First Day of School

The first day of school for the public school board in Ontario is always the day after Labour Day, which this year ends up being today. My girls are back to school, and although part of me is sighing in relief that they’ll be in someone else’s care for a couple of hours every day, I know the house will also seem echoingly empty without them around. I think I’ll learn to live with it, though.


Thing 1 and Thing 2’s lunches for the first day of school.

School-provided lunches really aren’t a thing around here; heck, the school doesn’t even have a cafeteria. Everyone brown bags it, although some kids do get a special lunch delivered by the “Lunch Lady” once or twice a week, which has never really seemed like value for money to me. Most of the year my girls pack their own lunches the night before, and they have almost since they started to go to school. I tried to pack Thing 1’s lunches for her starting in Junior Kindergarten, but too often more than half of the food came back home – although her teachers reported that she was complaining of hunger. Once Thing 1 made her own lunch, a lot less of the food came back home, and the complaints became rare. I had to help her out a lot at first, but by the time Thing 2 started school, she wanted to make her own lunch to be just like Thing 1. I’m not saying that it’s not a struggle sometimes. What should be a short and simple process can take ages when the kids do it themselves. Sometimes they are more interested in doing just about anything else and getting them to make their lunches can be a seemingly endless argument. But in the end, I think that the independence is important, and that it’s a good thing that my children learn basic food handling and prep early on. My husband and I are always nearby to make sure that they make healthy choices — and to ensure that they don’t accidentally bring anything with tree nuts or peanuts to school.


Thing 2’s lunch.

However, on the first day of school, for a special treat, I like to pack their lunches for them. I made up some fresh whole wheat bread using the Nan’s Pan Rolls recipe, and I also threw together some Blueberry Bran Muffins. The bread I used to make Hungarian salami sandwiches with mayonnaise (even though I prefer mustard myself). Each girl also got Goldfish, strawberries, vanilla yogurt, and string cheese. I packed Thing 2 a container of sliced English cucumber, while Thing 1 prefers an apple.

Am I the only one who finds those “school lunches in other countries” videos and articles interesting? I don’t know if you could consider this to be a typical Canadian lunch, though. I remember being very interested in my classmates’ lunches when I went to school because they were all so different. Some of them contained Wonder Bread sandwiches with peanut butter and jam or bologna and mayonnaise; others ate crusty French bread, sharp cheese, and cherry tomatoes; others always contained a thermos of soup and a travel package of crackers; others had warm dishes of rice and curry and spice. Some kids ate the same thing religiously, others had an entirely different daily menu. I think our household was somewhat between those extremes, with recurring favourites alongside seasonal and leftover dinner fare.


Thing 1 and Thing 2’s school bags, packed and ready to go.

At any rate, my kids’ lunches and supplies were ready the night before. New-ish outdoor shoes were set by the front door, brand new sneakers were in their backpacks, packages of markers and pencil crayons and duotangs and paper filled up the rest of their bags. Their lunches and water bottles were in the fridge, waiting to be grabbed on the way to the door. Hopefully all of this preparation will set a positive tone for the rest of the year. Will they like their new teachers? Will they get along with their classmates? Will they enjoy the new challenges that their schooling puts in front of them? Who knows? There’s really nothing I can do to influence most of that. But lunch, though, lunch I can do. And no matter how the first day turns out, it always goes better on a full stomach.

Late Summer Garden

Right now my garden is bursting at the seams — okay, well, all except the peas, which have died back somewhat. My potatoes are starting to pop out of the ground (they don’t grow down very well because of the hard clay under the garden), and I have to keep re-covering them with soil so they are not damaged by the sun. Before I planted the garden this year, I doubled the amount of soil, which seems to have delayed potatoes popping up, but didn’t keep it from happening.

Even tied back, my tomato plants have passed “threatening to take over” and are now simply the rulers of the garden. When I look out the window behind them, it’s like looking through a jungle to the back yard. If you can see me hiding back there, you’ll get an idea of how tall the plants have grown — and they’d be taller if I had taller stakes to support them, but their fruit is weighing them down.

Today’s harvest included a whole lot of cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, jalapeno peppers, and hot peppers — along with handfuls of herbs to use in cooking tonight.

New Cookware

When it comes to garage sale and thrift store shopping, my mother is my role model. Actually, that’s true when it comes to shopping in general. My mom can go into a clothing store and find three pairs of trousers and a shirt, all that fit well, all for 75% off or greater, in less than fifteen minutes. I will go into the same store and come back with maybe one of those pieces. It’s as if she has some kind of supernatural ability to sniff out bargains.

Case in point: my mom bought me some new cookware at garage sales this past month, both for about $2.00 apiece. The first was a pretty vintage 1970’s-ish Dutch oven. I love this style of enameled piece, and although my mom gave me her old one a while back, she was not ashamed to admit that this one was in better shape. As a bonus, it’s also bigger.

