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Monday, February 27, 2012

Baked with Love

Mom, how do babies pop out?
The little guy is 18 months now, and I'm talking about the tiny one who was always sleeping in the corner or creeping around undetected while the big sister and big brother were photographed doing fun and/ or mischievous things. This is a short memoir of my third mat leave (one year maternity leave from my job to care for a newborn and a 3 year old and 4 year old).

Start the day running
I never used an alarm clock for the past four years. Someone will either cry or tap on the shoulder to say, "It's morning time mommy" or "Great day for up!".  Never a dull moment, brushing my teeth or doing my makeup with copycats. I felt like I was always on high alert to deconflict someone's immediate or urgent request or scanning for choking hazards. I even remember breaking up a fight between Maggie and AJ with one free hand while breastfeeding Lincoln with the other hand. The only quiet time was when one or two of the three were napping or everyone was busy stuffing their face with snacks. And that was my time to begin dinner preps at 10 AM!

Keeping the kids occupied during a typical day was not the hard part. Even getting dressed and out the door on time was not an issue cuz we didn't have any real strict timelines other than playgroups or a daily trip to the park to burn up the morning, or an impromptu trip to Chapters or the Library. Multiple wakeups in the night from one child or another or all three; easy to recover cuz I have developed an essential survival skill to fall asleep instantly and refresh from cumulative hours of interrupted sleep. Sweeping a million times a day, folding two or three loads of laundry a day every two days, organizing toys by categories...  a piece of cake. Getting Maggie to practise piano and be happy about yet, yah getting harder (that's another story).  I think my greatest challenge was cooking lunch and dinner without grudgery. What upset me the most was seeing my efforts unappreciated or uneaten.  One time when dad came home from work late he said, "I have soccer tonight, I'm not eating" I almost imagined his head was a soccer ball. It was insane that I had to feel trapped in the kitchen while I longed to play with my kids.  Eventually I figured out a system. Enlisting the help of junior chefs!

Kids Can Cook
I let AJ measure out two scoops of rice.  Maggie's favorite tasks were to help with washing vegetables and rice.  They also took turns to set the table after I figured out how to reorganize my kitchen to make their own plates, cups and cutlery more accessible.  I did a lot of my cooking in the oven; anything that I could just throw in the oven and it would magically be completed without having to stand at the stove: fish and chips, pizza, roast, shake and bake, baked mac and cheese you name it. Steamed dim sum and buns worked well too.

Baking gingerbread men, building a gingerbread house, oatmeal raisin cookies, lemon cake, rainbow sparks cheesecake and just about every recipe in that Kids Do Baking or Kids Do Healthy Lunches Cookbook by Company's Coming.  My most clever strategy was to plant the recipe books in the series in kids bookshelf among their other board books. Lots of clever discussions on food groups and nutrition and healthy bone growth.  My daughter was obsessed with skeletons and the fact that, "If I eat more food, my skeleton will grow stronger. See, my skeleton is growing stronger and stronger!"

Creative Play
Crafts - working with scissors and glue. Painting - I needed to buy two easels and lots of paper and crayola paints. We have hard wood floors but I'm still pretty amazed that we never spilled any paints or water. Dress up time - I collected all kinds of dress up clothes in a giant tupper ware bin.

Buzz is having a Tea Party with Snow White

Paper plate craft: building four trees from four seasons.

Only if the stars were aligned and that happened probably only twice when all three kids and myself took a nap at exactly the same time. Lincoln used to take 3 to 6 naps a day, he was easy to fall asleep on his own. As for the other two, there would be a magic window of time within half hour after eating lunch when a food coma would kick in and one of Maggie or AJ would suddenly be tired enough to fall asleep upon me singing Lullaby. Usually it would be after Zaboomafu on TVO kids, just pure timing.  I also discovered that it if Maggie asked to watch an educational DVD such as "Trebellina" or "Baby Gizmo ABC 123 Canadian Geography", and if I left her to get the other brother to sleep, well she would be passed out with her blankie with classical music playing in the background. They still learned something because I put a map of Canada and they started naming provinces, their favorite being "Saskatchewan". Cute! Don't get me wrong, we don't watch TV all the time.

