Experiments In Domesticity

Marriage, Motherhood & Modern Housewifery

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There’s a Place In France … (Part 1)

A friend of mine is heading to Europe for an extended visit with her twin infants and has asked for ideas of things to do while in France. Much has been written about France, travel and children. What immediately came to mind was Todd Babiak’s 2010 Learning French column from the Edmonton Journal. A serial account of family life in France simply doesn’t get much funnier, truer, and more whimsical. Alas, a quick search on the Journal’s site returns next-to-nothing. My next thought was Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon. This book represents the fruit of Gopnik’s dispatches from France to the New Yorker. Lately, there’s been an awful lot made, perhaps too much?, of Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. A personal favourite, though it has nothing to with children at all, is David Sedaris’ When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Any of the above will give you an introduction to the French from a North American’s perspective.

I have made many pilgrimages to France over the years, both with and sans baby, and have yet to have had a terrible time. My last visit was in September and October 2012. I travelled solo with Ladybug and made the mistake of using points. My 23 hour journey went like this: Edmonton – Heathrow – Frankfurt – Toulouse. By the time we got to the airport hotel in Toulouse, Ladybug had a meltdown the likes of which I had never seen and hope never to see again. It lasted for 2 hours and I hadn’t slept in two days. You get the picture, I’m sure. Which brings me to my first tip:

1. Know thyself and thy child. If you have never travelled with your child, have never travelled far with your child, have never crossed time zones with your child, or have never been on a plane with your child, make it easy on yourself. Book the flight with the least amount of stops. Bring an adult companion with you. Ask for a seat at the bulkhead or one with an extra seat open next to it. A perfectly rational child may become a snivelling mess when a mile high. You may become a three-headed monster when seriously sleep-deprived. The only way to know how you and your child will travel is to go travelling.

Once we got on the train to Agde the next morning, we were both slightly more composed. The train is an excellent way to travel in France and many parts of Europe. It also eliminates the need to lug around a carseat.

2. Kids are currency with French public services, if you can find the right information. Before we left, I did a fair amount of research on train travel. I purchased something called the Carte Enfant+ for 75 euros. It is available to children under 12 and is valid for one year from the start date of usage. The card entitles the child card-bearer to a free seat on the train when accompanied by an adult. It also entitles up to 4 people to accompany the child and receive a minimum of 25% off their fares and up to 50% off certain journeys. These people do not have to be related to the child and can be of any age. My parents qualified for seniors’ pricing but this card proved more economical than the seniors’ discount. Certain trains even have Espaces Familles which are like your own private room reserved for families. For more information, click here.

Children under 18 are admitted free to most national monuments and museums in France. If you are planning to visit a lot of sites there are multi-day passes available to adults that really cut costs. However, if you are there in the late spring, summer or early fall, there are many lovely outdoor opportunities that won’t cost you a cent. Walk the lavender markets in Provence, stroll along the Seine in Paris … but leave your stroller at home.

3. Be prepared to get some serious exercise. As anyone who has ever been in the metro in Paris or any train station in France will tell you, accessibility is a huge problem. Many stations have stairs, stairs everywhere and not an escalator in sight. I brought an amazing, light umbrella stroller for my mother to use with Ladybug. It was a pain in the airport, on the plane, on the train, on the cobblestones, in pubs … you get the picture. I did see French women blithely pushing their progeny is strollers whilst sucking on cigarettes, in skinny jeans and stilettos, but I found it much easier to navigate with my carrier and sensible shoes. I definitely did not see anyone anywhere with those gigantic “jogging” strollers women here are so fond of.

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Locals Only

The most sobering fact I learned, and the one that stuck with me, from Edmonton-based Jennifer Cockrall-King’s book Food and the City is that grocery stores only hold three days worth of food supply. In the event of a zombie apocalypse, an oil and gas shortage, or a Canadian civil war, we may find ourselves very hungry, very quickly.

