monumental that it will shape our child's view of the world, possibly forever. It's something that I instinctively shy away from, because the burden is often too much for me to bear. Inara however, seems to sense these moments and launch herself right into them, headfirst, almost every single time. Perhaps it is the benefit of her youth...but I suspect that it's actually a reflection of who she is.

I hold Nissa tightly as Yousuf answers, breathing in her baby hair smells of sunshine and outside and yes, freedom. I tuck my head into Nissa's neck watching, waiting, for what comes next.

"A slave, Inara, is someone who does not have freedom."

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. I watch Inara's head cock to the side as she takes it all in, and once again, I wait.

"Freedom. That's what we're trying to find when we row this boat, right? Freedom. And it must be so hard for the slaves to get Freedom. But Daddy, can you tell me - why didn't the slaves have freedom?"

I finally work up enough courage to add to the conversation, so I hold onto my wise five year-old's hands and look into her beautiful, confused eyes as I answer,

"This is hard to understand, Inara, and it can be uncomfortable for people to talk about. But I want to tell you what happened. There were people who took freedom away and turned people into slaves. It should never have happened."

Have I said the right thing? Have I said too much?

Inara goes back to rowing, gazing over the carpet and somewhere else, entirely. Her eyes linger there, far away from the troubles of this conversation and a past that is too sad, too awful, too horrible, to contemplate. I see her come to a decision, and her voice is defiant as she proclaims,

"Well. That's just silly, Mama. Slavery was silly and I don't understand it at all."

Oh, but darling. I think you do.

And you never cease to amaze me with your own unique perspective. What a lucky Mama I am, to know you and to learn from you, each and every day.

Later on, out of earshot of the girls, Yousuf shakes his head and remarks, "Now that's the true litmus test of stupidity, you know."

"What do you mean?" I ask, having no earthly idea what he is talking about.

"Well, take slavery for example. No matter how difficult a subject is to grasp - if you can't explain it to a five year old so that they can understand the basic concepts - well then, it's just a stupid idea to begin with. Don't you think?"

All of a sudden, I have a inkling of where Inara gets her perspective.

Yousuf is surprised when I answer him with an embrace. He asks me what it was for and I tell him the truth:

"It's for not shying away from something difficult. It's for knowing the truth of what is right and wrong and for having the conviction to share that knowledge with our children. And mostly, for your litmus test of stupidity."

"Well okay, then." he answers, and we walk out the door of the exhibit, hand in hand with our babies, watching, and waiting for whatever the world brings our way.


Please remember to enter the Do Something Good Giveaway today. You won't ever regret doing something nice for somebody else!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do Something Good Giveaway: Mabel's Labels

I have a secret to share with you.

I have a sick obsession with organizing things.

You'd think that would make my house look ten times neater than what does, but alas, that is not the case - because I have another secret to share with you...

I'm also ever so slightly, just the teensy weensiest bit insane.

(Not to mention a tad obsessive.)

The combination is a potent one, especially during high-stress times in my life. Like say, when MY ELDEST CHILD STARTS KINDERGARTEN.

I have found that the best way for me to cope with the reality that my baby girl is actually going to be leaving me for an extended portion of the day is to obsessively and compulsively organize her off-to-school belongings. Obsessively (did I mention that already?). And repeatedly.

Therefore, over the past couple of weeks, I have categorized her individual uniform pieces (including hair ties, socks and shoes) by color (light blue, dark blue, and black), comfortability (jersey skorts are more comfortable than jumpers are more comfortable than zip-up pleated skirts), and by dressy factor (sneakers are more casual than mary janes, obviously). And also a hundred other categories that I make up just for fun because I DON'T WANT HER TO LEAVE ME.

But it doesn't matter how many different piles of clothes I make, because my big girl is still going to head off to school no matter what - and I know it's going to be a wonderful experience. But you know what would make it even more wonderful? If all of her belongings were labeled.

(Says the obsessively-organizing slightly too-attached mama.)

