Friday, July 24, 2015

Noir et Blanc

Wedding festivities were held at Domaine de la Fontaine, a beautiful site on the outskirts of Orleans.
Without kids in tow, I had the freedom to wander at will and photograph whatever took my fancy. In my teens and twenties I had an old 35 mm manual (of course!) camera; I knew how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed to get the results I wanted. With my digital camera, it just doesn't make the same kind of sense to me! But a quick tutorial from a kind Scotsman led me down the path of achieving the look I used to love. These will find themselves in frames when I get the chance to repaint my bathroom, a reminder of a beautiful trip and a wonderful day of celebration.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Simple Beauty of France

Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.

I spent a whirlwind five days in France this past weekend. My love affair with this country began when I was sixteen, and like all affairs it burned strong in its early years. I spent three months there as an exchange student, then returned for a Christmas visit four years later when I was studying in Belfast.

Twenty years swiftly passed by and although I held the fondest of memories, the ardour faded in the midst of day-to-day life and child-bearing. Then one day, an invitation arrived: my exchange partner was going to get married! 

Armed with a kick ass dress and a good camera, I promptly fell back into love, hard. Seeing loved ones for the first time in 20 years is a very strange experience. Lots of tears and laughter. 

What is it about France? Everything seems simple. Minimalist. Tasteful. Sporadic flowers growing against mute stone walls, pops of colour in the shape of doors and shutters, the scent of lavender wafting up as you walk by a garden. Simple meals shared outdoors, hours-long and ripe with conversation and word-play. A respect for tradition and culture in a rapidly changing world.

 My hostess giggled when she saw my photos of "les volets" (shutters) because they are among the most commonplace of sights in France. I know that when she inevitable visits me she'll take pictures of my log barns and of the pine trees that grow in our yard.

My love affair has been reignited as if it never burned down. Love is like that, isn't it? Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps. But France feels like home to me; when I expressed this to my French "maman" (the woman who mothered me during my three months there as a teenager) she said, "It IS your home.

Et voila. Home is where the heart is. My heart is in two pieces, it seems, never to fully settle in one place or the other. I feel blessed to feel at home in two countries and plan to get back to France before another 20 years goes by.

In the meantime, the above photos will be framed and displayed to keep my love alive.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Drinking in Summer

Photo by Tim Graham, my talented brother-in-law

The days feel timeless, and we're still early enough into our summer break that we're not counting down the weeks (yet) till school starts.

The order of the day is: what fun can we get up to today? We're swimming as much as possible (which has kind of eliminated the need for bathing), eat simple meals of seasonal fruit and veg and BBQ, and neglecting the house as much as possible. Laundry, dishes, and sweeping are about it, with vague dreams of painting the office, bathroom, stairs, kitchen...maybe in the fall.

We are watching lots of movies, reading lots of books, and I'm getting to satisfy my urge to spin every day. A passion for concocting delicious yarns has replaced knitting for now, and I'm filling a basket to be used in projects over the fall and winter. Violet got busy with a weaving project I put together for my Kindergarten students in June, using an old picture frame that I've held onto for years...I knew it would serve a purpose someday!

I don't think I've mentioned here that I'm preparing to head to France this week! It finally seems real. My exchange student from high school years is getting married and my dad and I will be attending. I haven't seen my family there since I was 21 (when I spent Christmas with them during the year I spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland). I've got a fabulous dress, ridiculous shoes, and a hot-off-the-press passport. 

The kids will be in the care of daddy and Nanny while I'm away, and while it's a bit of a whirlwind trip (five nights away) I know by the end of it I'll be missing them enough to head home again. While I'm away I plan to taste the wine, eat pain au chocolat, hold the hands and gaze into the dear faces of loved ones I haven't seen in twenty years. This isn't a trip for touring the sights of Paris, but for reconnecting.

The sweet gnome you see above belongs to the daughter of the radiant, dynamic Erin Ellenberger-March of feather + anchor. A la Amelie, I'll be bringing this little fella along with me on my trip and photographing him as we see the sights together. I don't think we'll make it to la Tour Eiffel, but I'm hoping I can snap a pic out of the plane window. I'll also send a postcard to sweet Poppy, then return her gnome so he can go on other adventures!

I marvel at the feeling of stress leaving my body and mind. I am actually achieving presence in each moment with my children, laughing instead of yelling, breathing instead of panicking. Having the space to rest, reflect, focus on what and who I love, and to once again evaluate what it is I'm on this earth to do is a gift for which I am grateful every day. 