I have the great fortune to live in a city that, despite rather major drawbacks such as frigid winter weather, boasts 5 year-round farmer’s markets. That’s right, five! Edmonton has the good luck of being northerly enough that it gets extended sunshine hours in the spring, summer and early fall, and is also the bearer of kick-ass soil (as my laissez-faire garden can attest). In the winter, we have several excellent greenhouse producers who keep us in tomatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. For cool, non-GMO food manipulation, check out Doef’s to see how they produce heart-shaped cucumbers.

Last week, I went to hear Raj Patel speak on Food Cultures for Sustainability. Patel is an engaging and passionate speaker. Between wrestling with Ladybug and spilling coffee all over myself, I was able to enjoy his entertaining anecdotes which drove home important points about the modern agricultural-industrial complex. I was also proud to be an Edmontonian when Patel complimented us on “fresh”, our urban food strategy, and joked that we were the only city in the world where you could purchase frozen vegetables at the farmer’s market.

As we settle into February and seed catalogues begin to appear in my mailbox, I find myself dreaming about the upcoming gardening season and all that it promises. Thoughts such as these, combined with my weekly trip to City Market, give me much to look forward to.



Pancakes Are Ready!

Last night, Ladybug and I went snowshoeing in the river valley, visited the old fur trading post, and sipped warm cider while we were regaled with tales from Edmonton’s frontier days. We had a wonderful time. Ladybug, who would normally be in bed by 7:30 PM, exclaimed repeatedly about the night sky. We were returned to our car in a wagon pulled by two enormous Clydesdales. Ladybug was fascinated by the horses and even patted one, named Jeb, on his velvety nose. It reminded me that, though we read her many animal stories, our city slicking kid has not seen any live animals save dogs and cats.

We slept in today, and I wanted to make something quick and delicious before we headed out to the farmer’s market. One of our favourite breakfasts is pancakes with real maple syrup. I have modified a recipe from my well-worn How It All Vegan, by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer, to suit our family.

Snowy Saturday Pancakes

1 banana
1 cup whole grain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup blueberries, frozen or fresh
coconut oil
fruit for garnish (I use strawberries)
maple syrup

1. Heat cast iron skillet, griddle, or other heavy pan over medium low heat.
2. Mix flour, baking powder,cinnamon, and sugar (if using), in a large bowl.
3. Mash banana with a fork in a smaller bowl. Mix in the almond milk and vanilla.
4. Dump the wet ingredients in with the dry and mix until everything is moist. Add blueberries.
5. Test your skillet by dropping a bit of water in. If it sizzles, you are ready.
6. Put enough coconut oil in to cover the bottom of the pan (1/2 tsp), and distribute it evenly.
7. Using 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of batter, pour pancakes into pan.
8. When the edges of the pancake look cooked and the centre has bubbles, flip the cakes over. Fry for another 2 minutes or until browned.
9. Repeat steps 6 to 8 until all the batter is gone.
10. Serve with sliced strawberries, more blueberries, or whatever floats your boat. Don’t forget the maple syrup!


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Miss You

I decided to categorize my posts the other day and realized that, although I proclaim it as part of my personal equation, I have no posts under the Marriage category. As Valentine’s Day, that once yearly celebration of love, affection, and glorious chocolate eating approaches, I felt it apropos to write an inaugural piece for the Marriage component.

Musicman left for a month-long tour of the United States on Tuesday. A month is a long time to be away from your family but he has done much longer tours and has gone much further afield. Before Ladybug was born and our lives were forever changed, I used to fly in to see Musicman for a few days when he was gone four weeks or more. We would rent a car, check into a hotel, and explore the area. How else would I know about the moonlit delights of Fishtown, Philadelphia or where not to stay in Brighton, UK? It’s a little more complicated to do with Ladybug in tow and, with me not working outside the home, a little harder on the family budget. So, most of the time, I just miss him and he misses me.