I know that you're that feeling me on this. Nothing says "best foot forward" better than neat piles of polo shirts and jumpers all labeled with your kiddies' name. And even if I can't be there every second of the day to make sure that Inara doesn't leave her book bag or lunchbox at school (where she will be going WITHOUT ME waaaaah!), at least her labels will help to ensure that her cute little belongings are not lost forever to the abyss otherwise known as the Lost-And-Found Bin dun dun duuuuun! 
Mabel's Labels

I recently purchased a set of Mabel's Labels for just this purpose. Let me tell you that I was like a kid in a candy store hopped up on sugar and Red Dye #40 when I decided to take the plunge with these adorable labels. Mabel's Label's have long been the favorite of web-smart Cool Moms everywhere, because they are infinitely customizable (Inara loved picking out her own), as well as being famously laundry, microwave and dishwasher safe. I personally love that they come in every possible size known to mankind, and since I'm in the secret-sharing mood I'll drop another one right here - I've been coveting them forever.

It's true! But I never had a really good reason to snag a pack of Mabel's Labels...until now. Funny story: I had to basically present a Ph.D. dissertation to El Cheapitan before he agreed to get on board with me buying them. He hemmed and hawed for TWO DAYS before yielding to my irrefutable evidence proving the necessity of Mabel's Label's in our life.

(In other words, what eventually swayed him was the fact that their best-selling Ultimate Back-to-School Combo was on crazy sale for a limited time only - so he had to act fast or lose out on saving mucho dinero. Mwah ha ha ha!)

It ended up being a very good thing that I bought them, in spite of El Cheapitan's protestations. Practically the first thing out of the teacher's mouth at Inara's kindergarten orientation was to "Please, please, please LABEL EVERYTHING. And not just with a marker, because that will fade over time."

I looked over at Yousuf and mouthed TOLD YOU SO.

And he looked over at me and mouthed DID YOU PAY HER TO SAY THAT?


But it made total sense - Inara and her little schoolmates will all be wearing unbearably adorable uniforms this year, so if I call the teacher up to say, "Inara left her lovely blue sweater at school yesterday, did you happen to see it at all?" She would probably throw her head back and laugh her face off at me UNLESS I ended that sentence with, "And it was LABELED! With her name! On a purple label with a cute little picture of books!!! YOU CAN NOT MISS IT."

And then it shall magically reappear and all will be right with the world.

But I also noticed something else at the orientation. When the teacher talked about the labels, she did it right after the school supply lists were handed out, and man were those lists LONG. I actually had no idea that schools were in need of so many essential items, but it makes sense given how badly our public schools are funded (/socialist rant).

Anyway. I noticed that some parents visibly cringed after they were told that they not only had to buy supplies but also purchase labels. Add the cost of uniforms to that already-long list, and all of a sudden it becomes a lot of money - even for a middle-income family (like us). What happens to those families with more than one child in school? Or families that are having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is?

So I got to thinking (which is dangerous, for one such as myself). What could I do about this? And that's when the seeds for this installment of the Do Something Good Giveaway were planted. I came home from the orientation and emailed the lovely ladies at Mabel's Label's right away with my plan - and guess what? They didn't laugh at me, because they are beautiful people who think altruism ROCKS (I swear that I'm going to put that on a t-shirt someday - ALTRUISM ROCKS).

So here's what we're going to do, kiddies. Mabel's Labels is going to give away, to one V2B Karmic Superstar, a highly sought-after Ultimate Back-to-School Combo™, which includes:

Ultimate Back-to-School Combo
  • 50 Tag Mates™
  • 40 Skinny-Minis™
  • 16 Shoe Labels
  • 2 Teeny Tags™
All personalized in your choice of color and design! But here's the catch. To win this Do Something Good Giveaway, you need to win them FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Not you. Or your kids. Or your dog. Or your goldfish. FOR SOMEONE ELSE.

In other words, you have to Do Something really kick-ass Good.

There is a handy dandy form below telling you about additional ways to enter, but what I would really love is to encourage you to think about a deserving person who would appreciate a set of Mabel's Labels, and who would not purchase them for themselves...for whatever reason. Especially during back-to-school time, there are so many families that may have a difficult time providing their children with much-needed supplies, and this giveaway will give us all a chance to make someone feel special, regardless of their circumstance.

