How To Be An Amazing Stepfather

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Chris was off to bingo. He doesn’t play bingo; he doesn’t even like it.

He volunteers at bingo in order to support Jade’s musical theatre program. 8 hours of volunteering at bingo has provided us with a lot of funny stories.

And every family can use a bit of funny; especially one that develops a little later in life.

When our 2 families met, the blending of our daughters and ourselves was a piece of cake – chocolate for 4 of us and vanilla for 2 of us. Yes, we have 2 daughters who don’t like chocolate! I know… unbelievable really.

When Chris met Jade, he knew instinctively how to create a unique and personal relationship with her. She was in grade 1 and loved to write. Chris, also being a witty and talented writer; developed a strong bond with Jade through their love of writing, often leaving notes for her in random places and always putting one in her lunch box.

Writing led to shared jokes, shared songs, shared stories, and many shared activities. They have designed a world that is their’s together. Understanding who Jade was, they created a system of ” I hate you” which of course means “I love you” and special words that trigger positive happy memories.

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Chris can be a caring and understanding kind of goof ball and this is what Jade loves most. He has dressed up and played the role of a fortune teller for the Harry Potter birthday party, he has played a farmer for the Anne of Green Gables birthday party, he has run a blackjack table for the casino party, he has been the mummy at the Halloween party and he has even worn the pink underwear Jade made him. (The featured picture is of the Christmas they both gave each other underwear!)

Yes, she seems to have him tied around her little finger, the one he used to trim for her since she didn’t trust me to do it.

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They have travelled together, they have played and watched sports together, they have cooked together, together being the key word. Chris, a busy father of 4 girls who travels as part of his job, always makes time for Jade, his stepdaughter. A stepdaughter who is his daughter, no different than our other 3 daughters.

But of all the things they share in common that have created their special bond, ice cream plays the most important role. Both are obsessed with ice cream and Jade has even been known to lick the top of the ice cream in the carton, to prevent Chris from taking any! Yes, this is the kind of weird and wonderful relationship they have developed. They wouldn’t want it any other way.

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When Pain Meets Mother’s Day

My mom has an endless supply of enthusiasm, energy, and love to give. She always did.

Despite having little time with us yesterday, she appreciated everything we did for her. Which felt like little in contrast to what she has done for us through out the years. Each and every year she would win the mother of the year award (the one that I am the sole judge of) and each and every year she would forge on to do what ever was needed to make us happy and feel safe.

As she sat at the kitchen table and I looked into her eyes, I wonder if she knows. Does she know that her mind is letting her down? Maybe… maybe not.

Despite the sad heart-breaking facts, she stays truthful to who she is, enthusiastic, energetic and loving in all that she says and all that she does .. even if it is for the millionth time.

And I guess for that, I should be grateful.

(She is a 76-year-old widow who recently has met and fallen in love with a lovely, active and intelligent man who is 96, who is also as equally forgetful. But the one thing they do remember is how much they care for each other and for those who love them.)

Happy International Happiness Day From The C Family

Happy International Happiness Day 🙂

To celebrate happiness, I want to share a few pics that show what happy can look like in a normal (well mostly normal) Canadian family and a blended one to boot.

Collecting shells at the beach in Florida.

Collecting shells at the beach in Florida.

Picking apples in Prince Edward Island, Canada

Picking apples in Prince Edward Island, Canada

Celebrating Canada Day with grammie in Nova Scotia.

Celebrating Canada Day with grammie in Nova Scotia.

Eating hamburgers at Mr. Bartley's in Boston.

Eating hamburgers at Mr. Bartley’s in Boston.

Our family is usually happy on or near the water. (on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala)

Our family is usually happy on or near the water. (on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala)

Mom and dad are happy when the Red Sox win and the kids can eat for free at The 99 Restaurant in New England.

Mom and dad are happy when the Red Sox win and the kids can eat for free at The 99 Restaurant in New England.

Disney = happiness

Disney = happiness

The happiest day in Jade's school career for both Jade and mom was finishing that bridge made of popsicle sticks (read: popsicle nightmare)

The happiest day in Jade’s school career for both Jade and mom was finishing that bridge made of popsicle sticks (read: popsicle nightmare)

I would like to thank Caitlin from Teen Daydreamer who brought this special day to my attention today.

What makes you the happiest? I would love to hear from you.

The Opposite of Zen: Getting A Teen Packed for a Trip

So this probably started about a week ago.

Jade, do you know what you will be taking with you to Europe?

I know. I have time. 

Repeat above question a zillion times and repeat above answer a zillion times, and you know what our house has been sounding like for the last 7 days.

Then the volcano exploded (or otherwise known as mom couldn’t take it one minute longer.)

Jade, you have 2 days until you go. Get your stuff together and get organized. Pleeeeaaaaaaase.

I will. I have been. It is all in my bedroom.

Oh, that word, “bedroom” is a scary word. It conjures up socks thrown in all directions, piles of clothing tossed amongst sheets, a comforter pushed aside and who knows what on the floor.