Road dogging it is not nearly as glamorous as it might sound or as fun as you might expect. For a vulgar-funny perspective on the life of a musician on the road, check out Kelly Hogan’s article here. I grow tired of hearing from people about how much fun or how exciting it must be for my husband to travel around the world with a group of men he has known for 15 years. It’s not. It’s mind-numbing, sleep-and-sanitation-deprived work that ends in 90 minutes or so of glory every night. It’s that 90 minutes of doing what he loves that keeps Musicman going. That, and the fact that he has to keep his girls in lentils and parkas.

Being on the road is also extremely lonely in many ways. Musicman has to leave his toddling daughter and loving wife for the comfort of … earnest music-loving people he doesn’t know and will never see again, or the flat screen TV in the hotel room, or the clerk at the all-night truck stop selling microwaveable burritos and caffeine pills. Lonely though never really alone. I think Sofia Coppola captures this bizarre ethos so beautifully in her films Lost In Translation (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters), and Somewhere (Stephen Dorff’s character).

Though I often feel sorry for myself, and now for Ladybug, when Musicman is away, I feel sorry for him too. It’s the glue that binds us together across the miles, through spotty cellular reception and dwindling phone card minutes. According to a recent study from Harvard University, empathic couples are happy couples.

So, I miss him and he misses me, but it works for us, and we are happy.


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Wipe Out!

I am all about cutting costs when it comes to baby products, and very interested in reducing the massive carbon footprint that accompanies every North American bundle of joy (fun facts can be found here). Most of Ladybug’s clothing, furniture, and other baby accoutrements are hand-me-downs from friends or amazing Kijiji.com finds.

I knew I would use cloth diapers long before I knew I was pregnant. Modern cloth diapers are wonderful and nothing like your mother’s massive, shapeless cotton swaths that required pins, “rubber pants”, and a PhD in Origami to hold back the relentless offerings of a well-fed newborn. Choosing a diaper today is a head spinning decision for a mother-to-be. I ended up going with the advice of a friend who, although I have mixed feelings about the PUL fabric, did not steer me wrong. I would advise waiting until your baby is born, trying a few different styles, and choosing the one that works best for you, fits your budget, fits your babe, and doesn’t hurt your conscience. Of course, there is always Elimination Communication but that is a topic for another day …

A dear friend asked me about wipes when she was expecting, and has asked me to share my set-up here. I use cotton flannel wipes that I purchased locally. They are manufactured by Gabby’s, an Ontario swim diaper company. Ambitious and crafty types can certainly make their own out of just about any natural, absorbent material (hemp, bamboo, etc.). Cut the fabric in squares (mine are about 6″ square), and serge around the outer edges.

For solution, I use a cup of water with 2 tablespoons Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap, 2 tablespoons almond oil, a few drops of tea tree oil (anti-bacterial), and a few drops of lavender oil (soothing). Mix the whole shebang in a mason jar. I put the wipes in a sealable glass container, pour the solution over them, and keep them in a handy location. I find this covers around 20 – 25 wipes, and I use them fast enough that nothing funky happens to them.

The equation above is extremely versatile: you could use a different type of carrier oil (calendula is a great, healing choice), you could change up the essential oils to your liking, you could add skin savers like aloe vera; and you could put the solution in a spray bottle, or a sports top bottle, and apply to wipes or directly to the babe’s bottom as needed (this will likely only work if you have a placid and cooperative little one).

If you are heading out on the town, do not resign yourself to wetting down the sandpaper-dressed-as-toilet-paper most public washrooms offer up. Wet a few wipes and put them in a mini wet bag, or one of those cute reusable, washable waterproof sandwich bags, and toss that in your diaper bag. Alternately, fill a travel-size bottle with solution and bring along some dry wipes. Either way, you’ve got a quick, easy, and inexpensive solution to a dirty problem.