To that end, the MANDATORY entry for this giveaway is one comment left below of a description (it doesn't have to include names or specifics) of someone deserving that you would choose to win a package of Mabel's Labels, other than yourself or your immediate family. I will leave the creativity up to you (you can be as anonymous as you want to be), the sky is the limit! So, if I were to enter my own giveaway (which I can't but which I wish I could, so I hope that one of my friends does for me!!) it would say something like,
"I would love to win the Ultimate Back-to-School Combo for a friend of mine who is going through a rough split with her partner. Her child is going to kindergarten this year and I know that she would like to make it a special year for her big kid!"
Easy enough, right? (And remember, if you Tweet or Facebook about the giveaway, you will get an extra entry and I will LOVE YOU FOREVER TO INFINITY. Let's get MORE people to Do Something Good...so tell all your friends and family pretty please with a cherry on top!)

The giveaway will run for a week - the comments will close on Wednesday, August 31st, 2011 and I will randomly select a winner with the help of a dancing monkey and random.org that evening while dancing the cha-cha and holding pink fizzy (non-alcoholic) beverage in my right hand. It's a highly intricate process, so no pictures are allowed, lest they break my concentration.

The winner will be announced on this blog on Thursday, September 1st, and will be contacted by email. Also, the giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the U.S. (word up to my fellow Canadians!). I hope to have many, many entries for this giveaway - I'm sure that anyone reading this can think of someone that needs this fabulous prize.

If you're interested in purchasing Mabel's Labels for yourself - which you should totally do (because every obsessively-organizing slightly too-attached mama needs a set of these as THEIR BABIES LEAVE THEM), be sure to check out the Ultimate Back-to-School Combo on the Mabel's Labels website. They are only available until the end of September, so get 'em while you can! The company is also generously sponsoring a huge blog promotion for back-to-school season, and I know of many other blogs that are running their own giveaways concurrently with me. Check out Mabelhood on Facebook and Twitter to find giveaways and score some for yourself (but don't forget to enter this one first! It's important! DO IT NOW. Please and thank you and did you know that you look absolutely stunning today?).

And now for the Obligatory Disclaimer:  I did not receive any Mabel's Labels products for testing, or for compensation of this post, nor did I receive any monetary compensation to write this post. All personal opinions and views stated above are my own because I think the labels are rad and because I really truly want you to Do Something Good. This post is not endorsed, sponsored or affiliated with Facebook, Twitter, or any other network, and is the sole  property of Veni, Vidi, Blogi™


Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Sorry That I Ruined It.

Yousuf turned thirty three on Saturday. Normally, this would be an occasion for much fanfare and celebration, but due to me messing things up royally...it was something else altogether. The reason for all the insanity actually can be traced back to one precise moment. Which is of course, the day that I was born.

The day that I was born occurred approximately six weeks before the day that Yousuf was born, in the same year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Really OLD.

And this, my friends, is proving to be a big problem.

To be honest, the birthday insanity actually starts before my birthday in July, which I have begun to look less and less forward to as I go hurtling into a new year before my husband. It's like I'm strapped into the very first car of a death-defying roller coaster and I'm all, "WHHEEE!!! GRAY HAIR AND CROW'S FEET HERE I COME YEAAAAAHHH!!!"

It's even worse afterward, because for the six weeks following my birthday I am a grumpy old hag. Yousuf, lovely man that he is, rarely ever teases me about the age difference between us, but if he even so much as looks at me sideways during that time, then I am all up in his bizness like a crazy person suffering from dementia.

"Why are you looking at me like that? Is it because I look six weeks older than you? Is it really that noticeable? Do you see any white hairs anywhere? Did you know that I woke up this morning and my hip hurt? It's because I'm ANCIENT. Do you think I'll start forgetting my name? My children's names? Your name? Will I forget that this conversation ever took place? Is it even taking place NOW? MAKE IT STOOOOOOOP!"

And so on and so forth. For SIX WEEKS. I can't stop myself from doing it, even if I tell myself to knock it off. It's like my age is catching up to me and making me speak without thinking, which I'm told is a right reserved for the very aged. And the incredibly idiotic.

So Yousuf's birthday is supposed to be this great celebration of him turning the same age as me FINALLY. It's the end of six weeks of self-imposed torture, and like everything else sentimental in our married life, I never cease to mess it right up.

Like that time I got a sinus infection and fell asleep for twelve hours straight ON OUR WEDDING NIGHT.

Yep, true story. I rock.

On Dear Husband's birthday this weekend, I promised myself I would do better, because I knew that Yousuf deserved better than a lame last-minute homemade card. But of course things turned out not according to plan. Again.