Alas we included Lincoln for the dress up time. His new word these days "mon-a" as in monster.
Potty Time!
I have to say there were times when I could not sit down to eat lunch because Maggie would decide she had to go poo upstairs, and AJ would run to the bathroom downstairs to do the same, leaving Lincoln screaming alone in the high chair, possibly making his own diaper mess too. And if it was a calm lunch one day, then this same scenario woud happen at dinner instead. Where is dad, well working late and he gets to eat his dinner in peace while I am bathing all three kids in the big bathtub.  Good times for a year!

Work Time!
However I always had the mindset and the expectation that I would do this only for a year.  I've been back at work for over half a year now. It's kinda nice that Maggie and Lincoln wave good bye to me and give me flying kisses, while wishing me a great day at work. I have a wonderful nanny caregiver who takes care of the kiddies and general household operations. Maggie goes to JK in the afternoon class by school bus, and Lincoln still takes two naps a day so this works out well for him. I bring AJ to Montessori school each morning and he's gone all day until Brian or I pick him up. I guess I see them from 5 to 8pm each day but I make the most of it. I am more patient and calm than I ever was. Well you just have to be.

I did not entirely have to go through mat leave alone though.  I did rack up more than $4,000 in part time babysitting fees, worth every penny for my sanity. I eventually signed up Maggie and AJ for preschool on the army base from 8 AM to 1 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while I could take some time for myself, or rather watch Lincoln and do errands with him in tow.  I had a granny in the nieghborhood come in for an hour to watch Lincoln while I had to get myself and the kids ready and off to school.  She also came to help me for two hours on most afternoons while I was teaching piano and cooking dinner. And their original nanny would come in for half a day while I napped, shopping or just hid in my cave.

One time, it was so overwhelming that I dropped them off at the army base (same place as the school) for a Thursday afternoon/ night babysitting, all three with dinner packed, and I just went home to sleep. I did leave a note for dad so he wouldn't be concerned with the house mysteriously quiet, all the kids missing and I'm asleep.

Now that Brian's work schedule is more normal, I eventually learned to share responsibilities with Brian and not just bring everything on myself. Now he has the dinner duty while I'm teaching piano, and he gives them the bath while I clean up the kitchen. We're getting better at tiger team-ing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Swimming with Nemo

Lincoln's favorite hand sign was "fish" when he was 15 months old. Nemo was the most recognizable fish friend for him but he was quick to name "fish" to other drawings or photos of other species, or live ones in the tank. In fact if we ever said the word fishsticks in English or Chinese he would acknowledge the word with a quick "fishie" sign.

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AJ likes the Finding Nemo story too having watched the movie many times in Chinese (official pixar translation) before we let them watch it in English. It's a great movie for naming the ocean creatures and
capturing the beauty of the ocean. They know about Stingrays, and Ink Squid (dad's favorite thing to eat), jellyfish (we have that too in our cuisine), turtles and sharks!

Some parents find the opening scene with the shark attack frightening especially when the attack leaves behind only Marlin the father and one Nemo as a survivor. Another interesting point about Disney movies and fairytales in general, the mom is always MIA. Just like in The Little Mermaid, as explained in the prequel, her mother was "squished" by a pirate ship. Where is Snow White's mom? Cinderella's, Belle's, Jasmine's. Anyone else who has a mom was separated from her - Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty. A different subject altogether, but I find these issues to be a great introduction to other serious topics like death and injury and I don't filter any of that out. Or we take it as a discussion of the food chain or crime.

Regardless the Great Barrier Reef is a dream destination for me, as is the moon. How likely would that ever be. In real life though, they've recently set up a real virtual tour of the Great Barrier Reef with live streaming video! The Seaview project website contains a beautiful slideshow.  Google will also launch the Panoramio site to link pictures to picturesque destinations, such as the Great Barrier Reef, accessible by Google Earth, over 50,000 panoramas!

You don't even need music because the imagery is so ethereal I imagined I could hear the sounds of the ocean beckoning, and my speakers were not even on. When the YouTube channel is set up I would love to show my kids this channel.  Here is a recent news article.

I'm hoping this will engage their minds to take up swimming and not be afraid of it. I've been taking power swimming lessons. In one simulation we used flippers (not approved on race day obviously) but to allow beginners to focus on arm technique. So every time I come back from lesson they ask me I wore flippers like a Deep Sea Diver (like the two divers in the movie who snatched Nemo). They'll call any swimmer with snorkeling gear and flippers a Deep Sea Diver; as well they know that the real deep sea diver carries air tanks on his back and wears a heavy anti pressure suit... so maybe I should just tell them the first outfit is a "snorkeling guy. Learn to swim like him!".