I'll be back next week to post some photos of my time in France...ooh, la la!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

farm chores, beach pictures

*Photos by Maureen of Twig and Toadstool

My dear husband faithfully tends to our animals during the winter when I tend to stick a bit close to the wood stove and my knitting. I am so appreciative of that gesture! So, in the summer when I'm home and he continues to go out to work, I take over the chores. 

I set out at dawn because I have a toddler who makes sure I never miss the sunrise. She is usually with me and helps out by filling the water buckets for the animals. I scoop hog grower into a bucket then mix it with water. We have a quirky entrance to the pig pen which means that I have to climb up on a stump and over the fence onto a rock, precariously balancing the (heavy) bucket of provender while warding off the hungry beasts who tug at my pant-legs with their rubbery mouths. 

A delighted orgy of mastication ensues as they chow down on discarded fruit peels, vegetable scraps, egg shells, leftover bread crusts and the milk and cereal the kids leave behind in their bowls. The rooster and his hen, plus our new hen and her three chicks wander and cluck, venturing in closer to see if any tidbits might have fallen to the side. I scatter some corn for them, then refresh their water.

I give the heavy plastic trough we use for watering the pigs each morning; yesterday's water becomes the day's mud pit. The intent was to put their water in a vessel that they couldn't easily tip. They can't tip this one and don't want to, because they use it as a bathtub. It is both annoying and hilarious to watch them take a sip of the cold, clean well water, then step right in and roll around in it. By the end of the day it is more mud than water. But they love it, so how can I say no? 

The sheep often need to be moved from the barnyard where they spend the night to a pasture that has enough grass to sustain their incessant grazing. We will be looking into buying some portable electric fencing soon as they have made short work of our available pasture and we have plenty of grass that we'd rather not mow. The puppy has been bravely venturing in to the sheep's sphere with me but has been rewarded for his courage with head butts and hoof-stamping galore. Just wait about six months, I tell him. You'll be big enough then to show them who's boss.

I bring some apple slices in my apron to greet the ponies who remind me of the older sibling once a baby is born. The sheep, pigs, and puppy are new arrivals and have taken up a lot of the time we used to spend with the equine members of the farm. I rest my forehead against a warm neck for a moment and whisper kind words to these quiet, beautiful animals. A peaceful feeling settles over me. I make a mental note to trim their hooves this weekend.

There is a rhythm and a meditation to taking care of animals. When I know that all are fed, watered, and have all the elements for healthy, happy living in place (shade, pasture, fresh straw), I feel peaceful and satisfied. It's like the feeling when the kids are all bathed and asleep, the floor is swept, and the dishes are done. It's a feeling of order, that everything is right in the world, that earth will keep turning for another 12 hours and that at least in my corner of the planet, all are safe and well.

I pause to lean on the fence. I listen to the pigs grunting their greedy satisfaction while the chickens cluck and scratch happily. The sheep are just behind the fence; they raise their heads to see what I'm up to. The sun is getting higher and warmer and I know that a beautiful summer day lies ahead.

It is not surprising for me to find that 45 minutes have passed since I told the kids I'd be right back. I scoop out some kibble for the cats (and kittens!) and for the pup and make sure their water bowls are replenished, then step inside.

I pack food, towels, hats, and a quilt, and we set off to enjoy the rest of the day at the beach. Kayuk joins us for his first big outing and he wins all hearts with his calm, goofy nature and his beautiful freckles. I bring a bit of knitting to occupy my hands in those rare moments when there is no one asking me for food, and Norah uses the watermelon as a chair. and fun, beautifully balanced to bring peace and joy into each day.

Monday, June 29, 2015

summer holidays, at last

Tired faces, ready to be done school!

Pioneer costumes optional for summer fun.

Exploring culinary variety.

Hands full of wonder.

The school year passes in a blur of busyness: pulling kids from sleep, rushing them through breakfast, hustling them out the door, then repeating it all in reverse in the evening till everyone is asleep again. And repeat. I fantasize about the flexible rhythms of a family that can stay at home, and remember with fondness the days when I was home with my toddlers to enjoy the many little moments that make up their days. I have missed Norah terribly this past year, as she has missed me. 