First of all, we wanted to get him something really special for dinner, and he said that he wanted Thai food. And I was all set to go and get it, even though I have never been to that particular restaurant before. But that wasn't going to be a problem because that's what GPS systems are for, right? Except then Yousuf said that I would probably miss it even with the GPS because it was hidden, and so he said that he would be happy to get it himself.

So I sent my husband to get his own birthday meal.

While he was gone, we set the table and got everything juuuuussst right. He and his father (who paid for the meal so it wasn't like I messed up completely) came back with the food and it was so good. Perfect even. Until after dinner, when I was supposed to get the cake out so that we could sing Happy Birthday to him.

Which is when I remembered that Yousuf wanted an ice cream cake, which I had bought earlier and which I had forgotten to take out of the deep freezer to thaw.


So we had no birthday cake to sing happy birthday with, and I felt like a total putz. But then Yousuf remembered that we had donuts and we could just stick some candles in the donut and call it a day. Except that the day before, his father and I planned to play a harmless birthday prank on Yousuf and we hid all of the donuts except for a tiny piece of his favorite flavored one so when he went to get the donut to stick some candles in, all that was left was that one itty-bitty bite-sized chunk of donut.

And he was kind of pissed at all of us - well at me, mostly - because I basically messed everything up, without intending to...but still.

(I totally blamed my advanced age.)

It would have been kind of funny, if it wasn't so pathetic.

Oh, and the present! So when it was my birthday in July I really wanted this one flavor of lip balm that isn't even manufactured anymore (Lip Smackers Mango). Correction: it IS manufactured, but you can only get it in a package with two other flavors that make me yak. Sorry, I can't help it - they just do. Old people are sensitive to some flavors, you know. What's that you say? That's totally unequivocally untrue? I'm sorry, I can't hear you. I must be going deaf as well.

So you wanna know what Yousuf ended up doing for my birthday? He found a dude on ebay and bought his entire stock of Lip Smackers Mango chapstick.

And all I got for him this weekend was a bike helmet.

Which is what he wanted, but I could have thought outside the box to get him something more...fantastic, maybe? But, no. I didn't.

But look! The bike helmet is really cute, especially when our children steal it from him and don't even let him try on his own birthday present.  

And remember how I promised to NOT make him a lame last-minute homemade card?

Yeah, I totally forgot about that too.

It's because I'M OLD, Guys. Like so old that I can't even remember to defrost a birthday cake old.

Happy Birthday to the best father, the best husband, and my best friend. Sorry that I ruined your special day, but maybe I can make it up to you later tonight, after the kids are in bed...

...but only if I don't fall asleep first.


Stay tuned later in the week for another Do Something Good Givewaway! This one is going to be really fantastic, friends - and it's just in time for back-to-school. You won't want to miss it. Hint: The prize rhymes with "Fable's Cables". Eeek, I'm so excited about it! Tell all your friends to enter!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Camping 101.

We're back from our two-day camping extravaganza, and still unwinding from the ordeal trip. I've got tons of pictures to share, but wouldn't you know it - my computer died the day before we left for our trip, and all I have on it right now are typing/internet capabilities. I am without photo editing power and frankly, I feel like I've lost a limb. So you get yet ANOTHER post without pictures and I don't know how long we can keep this up. I feel like sooner or later I'm going to run out of things to say...

Ah, who am I kidding? Me? Run out of things to say? NEVER.

I think that we had a great time camping, until the girls hit their no-sleep limit as we were packing up to come home this morning and just started flat-out yelling at us.

(I would insert the picture here if I could.)

Nissa's tantrum was unintelligible, but oddly enough, Inara's tantrum sounded like, "I WANT TO GO HOME TO SEE MY Mii's!!!"

Which is how you know your child has been playing too much Wii of late. Ahem.

I'd say that on the whole, Nissa did far better with being outdoors for two days straight than Inara did. Nissa basically sat in dirt for 48 hours and rubbed detritus all over her legs - she was in heaven, with nobody to stop her from eating, playing, and bathing in the underbrush. She definitely takes after Yousuf's side of the family - who don't bathe in dirt, but really don't mind getting a little dirty. After all, that's what camping is all about, right?

According to Inara and I - WRONG.