I fear going in to look. I try to let my imagination stay in a happy positive place. But still my curiosity kills me and I enter.

I see the red backpack on the floor, stuff all over the desk, piles of what appears to be random clothing and I leave, hyperventilating.

This kid will never get to Europe at this rate. She will show up with the clothes on her back while others will be dragging huge suitcases.

Jade is, what we call, a minimalist.

Case in point… after having travelled Peru for a week or so, we finally found a place to do laundry. While everyone else in the family had plenty to throw in, she declared she had nothing that needed cleaning. She seems to never have anything that needs cleaning! Yes, she is cheap on the water bill.

So when I woke up this morning, I told Chris that I must be grinding my teeth. My head felt like it was going to fall off but I am certain it was this…

It was Friday. Jade leaves Sat. The packing must get done.

Chris steps in. He is a masterful negotiator; he manages us like we are Israel and Palestine. 

Jade stomps upstairs as I insist oh so politely that I must see all the belongings to go in one place. 

She insists oh so politely that I am the new Monica (from the TV show, Friends) of travelling; apparently a tad controlling, and a bit too overbearing. 

I let that go. (or I try to)

Chris sits off to the side, ready to jump in if needed, and we get down to backpack business.

A lot of eye rolls later,  a few comments made, exasperated sighs overly emphasized and the finish line is in sight.

We break out the chocolate almonds to celebrate and then I (or Monica) say:

Now remember Jade when you get there, you need to…

And then she yells, I know! I have travelled before! I know all this stuff!

And I quietly retreat, agreeing in my head, that she is probably right.

Jade does know her stuff. Her mom just hasn't "realized it yet".  A lesson in letting go. (or trying to)

Jade does know her stuff. Her mom just hasn’t “realized it yet”. A lesson in letting go. (or trying to)

On finally being ready for Europe. The packing is done and now the fun can begin.

On finally being ready for Europe. The packing is done and now the fun can begin.

9 Tips for Moving With A Teen

What does Jade think? was the common question or should I say concern, when I mentioned we were moving from Prince Edward Island to Cobourg, Ontario.

Jade - a very creative and confident girl who fortunately, enjoys change.

Jade – a very creative and confident girl who fortunately, enjoys change.

And I would respond, she is fine as long as she can walk to school from our house and that she gets to choose how she decorates her room. 

So that all seems fine and dandy however, it is a tad gut wrenching when you are in the middle of it. Jade had lived in PEI her whole life and had many solid friends; in fact the same ones since grade 1. It is hard to anticipate what that will look or feel like when she actually goes to move.

Thankfully, my worries were mostly laid to rest. She moved in the summer, had a fantastic trip to Colombia and Peru, and began school a couple of days later…with little time to think about it… just dive right in.

I am not sure Chris and I breathed much on that first day of school as she started grade 9, the beginning of high school in Ontario. The clock moved slowly as we waited for the verdict at 2:30. Would she hate us for moving or would she be fine?

Thankfully, the latter. She had survived and would continue to do so; each day proving to be more promising than the last. Before we knew it, there was a new list of names of friends and stories to share.

Tips That Worked For Us

1. Really listen. What do they need to make the move more attractive? (in our case it was walking to school and a Moroccan/Indian inspired bedroom with orange/blue walls.)

2. Get in touch with the school ahead of time. Check out its website to familiarize with courses, activities, calendar etc. We discovered that her school was going to Europe this year and we were able to get her registered for the trip so she knew in advance that she would meet a group of similarly minded kids at the outset.

3. Start to explore the neighborhood, community and surroundings as soon as possible. Jade and I felt more comfortable in Cobourg as we discovered the best second-hand stores, the cool restaurants, the library, the scenic walks and drives we could take together.

4. Develop new routines. Jade and I used to love chatting at Harvey’s (I know but it has veggie burgers for me), Splendid Essence and Noodle House (2 favourite PEI restaurants) and these are what we missed most when we first arrived in Cobourg. Once we found some fantastic replacements, these routines made us feel more “at home”.

5. Get involved. Thankfully, there was a musical theatre program for her in Cobourg with outstanding teachers who were both warm and engaging. This made all the difference in the world really. An automatic outlet for her creative talents as well as a place for her to make friends with similar interests.

6. Develop a relationship with the new school. I know that this is high school but this is still important. Once the teachers realized that Jade was new to Cobourg, they went out of their way to ensure she felt included; which I am certain they would have done regardless. We are so lucky. Her school is stellar on all levels.

7. Find a balance between alone time and family time. I struggle with this as I want to be more present than a teen probably likes 🙂 Taking our cues from her, we would ask questions, listen and support if we could. Keeping the lines of communication open are so important during these teen years as well as during the added stress of a transition such as a move.

8. Maintain old relationships which teens of course do so easily through social media. Sometimes I wonder if she talks to her friends in PEI more now than when she lived there.

9. Be patient (parents) and stay open-minded (teen). Jade knew it would look and feel different here but she welcomed that readily. Fortunately, that is her nature..

Jade feeling settled.

Jade feeling settled.