Other than that, my kids are frightfully afraid of the pool. They did "mom and tot" classes as infants but now they just want to cling on my back or be held for the entire "swim time". When is the right age for swimming lessons? What is the right approach?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mutant Mouse Agenda

The older boys started with three eyes and AJ had to make four.
Why do boys have to make a simple mouse craft into a mutant project? The kids were making paper bag mouse puppets at a friend's birthday party. The mom was really amazing at setting up the crafts and keeping all the kids interested, 10 children ranging from age 2 to 8!

1) Fold the corners of the paper bag bottoms to make a mouse face. Punch holes for the whiskers
2) Precut the pipe cleaners, punch out some pink noses. Precut the the grey eats and pink shading.
3) Have enough gluesticks and googly eyes, and you're set!
4) Don't forget to ask the kids to write their name on the puppet.
5) Bonus: Provide paper shirts or pants to glue on, kids can colour or decorate

Don't forget to tuck these into the loot bag for the kids to bring home. AJ left his four eye puppet behind, we'll have to grab it at the next playdate though he seemed to have forgotten all about it.

"Shapes that Tessel Ate"

This is a new favorte book for AJ that introduces kids to the notion of tesselation, the perfect spatial tiling of shapes in a level plane without spaces.

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"Shapes that Tessel Ate" by Sarah Renee Jackson, from
"Tessel is a children’s educational book (ages 2 to 12) that illustrates a fun way of introducing the names of different geometrical shapes and looking at the mathematical concept of “tesselation” - using geometrical shapes to fill a specified region completely, without leaving gaps (for example, a square or a hexagon can be tiled without leaving any gaps, whereas a circle or a pentagon could not). Using characters like Tessel, mathematical concepts can be presented to children in fun, innovative ways. Keep updated on future educational books by the same author and illustrator by emailing"

The kids catch on pretty quick. The showed me that their giant square foam mats for the room, are "tesselating" (Maggie says it with a strong A sound). I showed them the fringe quilt on Maggie's bed handmade by a friend. I mentioned about honeycombs in the bug book.  AJ asked me if diamonds could tesselate, and I said "Yes. How did you know?"  He showed me the Hello Kitty pillow case with the tesselating diamond pattern. Wow, impressive.

We see this everyday, applied in tiling formats found in middle eastern or Spanish art and even plain brick walls and bathroom tiling.  I stumbled upon a recent news article about Jewish Nobel Prize winner who discovered a certain solid that was not a crystalline structure but a tesselation (which was a new word I learned at age 34 and my kids know this word at age 4!) I like the part in the book when they ask if we thought if it would be good "if tessel ate octogons"? AJ remembers about the sandwich! It's a good illustration, you'll have to read the book to find out what this means.

I showed them the soccer ball (handmade by Brian in high school Home Ec class) and I explained that we can't tesselate pentagons on their own but with hexagons, they make a soccer ball shape... called a spherical polyhedron. Anywayz they already know their shapes, I just wanted to extend that knowledge a bit.

Additional Ideas on Math for Kids.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Maggie presented me with a new drawing this morning and gave me this description, "This is the noise inside Daddy's tummy that makes him burp."

Others may call it a senseless scribbling; in my mind it looks like sine waves.

I have to ask, "Well how do you know what noise looks like?"

Maggie gives an expert answer, "On Batman's computer."  This is a reference to a drawing in a Batman story.
Oops the drawing
is rotated 90 degrees wrong.

Wow it looks like we have a future DSP analyzer here huh.  Well she is always asking me how stuff works, or asking questions that would lead to it.

For example the other night, she was worried that a monster or vampire would crawl out of the TV.  I took the opportunity to answer that it was an image, and that the antenna catches waves and the TV makes a picture with a light tube inside. Yes, I know that is a description of a CRT TV; I haven't quite updated my knowledge on how a plasma screen tv works yet.  I also mention that everyone with a TV sees the same show.

AJ is just listening in on the conversation and jumps in at the last second, "Yah, Transformers are only real in the movies." I really wanted to mess with him, so I said, "No AJ, robots live among us."