I don't know what Inara thought camping was all about, and perhaps I should have prepared her a little better. I have had a whopping TWO camping trips under my belt, both of which came as a shock to my system (but I trusted my very experienced husband to get me through them, preferably alive).  But of course, Inara hasn't had the benefit of experience to rely on. Some of her more choice phrases over the course of the two days included:

(as we were driving to our camp site): "Gosh. There's a lot of leaves here. I don't know if I'm going to like this."

(as we were hiking): "These twigs keep GETTING IN MY WAY."

(at every breakfast): "The only way I would do this again is if we had roasted marshmallows. All the time."

One of the reasons we picked the campground we did was because it was only 45 minutes away from home (so that we could run home again in case our first family camp didn't go as well as planned), and also - the main attraction - was that there was a beach. All Inara wanted to do was go somewhere to swim. Because as we all know, leaves are just weird and clearly not a normal part of the camping experience.

So we get to the park and wouldn't you know it - but there was a huge sign declaring for all the world to see:


You remember that freak storm that I wrote about in my last post? Well, the devastating effects not only blew up (literally) in our house...but they followed us all the way to the lake. Apparently, the storm dumped so much water into the sewer systems that they just overflowed into the lake, and well, that's a lot of yucky bacteria floating around.

Because my bladder is that powerful, guys.

Inara BLEW HER NUT. And Issie soon followed, because she has to do whatever Inara does even if she has no idea why she is doing it.

We managed to talk Inara down off the proverbial ledge, explaining that we could still do fun things while camping. Actually, I left the explaining to Yousuf and his parents because what the heck do I know about camping? They managed to convince her that roasting marshmallows, hiking, and exploring the playgrounds could be just as much fun as you know, AWESOME BEACH FUN (while I, rather wisely I might add, kept my mouth shut and nodded pleasantly in agreement).

And we did have fun - thanks to Yousuf's parents guiding us through the trip. We definitely couldn't have camped without their many years of experience (and their RV! Talk about luxury!). Other than the fact that every single park employee that we met was absolutely useless, we had a fantastic time.

Oh, and the skunks. I could have lived without the skunks roaming around our campsite after dark.

And also the coyotes. Which never bothered us but FREAKED ME RIGHT OUT.

And also the leaves. KIDDING.

On our last evening camping, we decided to stroll along the beach just to see what it looked like. I'm glad that we did because when we got there it was full of people! And a lifeguard! In spite of the park employees telling us that there was no swimming. Remember how I told you they were useless?

Yeah, that.

So we ended up swimming anyway - and all was right in Inara's world. She was in her element, wading and splashing and getting her shorts full of algae (blech). A girl a little older than Inara came into the water beside her and she was so giddy that she glossed over her usual introductory pleasantries, getting right down to business so as to not waste any precious beach-frolicking time:

"Hello! My name is Inara, and this is my Papa. He tickles a lot, but you don't have to worry about him. He's not dangerous."


To her credit, the girl was only marginally weirded out. Until Inara followed that little gem with,

"Also, I have a three-part question for you, if you want to be friends. What is your name, how old are you, and how far out into the water are you going?"

Like I said - she was totally in her element.

Pictures to come as soon as my computer recovers. In the meantime, I am going to make sweet, sweet love to my shower - how I missed thee, running water!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Not the Superpower I'd Choose, but it's the Only One I've Got.

On Sunday afternoon I cleaned the bathroom on the main floor. This rare occasion of me getting down on my hands and knees to actually scrub the tub was due to the fact that Yousuf's parents were going to arrive any stinkin' minute, and OF COURSE I had left cleaning the bathroom to the absolute last second because remember it's my most favorite thing to do ever.

I had grumbled and puttered around and put it off until it was obvious that the rest of the house was at Level 4 Cleanliness, and that the bathroom remained as a black hole of disgusting gunge. So about twenty minutes before The Parents were due to arrive, you would have found me with my face two inches from the toilet bowl, scrubbing like my life depended on it.

I finished up and stood back to admire my work. Every surface was so clean that I could see my reflection - a greasy, sweaty, stinky me - everywhere. The toilet bowl in particular was immaculate. You could not only eat off of it, but you could have made out with it and come away feeling even fresher than when you had started. I may hate cleaning the bathroom but once I decide to go ahead and actually do it, I kick it's porcelain hiney.