Mom also found me this adorable pumpkin pie plate, virtually brand new; it still had the cardboard insert to protect between the top and bottom parts from each other. I doubt it has ever been used. I think it will be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, when pumpkin pie is often my main contribution to the meal. The temperature at night is telling me that fall isn’t far off, so it won’t be long until I get a chance to use this dish.

Growing Garden

I am happy to be able to say that my garden is coming along swimmingly!

My little lilac bush, which is no taller than me, is blooming like crazy for the second year in a row. With an intensity all out of proportion of to its tiny tiny size, it perfumes my home when I leave the windows open, especially in the early evening.

My wee pear tree was pollinated, and is actually growing fruit! I can only find four immature fruit hiding under the leaves, but that’s not half bad for a tree that’s only a few years old. I wonder what kinds of pear these will be? The tree is supposed to be grafted with four different varieties, but I can’t remember what type is on which branch.

My apple tree was pollinated well and there are hundreds of tiny immature fruit hiding among the leaves.

My peas have begun to flower, which means that there should be pods any time now! If I’m lucky, the plants will produce food all summer. Now, if only I could train them to grow up the pallet trellis instead of sideways.

All of my potatoes have started to put up leaves, which means that the roots are growing as well.

The shallots, on the other hand, aren’t doing nearly so well as last year. Only three of the plants have started to put up leaves, and the leaves themselves have been quite small. I’ll leave it another week or so, and if I don’t see more growth, I’ll plant more between the healthy plants. Why waste the space?

Last but not least, my tomatoes are starting to fruit! This means that I’ll soon have to put up the cages, instead of leaving them as they are on stakes. If they grown anything like last year, a single stake will not be enough to support the weight.

Curtains

I have a pet peeve — and it’s not a tiny creature that sits around chewing with its mouth open. This time of year, it gets very hot around here, accompanied by high humidity. It hit 32°C (89.6°F) here yesterday, with a humidex of 38°C (100.4°F). That’s pretty hot no matter where you’re from, but around here our summers are short enough that we don’t truly get a chance to adjust to the heat. And yet, on days where the Weather Network is broadcasting heat warnings, I know people who sit in their air-conditioned homes and complain about the heat — despite the fact that they are sitting in a sun-bathed room. Put up some curtains already! You will be more comfortable, your energy bill won’t be so high, and you’re putting less strain on the environment. As a side bonus, in the winter those same curtains will once again help keep your energy costs down as they will help reduce drafts.


My kitchen table with the curtains open.

Now, I’m not talking about people who have legitimate financial, physical, or mental issues that preclude them putting up curtains. However, in my experience, the people who are in the direst financial straights are also the people who, out of necessity, will cut their utility bills any way they can — air conditioning is a luxury, after all. To beat the heat, many people will hang sheets or blankets over their windows with tacks. Sometimes people build improvised shutters out of flattened cardboard boxes. These may not be the prettiest solutions, but they are effective. Or, if a little money can be budgeted, it’s possible to shop around until the perfect curtains are found on clearance at 90% off. Learning to sew homemade curtains is also an option, not that much sewing has been necessary since the invention of iron-on hemming strips and curtain rings with clips.

No, what I’m talking about is people who should know better, and who have no impediments to putting up proper curtains, but choose not to and then whine that their summer cooling bill is so high.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed.

As I mentioned, yesterday was one of the first scorchers of the year here, and of course that’s when my A/C broke down. We managed to keep our house at an acceptable temperature by opening up the windows at night and in the early morning, then closing both our windows and our curtains up tight for the heat of the day. By sunset, the house had warmed up somewhat, but we were only on the verge of “uncomfortable” — whereas outside it was “too hot to freaking move”. I credit that partially due to the fact that we have decent insulation in the walls (just standard, relatively-modern stuff to protect us from Canadian winters), and our curtains on the sunniest windows of the house being lined with blackout fabric.


My kitchen table with the curtains closed, after adding blackout lining.

To illustrate this, I took photos of my kitchen with plain curtains open, plain curtains closed, and curtains closed with blackout lining added. All photos were taken within a ten-minute span, and the curtains were all white Merete curtains by IKEA — which I love as they open/close easily and are opaque enough for privacy’s sake. The lining used in the bottom picture was heavyweight stuff purchased at Fabricland some years ago. I didn’t change the exposure on my camera so that it’s possible to compare the difference between the light let in by the lined and unlined curtains.

Curtains lined with blackout fabric (or with an opaque coating on the back of the main fabric) have become really affordable over the last ten years or so, as has the heavy-duty drapery hardware that it takes to support thicker curtains. It’s even possible to sew an old curtain to the back of a new one to maximize light blockage and prevent the fabric from fading. Or there’s always the sheet/blanket/cardboard options. If you don’t like “living in a cave”, as some have complained to me about dark rooms, you can only open the curtains in the room you’re currently in, kind of like a reverse-Nicole-Kidman in The Others. So to me, if you choose not to put up or close curtains, it seems an act of artificial helplessness to bemoan how hot it is and how high your home cooling costs have become, or that your brand new air conditioner isn’t performing nearly as well as promised. Wouldn’t it be better to take a stab at mitigating the problem rather than complaining?