The last week of school was tough on us both; she was home from her daycare and was here in the care of my mom and my mother-in-law. She cried every morning when we left, and we literally counted down the days. When I got home on Wednesday I noticed a curious spotty rash all over her torso. 

On the last day of school I snapped the requisite photo then paced my phone on the hood of the car to take a picture with my Canon. I drove off and forgot about the phone...until I saw it fly through the air then hit the road HARD. I had to wander the road before I found it in the ditch, screen smashed to smithereens. Sigh. It was a fitting symbol of the many balls I've been juggling all year; it stands to reason that I should drop one on the last day of the school year.

We ended the week with a case of the chicken pox. The older three went through it all at once six years ago (at exactly this time of year), so Norah suffered the itching alone. Calamine, baking soda baths, and Benadryl got her through without too much trouble. She is coming out on the other side now, covered in scabs. We've watched lots of movies and cuddled our way through the worst of it.

Having TIME is such a gift. Time to sit in the early morning light and play with barns and animals. The teacher in me marvels at her cognitive development, how she works to find the barn that fits the each animal best, how she stacks and balances and problem solves. Mostly I just marvel at her: her skin, her messy hair, her dexterous hands, her many sweet and funny words. 

I have time to make healthy food again. That was one of the biggest challenges this past year: coming home and having to figure out what to feed everyone. I had time to make spring rolls the other night, and last night made a yummy chicken curry. Jude has expressed an interest in trying spicy, "different" foods which has me jumping for joy. Years of plain chicken, potatoes, and steamed veggies (the girls' favourite meal) has me pining for flavour.

Aside from a trip to France in July and our camping trip in August, summer will be spent caring for our increasing population of critters and hopefully spinning lots as I've joined Ravelry's Tour de Fleece!

I'll drop by here now and then when I have fun stuff to share. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

white dress

I'm wrestling with my feelings of ambivalence about my faith at the moment. Faith has been a challenge for me since my teens. I struggle daily with my memories of a happily religious childhood and the many harsh realities of the Catholic Church. Particularly as a young woman, the restrictions and expectations placed on me jarred me to the point of swearing off religion of all kinds. 

I slowly ventured back when I moved home and eventually found myself as a teacher in the Catholic School Board. With maturity came an uneasy kind of peace, and I am able to find some of the joy I knew as a child. It's still a struggle, daily. I was once told that as long as I am on the journey, it's all good.

In spite of my ambivalence, it was beautiful to celebrate Violet's First Communion with our family this past weekend. She has been preparing all year with her Grade Two class, under the faithful tutelage of her classroom teacher and our school/parish priest. She has looked forward to this day with much reflection and anticipation. Her pure, innocent approach to faith is beautiful and inspiring, and calls up nostalgia in me when I remember how I felt about the Catholic Church when I was a little girl. 

And while my own path is a long and winding one, I believe that children should be set on a path, any path, to see where it takes them. I believe that this path may be one they follow forever if it brings them joy, but that it also might be just the starting point, that perhaps they may step off into the unknown someday to find their own path. It's all good.

Keeping with tradition, my mom made Violet's dress (she made mine, too!), and I embellished it with some simple embroidery. She couldn't wait to get out into the pasture with the sheep and ponies as soon as we got home, and I quietly followed with the camera. 

This is my farm girl, the little girl I was in so many ways! I always say that I don't see myself in her physically (although I know she's mine!). She has beautiful, long, tapered fingers whereas my hands are like a pioneer woman's: square, blunt fingers, built for digging tubers and smacking bottoms (haha). She is a nut-brown maid, while I am all peaches and cream. 

But her fondness for animals, the outdoors, reading, and a quirky mix of logic and romanticism...that's all me. Oh, she has plenty of herself in her too, mysterious dashes of qualities that don't echo mine or her father's.

My beautiful daughter! She takes my breath away, whether she is a pure-white Lamb of God or a tangle-haired, shirtless wild thing in jeans and rubber boots. I cannot claim her as mine, as she belongs to herself. I pray that she will always love and respect herself as she does today.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

backwoods auction

It's been years since I went to a rural auction. I'd forgotten how exciting it is to bid on any silly little item, to feel your heart race as your hand seems to bid (unbidden!) against your adversary, driving the price up to the ridiculous. But one person's junk is another person's treasure, and although I didn't come home with the item I most desired, I didn't leave empty handed.