At that moment, it started to rain - we've been having on and off thunderstorms for the past couple of days, so I thought that this was no big deal. OH HOW WRONG I WAS.

This was no ordinary rain. It wasn't even ordinary heavy rain. This was legendary, biblical, forty days and forty nights type of rain, all in under half an hour. One moment we had sunshine and the next it looked like the middle of the night. The skies blackened and unloaded a torrent of rain, in sheets that were coming at the house sideways. I could barely see out the window but I could hear thunder, never-ending, all around us. The house was shaking with the force of the deluge.

I peeked out the window and could barely see our van pull into the driveway - Yousuf had gone out with Inara to run some last-minute (see? I'm not the only one leaving things to the last minute!) errands, and as he did I noticed that the road was full of water. Not only that, but it had risen so high that it was pooling at the bottom of our driveway...and steadily creeping up towards the house. Ruh-roh.

Yousuf and Inara got soaked to the bone just running into the house, and poor Inara was shivering as she took off her shoes by the back door, so I ran upstairs and snuck past a napping Nissa's room to grab her some dry clothes. When I got back downstairs, Yousuf was in the basement putting away his purchases and Inara stood, huddled in the kitchen.

That is when I heard...it. As I came down the steps I heard a deep rumbling outside (thunder) and then a strange hissing sound coming from somewhere even closer. I walked towards the kitchen where Inara was waiting and I started smelling something really off. This is going to sound so mean, but my first thought was that it was Inara. Like maybe she had stepped in some icky water and had brought the stench of urban sewer back into the house. I know - I'm terrible, even more so because the smell wasn't even coming from her.

I started toweling her off while apologizing to her, which she thought was really weird. But that's when I heard the hissing get louder, and louder...you know when your toilet won't stop running? It was kind of like that, but much more forceful - and it wasn't coming from the bathroom. It was coming from the house itself. And the smell, my god. It was awful. I thought that perhaps the new bathroom cleaner I had used had a really horrible perfume additive that somehow reacted with my bathroom to smell like well, human waste. I made a mental note not to ever buy it again as I helped Inara get changed. Then I walked around the house trying to puzzle out where the smell was coming from -  sniffing, deeply inhaling, and gagging.

Meanwhile the sound of water rushing got louder and louder, the thunder outside got more frenzied, the skies got darker - and everything came to a head as I realized that the smell was coming from inside the bathroom itself.  I creaked open the bathroom door and at that very moment there was a huge BAM! and from deep within the bowels (oh yes, I said bowels) of the basement I heard Yousuf screaming, "HOLY MOTHER! WHAT THE OH MY AHHHHHHH!"

Or something to that effect.

I would have gone down to see what on earth could have caused him to yell, but I had far more pressing matters of my own to deal with. I walked into the bathroom, determined to find the source of that god awful smell and took one step into the bathroom, nostrils flared, wild eyes darting around looking for any clues.

I found nothing.

So I took another step, deeper into the bathroom and checked the sink...


Another step, over to the tub - at this point the stank was unbearable. It smelled like a hundred people had just used my bathroom as a recovery station after having the world's spiciest curry. I took a step over to the tub and my foot came down, right in front of the toilet spluck into a puddle of light brown liquid.

Oh. My. God.

I didn't even want to know where it was coming from. I just looked back at the tub. And then I screamed. Inara came running. I screamed again - this time to tell her to GET AWAY FROM THE BATHROOM GO FIND DADDY NOW.

To which she replied, "but I can't Mama! He's stuck in the basement and he's standing in a puddle of POOP!"


Apparently (and according to my friend Liz - I had no idea that a lawyer knew so much about city infrastructure!) the storm had come in so hard that it not only flooded the road right outside our driveway, but it also backed up the main sewer line...right into our house.

Not only that, but the loud bang that I heard was sewage, gushing out into our basement with such force that it also went up the pipes all the way to the toilet on the main level, spewing out from underneath the CLOSED LID of the toilet and splattering allllllll over the entire bathroom.

Right where I was standing.

And right where I had JUST spent the better half of an hour cleaning everything to a brilliant shine.