And now that we have gone through all this, we have learned we will be moving again…exactly one year from the last move. Thank goodness, Jade, like her mom, embraces adventure and change. As this time, adventure and change are guaranteed to be on the menu!

These converse won't probably make the next move. But a new pair will.

These converse won’t probably make the next move. But a new pair will.

How To Create A Hip Family Trip

I don’t even want to admit how many times I have googled – best family trips. meaningful family travel, where you must travel with kids etc. etc. etc. I have tried them all. It is pretty bad when you see that you have visited the same website over and over and you are still seeking that one stand out place, that maybe someone else knows of; that I don’t. I have stopped (well.. mostly). I have learned a few things since we started this blended family travel stuff. This is my new go to criteria.

  • a different language – my kids love trying out new words, succeeding in buying a toothbrush on their own, ordering their own food, negotiating with numbers, saying hello and goodbye to strangers in their own language
  • a different experience from previous – Jade had been to Guatemala so I wanted to mix it up for her next trip and chose Morocco (different language, customs, tradition, clothing etc. from Guatemala).
  • markets... lots of them… (Jade will disagree) but the other kids will agree, everything is more interesting in a market
  • activities – trekking, hiking, biking, swimming, sandboarding, boating, fishing, anything that involves moving
  • a meaningful activity – in Guatemala we visited a NGO that supports children and families who previously have lived off of the Guatemala City garbage dump – we saw the dump, the neighborhood, and the kids and their school; it was simply the most memorable activity we did in Guatemala (Safe Passage)
  • museums maybe – check with the kids first as it depends on their tastes – we usually don’t spend much time inside on our trips but a museum such as Anne Frank’s or The Hiding Place in Holland are very interesting for kids
  • change up the transportation options – tuk tuks, bikes, motos, trains, chickenbuses- travel like the local people do
  • vary the accommodation options through out the trip – we like a range of places from super budget to homestay to a bit more costly (medium range) so the kids meet many other travellers, get to meet local people, get to eat with others, make their own food in their own kitchens, and overall… it never gets dull

And when all of the above fails, you will still discover that a trip to anywhere new is usually wonderful but remember to expect the unexpected!

School vs. Travelling

First of all, I am a teacher and I love my job. I think teaching is rewarding, meaningful and plays a significant role in most of our lives. However… and this is a big however…I know that I learned a lot when I was in school but I can’t seem to remember many of the specifics. I guess I will sum it up as I am sure it was all important and it must have helped me overall.

What I definitely do remember is my first high school trip outside of North America. I went to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Yes I had fun sightseeing, shopping, eating, and dancing but what really stands out is this one day. We went to Dachau concentration camp (no, not fun) and it is this day, this event, that is one of those travel moments that has been forever etched in my memory. I have never forgotten standing in the gas chamber looking at photos of the bodies laying on top of each other, in that very spot, where I was standing. Shocking, horrifying, unimaginable and that feeling has never left me. I could sit in school and read about the Holocaust, watch movies on it but to place my feet where it actually happened was life changing. This is what learning via travelling does. It is real.

So this year, one of my daughters is in Grade 9 and her school was taking a trip to what was known as Eastern Europe. When I saw that they would be visiting Auschwitz, I knew that she would have to go. I am sure when she looks back on Grade 9 many years from now she won’t remember the algebra she learned, the French verbs she could conjugate, the science experiments she did but she will remember walking down that path towards Auschwitz.

Some Things Never Change – and yes… It’s The Real Thing

Despite all the differences in the world, there a few things that always remain the same… you can always (well let’s say almost always) find bread and you can always (well let’s say almost always as some countries are deemed Pepsi countries) find Coca Cola. And why would that be important you are wondering? Well, if you are travelling with teens or children who may be special eaters to be politically correct, this might be considered important. Of course, bottled water is better but sometimes you just need that caffeinated sweet beverage to get you through one of those super hot, super humid days… as well as I swear by pop to get you through that queasy stomach, those awful tasty malaria meds and yes, I have even had to use it to brush my teeth (not one of those stellar moments I must admit).

Just A Few Visuals For Why You Should Travel As A Family

So in Canada, our kids (at least ours) are neck deep into technology and sometimes I feel that we as parents can’t simply compete with Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and whatever the latest is.

So here is the answer… take them away (and yes the tech can come with you) and believe me, you will see them in a different light.

Eating all meals together, sleeping in rooms or on trains together, shopping together, sightseeing together etc. is a lot more together than back home. They entertain themselves as seen with Abby and Noah who made their hotel rooms into a fun zone (my words… not sick enough to be Noah’s words) even when nothing is going on, something is going on. It gives you the opportunity to see a book come alive as with Jade in Haarlem, Holland when we went to visit the sight where the Hiding Place occurred. Travel allows for grandparents to reconnect with their grandchildren; an invaluable opportunity for everyone, even if it is in a nomad’s tent. Having a simple coffee together becomes a new and different experience.

Basically, all the simple stuff that we take for granted in Canada, becomes extra special when we travel.

This is why we travel, for those moments. It is not always the historical sites or the museums that stand out; it is simply just being together in a new environment.