The ad for the auction listed a spinning wheel, so how could I say no? My friend Maureen and I arrived and signed in at the auction "office" (a trailer), receiving our numbers that would allow us to bid. We wandered the farmyard, perusing the many items laid across tables. It's best to play these things cool, because chances are if you were attracted to a particular item, others were too.

We were amazed at the stuff people were buying: an old can of Ajax, rusted jackknives, a dual-cassette tape player, and a box of horrible Christmas decorations. I finally made my way over to where the object of my desire sat.

I'd had the foresight to bring some Corriedale roving with me to test out the wheel. I hated the idea of it being bought by someone who wanted to set it in a corner of their living room as a decorative item. A spinning wheel or musical instrument is a work of art, beautiful to the eye. But they are also tools, created to serve a purpose. If this wheel could spin, I was going to do my best to bring it home with me.

As soon as I sat down and started fiddling with it, this old fellow approached me and asked me if it worked. I drew a little crowd as I worked to pull the fibre through the orifice (using my earring as a hook!). The bobbin wasn't spinning freely so I took "the mother" off and investigated. There was a lot of built up grease (lanolin?) inside the bobbin, and it was stuck fast. 

I knew with some work, it could be a decent spinning wheel. I have a beautiful wheel at home so I didn't really need another, but like my husband with his musical instruments, I like to gather spinning materials around me like children. 

This elderly gentleman kept a close eye on me, then told me he was going to buy it. I wouldn't bid against him, would I? Now, some people would be gullible enough to fall for those twinkly blue eyes and the puppy dog look in them when he expressed his desire for this wheel. I wasn't buying it. I waved him away with a smile, and thus began a day-long interaction with a wonderful, funny, and smart man. I found out through an acquaintance that his name was Henry.

All through the day our paths crossed, till we were bumping shoulders, nudging each other, and teasing about who would get that wheel. He joined me on a bench and asked about our sheep and our children. It turns out he also has a son and three daughters. We talked about the hard work involved in raising children, and the passage of time. He's been married for 57 years and although his wife is now sick and dependent on him, he declared that she was a good wife, a hard worker.

The conversation always returned to the reason we'd both come to this auction: the spinning wheel. His refrain was, "You're not going to bid against me, are you?" I told him I knew what he was up to, that I wasn't born yesterday, and that I wasn't going to budge. 

Then the Mennonites arrived.

As one, our heads swiveled towards this quaint family as they inspected the wheel. It seemed to belong to them, both reminiscent of the simple style of the late 1800s. He looked at me as I looked at him, and we wordlessly agreed: we'd have to form an alliance to beat the Mennonites. We quickly agreed that if he got it, he'd will it to me, and if I got it, I'd teach him to spin on it. We'd have joint custody, and Maureen agreed to be the wheel manager. Henry couldn't have been more delighted by this turn of events if he was a five year old in a candy store.

I had a limit in my mind of how much I'd be willing to spend, but there was clearly a lot of interest in the wheel. As the auctioneer got closer to it, the crown got larger. Henry and I wandered over to where I'd put my bag so that I could show him the roving I'd brought. A woman in a purple shirt who was standing nearby said, "Oh, you're here about the wheel? So are we. We're going to go up to at least $500."

Henry gave me a look that said, "She's bluffing". Still, I knew I'd be out of the running early in the game. Henry looked at her shrewdly, but kept mum and I wondered what he was thinking.

When the bidding began, the Mennonites didn't bite. I wondered if they had noticed something I hadn't. I put up my card every few bids, and as the price rose, Henry stood with his head lowered and his arms firmly crossed across his chest. It was between another woman (not the one in the purple shirt) and me. As the price rose past $100, I shook my head to indicate to the auctioneer that I was out.

Suddenly, Henry raised his card. 

A bit of a collective gasp went up. He continued to stand in his casual posture, head bowed and arms crossed, and as the price rose and the auctioneer would be about to say, "SOLD!", his hand would rise up almost imperceptibly. 

When I finally registered what he was up to, the price was up past $400! I realised then that I was in the presence of a master.

At $450 the tension in the crowd was an almost physical presence; suspense and adrenaline hung like fog in the air. Finally, the wheel went to the woman in the orange shirt for $460.

Henry turned to me with a smile and a wink and I was left to wonder if he ever wanted the wheel at all, or if it was just a game he played to drive the price up. We both threw our heads back and laughed at the joy of attending an auction on a Saturday afternoon, and of meeting a kindred spirit.