And remember, my in-laws were supposed to arrive AT ANY MINUTE.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because not even three months ago, I blew up the septic tank at my brother's house after I had some rather erm, unfortunate side effects to my mom's ice cream birthday cake. It seems as if sewer lines and me...well, we just don't really get along. I could not believe this was happening AGAIN.

As Yousuf poured buckets of water and bleach on the sludge in the basement (it wasn't a huge amount, thank goodness) to send the yuck down the drain, I had to decide how to clean the mess in the bathroom. I didn't want to use any of my regular cleaning towels, in fact I didn't want to do anything - I just wanted it to magically disappear and have my bathroom back to it's shimmering self pronto. I ended up grabbing two rolls of paper towel, the bathroom cleaner (again), and just for good measure I sent Inara down into the basement to wrench the bleach out of Yousuf's hands ("But Mama needs it MORE than you, Daddy." Atta girl.)

Of course, right in the middle of me cleaning the bathroom from top to bottom for THE SECOND TIME (a pox on you, nature!) was when Nissa woke up from her nap - screaming because the thunder outside had frightened her. I was wet from the knees down and had no good way to get to her, so I threw a few choice curses at nature for screwing up every single good thing in my life. Like napping babies and clean bathrooms. I did the best I could to disinfect myself before I ran up to get to her - but luckily Yousuf got there first (he wasn't nearly as disgusting as I was).

I made it to her room just as Yousuf lifted her out of the crib, and she was spitting mad, sharing my anger at nature for ruining her precious sleep. As she cried out she took a great big gulp of air and stopped mid-wail, gasping. She wrenched her head around in the dark, looking for me and when she found me she narrowed her eyes in  my general direction and yelled angrily, "AHHHHH! MAMA YOU SMELLIN' LIKE  A STINKY POOPIE!!"

Why yes, dear. Yes I am. How kind of you to notice.

Later on, after all the disgustingness was cleaned up, and I had taken the longest shower of my life, scrubbing every pore on my body to get out the lingering traces of Eau De Toilet, my sister in-law called to find out if we had survived. I told her everything that had happened and wouldn't you know it, but the little stinker - she LAUGHED AT ME.

"That SO figures!", she said over the phone, snickering.

"What? WHAT figures?"

"It just figures that if there was an explosion involving sewage, that YOU were involved in it somehow." Guffaw guffaw guffaw.
"Yeah well, I think it might be my new superpower, Becky. I have the power to make toilets explode with the sheer force OF MY MIND. Oh, you're laughing now, but just wait until I come and visit you. I suggest you keep a cleanup crew on speed dial. Now stop laughing."

That's when Yousuf picked up the phone to commiserate with his sister, and they both decided that somehow I was responsible for the whole event. As if I somehow communed with nature to make our sewer line back up. Yousuf even said, "I wonder if this whole thing was caused by SOMEONE going the bathroom first." Guffaw guffaw guffaw.

As if my turds have super explosionaray powers.

I vehemently denied it, of course. That's just impossible, not to mentioned far-fetched and if it were true then the army should totally harness the powers of my ass. It's a deadly weapon.

I let them laugh it up, at my expense - because we all knew it wasn't true.

(But what I didn't tell them was that I peed in that bathroom about two seconds before it exploded.)


Friday, August 12, 2011

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

We hung a new mirror downstairs and this is me showing it off to you. Never mind that half of the mirror is out of the shot because I zoomed in on myself instead. Sometimes you just have to celebrate the fact that you had enough time in the day to take a shower. Or that you're having a half-decent hair day. Can't you tell by my celebratory expression? I'm absolutely ecstatic.

I would pass it off as my patented tough-chick expression, but the truth is that I couldn't quite figure out how to take a picture of myself and smile at the same time.

Mostly because I have to figure out that walking and chewing gum thing first.

Happy Weekend, Peeps! I'll see you on the flip side.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mood Music.

People often ask me why we have an upright piano in our dining room. It's usually one of the first things they see when they walk into our house, and I can understand the curiosity. Why would anyone have a piano in their dining room?

One of our very dear friends hooked us up with this lovely lady (yes, I just gave my piano a gender) back in January. She (my friend) told us about someone she knew who was looking to give away an old piano. My jaw nearly dropped to the floor when I heard that, because who would ever simply give away a piano? Well, the story was that the friend of my friend was getting a new piano and needed to make room for it by giving away her old one. I told my friend that she simply HAD to take the piano, and that afterward she needed to invite us over for playdates every day so that we could have some jam sessions.