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Bake It Like You Mean It: Bread Baking 101

I’ve been making bread for many years and eating bread my entire life. My mother spent a good deal of my childhood producing delicious homemade bread, cinnamon buns, and rolls. I love bread. No matter how healthy my diet gets, I will never eschew bread.

In the last five years, I have begun a hot and heavy flirtation with whole grains. Most recently, I have been going steady with Gold Forest Grains’ Red Fife. No matter how I try, or which foolproof book I read, I have yet to make a loaf of bread that I am really proud of.

Enter the wonderful crew at Shovel & Fork. I have been signed up and waiting for their Bread Baking 101 course for months. I have also been dreaming about beautiful, delicious whole wheat loaves. On Sunday, I had the opportunity to put all this wishing, waiting and hoping into action.

Taught by the hilarious and knowledgeable Chad Moss, it was a wonderful day of learning, practising, and eating. We even got to sample wares pulled straight from the backyard cob oven. I left with a few grams of starter; two proofing loaves of 70% Red Fife, 30% Sunny Boy unbleached organic; many notes; and renewed confidence in my bread making ability.

I got home, fired up my regular, boring old oven, and waited. When I judged proofing to be complete, I popped my Dutch oven in (forgetting to score my loaf – whoops!) and crossed my fingers. An hour or so later, I took out the bread and turned it on to the butcher’s block with high hopes. I was not disappointed, my crust looked lovely.


Mr. Moss warned us off cutting into a straight-from-the-oven loaf (dashing many romantic hot bread fantasies in the process): it is still baking and should be cooled overnight for the best flavour to develop. He suggested warming a chunk in the oven, if hot bread is your particular bag.

This morning I cut into my loaf and discovered a tighter, denser crumb than I had hoped for (not a long enough second proof), but a massive improvement over past whole grain loaves.


Upon tasting, Musicman, Ladybug, and I were all in agreement that this was a fine first effort. Given the tools Shovel & Fork has provided me with, I am excited to continue tweaking until I get it just right. I am also much less intimidated by the whole starter process than I was.

Stay tuned for bread updates, and for the results of the Kitchen Garden and Cob Oven courses. Let the dreaming begin …



Be Gentle With Yourself

An on-going topic of conversation with the mothers I know is how much we are (or are not) getting done. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers to be, and do, it all. Some of this pressure comes from within ourselves, some is imposed through the relentless comparison we inflict upon ourselves when we look at other women’s lives, and some is external and largely beyond our control.

We all know the woman with the fat dollar career, immaculate home, amazing figure, and perfect relationship. Or we think we do … I think it is important to remember that we do not know what goes on behind the scenes. Despite media and corporate promises, you simply cannot have it all and you cannot be perfect all the time.

The relief I feel when another mother lets down her guard and admits her imperfection is a rather sad comment on the state of motherhood these days. Trolling parenting sites, I frequently read women condemning other women’s choices. No wonder it’s so scary to open up and admit we are human. Outward criticism, coupled with the insecurity many of us feel as parents, results in a doozy of a shame complex.

Over the last year, I have been amazed at just how much time and effort caring for one little human being entails. I was formerly a gal who could get a lot done in 24 hours, and had energy to spare. I am now a mama who may still be in her bathrobe at supper time, occasionally cries as she wipes avocado from her hair, and often sleepwalks to bed at 8 PM. And, that is perfectly normal, acceptable and okay. Thankfully, every day is different, and provides new and exciting challenges.

I try to remember that Ladybug will only be a baby for a fleeting and minuscule amount of time. I want to be with her as much as I can for the few years that we have together and, most importantly, to enjoy that time. For me, that means letting go of perfection, not comparing my achievements to those around me, and having a mother’s helper come in for two hours a week to spend time with Ladybug while I catch up on things that go by the wayside (bill payment, cleaning, grooming, snoozing, etc.).

I have a magnet on my fridge that contains helpful advice from the Desiderata, which I remind myself of daily: “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.”