(Note: I can read music but only passably, and I have never had a jam session on a piano. But that was besides the point. Hello! FREE PIANO!)

Having agreed to this (slightly unfair for my friend) arrangement, we went on our merry way, until...my friend called me later that evening, distraught. She had tried every possible rearrangement of all the furniture in her house, and there was absolutely no way that she could fit an upright piano anywhere. I was so sad for her, knowing that her mother is a piano teacher and how much it would have meant to share their love of music with my friend's young son.

But then my friend asked me if there was any place in MY house for a piano. Without thinking for even half a second I said YES ABSOLUTELY UNEQUIVOCALLY YES. She graciously gave me the phone number of her friend and said that I should have the piano. And then she asked if she and her son could come over to my house every day for a jam session. Hah!

I contacted the friend of my friend, who was expecting my call. She told me that her three children had learned to play on this old piano, and that she wanted to warn me that it was really, really well-loved. It was old (she guessed that it was made in the early 1900's), a bit beaten up, but none the worse for wear in terms of sound quality. I asked her if I could pay her something for it and she refused, saying that she was just happy that it was going to a house with children, instead of to the dump (which is where it was headed...she had tried to donate it but nobody could take it, even when she offered to pay to have it moved).

I was so moved by the sound of the emotion in her voice. This piano was more than just an instrument for her family. It was coming to us as a gift wrapped in years of happy memories. I told her that we would treat it well - to which she said NO. She said that was the opposite of what she wanted, that her hope was that it would continue to be used, abused, clambered on, and loved. Now that was something I could absolutely promise her in return.

We arranged to have the piano delivered to our house a few days later, but there were two teeny tiny problems:

1 - We were going to be out of town on the day of the delivery, and it was the only day that the delivery could take place (the original family was getting their new piano and couldn't keep both).
2 - I hadn't actually mentioned any of this to Yousuf. Nor was I even sure that we had room for the piano.

I broke it to Yousuf gently, but really all it took was the magic words, "free including delivery". El Cheapitan immediately started moving furniture and measuring spaces all around the house while he worked out how to make room for this really fantastic, really full-sized, really FREE piano.

We ended up with two potential options, and I called my friend to ask if she would supervise the movers on D-Day (D for delivery)  Both she and her friend (the original owner of the piano) agreed to watch over the transfer, and I arranged to drop off extra keys to the house on our way out of town.  Yousuf and I had done our best to clear a couple of piano-sized places on our main floor, but we knew that it was going to be cramped. We decided to leave the final decision to my friend, knowing that wherever the piano ended up, that was probably where it was going to stay. Exciting (and kind of scary)!

I had to pinch myself in Toronto a few days later, knowing that when we returned home, we'd have a piano...somewhere in our house. I remember calling my friend about three hundred times that day, asking her if it was there yet (it wasn't), and wondering about where the piano would fit. I trusted my friend completely when it came to piano-placement; I knew that she would do her best to make it work. And hey - we were getting a free piano!!! Really, it didn't matter where it ended up as long as it was ours.

My friend sent me a video late that evening, showing me where she decided to place the piano. I called her once more afterward and she said, "Fair warning, okay? It's HUGE. That was the only place it would work...and I think you should totally use it as a sideboard."

We hadn't told the girls about any of this piano business, and it was so gratifying to see there little faces light up when they discovered the piano in our dining room. We had just gotten home after a very long drive and well, you can tell that this was the perfect way to end our trip...

...and that was just the beginning. Having our very own piano is a dream come true. I was never able to complete my piano lessons because my parents didn't have the expendable income. I always wanted to keep learning, though. And now I can - with my girls. We eat, we play, we eat some more and keep on playing as the sunlight fades outside. Yousuf does too, and between the two of us we can hammer out a fairly even Heart and Soul, while the girls twirl around beside us and beg us for more of the same song over and over and over again.  I forgot how freeing it felt to play...just because you can.

It's a wonderful gift, this piano in our dining room, and such a great story behind it's arrival.  The girls absolutely adore it, and even though it's smack in the middle of our eating space - it's the perfect fit.

(Oh, and we haven't used it as a sideboard - yet. We've been too busy having jam sessions!)
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