Sunday, July 24, 2016

finding summer

We always look forward to summer as a time of rest and reconnection. The school year is like a runaway train that we board in September, with brief stops at Christmas and in March. It takes weeks of nothing for me to remember myself.

It starts with that first walk down a shady lane, through old deciduous trees and Canadian Shield to our favourite hidden beach. Visits with friends where there is no reason to look at a clock, sharing snacks and towels, wet bums on the quilts we've spread across the sand, sun and wind, red pines and the sound of waves and our children's voices calling to one another. A layer of stress falls away.

Finding myself onstage once more, stepping out of the self I have become (wife/mother/teacher/farmer) and into a role. I get to put on makeup, wear costumes, pretend, boss people around, flirt, argue, fight, and fall in love on stage once a week with this year's production of Mark Crawford's Stag and Doe

Another layer of stress falls away, to reveal a part of myself that sits quietly through the year where I meet the needs and demands of so many others. It's, quite simply, FUN. It's fun that I haven't orchestrated for my kids, that I don't have to manage or supervise. It's just joyful, pure fun, for me.

I sat at my spinning wheel yesterday for the first time in months, and felt more stress fall away as my feet worked the treadles and my hands played out lengths of merino and silk. I'm in love with green these days and am so happy with this multi-hued three-ply that resulted from a day of spinning-wheel play.

We've chosen not to raise any meat-animals this year and have welcomed the break this has given us. We've had our share of farm-drama, caring for a ewe with mastitis and a pony with an abrasion on his pastern. We also have a young chicken named Gonzo who either got pounced on by a cat or suffered from a nerve-damaging virus. He hobbles and flaps his way around the farm when he's not being catered to by the kids.

We keep busy taming our little fur-babies. I had almost forgotten the joy of timelessness, of lying on a quilt with my kids, scratching tiny ribs to elicit a tiny purr, with no deadlines to meet or places to be. Jude laughs with delight at my kitty-baby-talk and thinks I'm funny. That feels awesome.

And with our humidity and heat, we watch the storms. Our power inevitably goes out, so storms are always spent on the front porch watching the sky, counting the beats between lightning and thunder, having thumb wars, and just being together. 

I'm slowly shedding a school-year's worth of stress and coming back into myself. 

Sweet summer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Violet's Room, Before and After

Violet will turn nine in May and needed an update to her room (which hadn't been repainted since it was Jude's room years ago). This girl loves to be alone in her room, cuddled up under the covers and reading. She specifies that she doesn't want "stuff" in her room, that a bookshelf and a bed are enough, thank you. I call it her nun's cell and admit to envying her her quiet, private sanctuary!

A few coats of bright yellow paint on the walls, a custom colour on her desk (mixed from Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint in Provence and Fat Paint's Warm White), a little chair covered with a bed sheet to create a reading nook, and a rearrangement of the furniture were all it took. 

On a budget? For me that speaks of budgeting money as well as time. I was off for a week for our Spring Break, and knew I could dedicate a few days to this project. For under $100, I think the redo was a success! I had purchased fabric for curtains, but after seeing it all put together (and fighting the usual power struggle with my mom's sewing machine ~ it hates me), I decided that white eyelet curtains will be better suited than a zany animal pattern. 

As you can see, she's all settled in. Yes, we need to add crown molding and some baseboard. Yes, the artwork is all made by her or her siblings. Every piece of the furniture in the room is second-hand and/or free. She loves it.  I love it. I love the newly-finished feeling of a room that has been emptied and repainted. Everything that is brought back into the new-feeling space is intentional and much gets handed down to little sisters or thrown away. The new space feels cleaner, more sparse, lighter.

At any given moment she will be found in her little book nook, oblivious to all noise and distraction ~ even a pouting little sister! 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Winter Days

I changed my blog header to a summer theme in the dead of winter. We've had two snow days in a row because of inclement weather: lots of snow, freezing rain, and slush/ice on the roads. Yuck! This is the time of year when I'm ready for Spring.

The kids have had two days off school and spent their first night altogether at Nanny's without a parent to help out. 

I'd like to say that we made the most of our unexpected night alone. For parents of four children, sometimes "making the most of it" means eating a bagel or a grilled cheese for dinner and watching a movie while folding piles (and piles and piles) of laundry. "Song of the Sea" is the movie we're watching over and over again these days. If you haven't seen it, please do! It's on Netflix.

We're getting through the winter on a wing and a prayer. All the gates are snowed in so visiting the ponies, sheep, and cats involved a climb over a gate. The chickens are surviving the winter. In February I imagine the Tomten travelling the little paths of the farm, visiting everyone and reassuring them that Spring will come.

Our community sponsorship group succeeded in bringing a family of Syrian refugees to settle in our village. This is the result of hard work, enthusiasm, optimism, prayer, and hope. I am involved with teaching ESL to the adults of the family and it is a pleasure to visit with them every week. My kids run off with their kids, and we can hear the happy sounds of children playing from other rooms. We have found an easy comfort in the spaces between the words we share and Google Translate has been a huge help along with copious amounts of dark, strong coffee! I managed to convey that yes, we do have rain and sun in Canada in addition to snow and I could see the relief clearly etched on the faces of this family who so recently lived in a hot, desert climate!

Norah goes to a beautiful home-based preschool every day. This is her usual attire, basket in hand. My goodness, she's sweet. She's a-norah-ble, to borrow a term from her caregiver's daughter! This was a Little Grey Rabbit phase, where I was Mrs. Hedgehog, daddy was Wise Owl, and her siblings were Hare, Squirrel, and Fuzzypeg. We treasure our Alison Utley books and videos! 

How to wrap up this random update? Maybe I won't.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Yes, we're still alive and well.

Life is busy. Head-spinningly busy. But I call it "rich" to reassure myself that all is well.

The laundry piles up, and when washed, sits unsorted for weeks. A lot of kitchen clutter was swept into boxes to allow for some space to decorate for Christmas.

We are slowly preparing for the holidays with Advent gifts and decorating store-bought gingerbread people. Jude was in a play with his grandma, and Norah turned three.

We survived our Christmas concert, cancelled fiddle lessons this week, and are going to a potluck karaoke party tonight.

We're looking forward to being OFF for two weeks!

Will try to check in over the holidays if the spirit grabs me.

Monday, November 9, 2015

There Goes the Train

It's been a busy fall!

In addition to kicking off a new school year with a whole new group of little Kindergarten students, I've been performing every weekend in a theatre production about local railway history with a wonderful cast of musicians and actors. I was in the original cast of Stone Fence Theatre way back in 2003, and performed for two summers before the demands of motherhood took over my life. 

It has been a whirlwind! The night before each performance I carefully paint my nails red in 1950s style. The fun and glamour of performing as a travelling company never wore off. Some nights we changed our costumes in a boiler room that reeked of oil fumes, and others we were offered vanity mirrors and change rooms with stars on the doors! I got to perform with my mother-in-law which was a hoot, and made some new connections that will carry on into "real" life.

I loved every minute of it. Singing with a band of amazing musicians backing me up, dancing in high heels, thinking on the fly, improvising, and connecting with the other actors while drawing the audience into the magic are all second-nature to me. I'd almost forgotten how much I loved being on stage, and backstage, waiting in the wings for my cue.

There will be no holding me back now that I've sipped at that excitement again!

Tickets are on sale now for Stone Fence Theatre's Holiday show, "Valley Vic and the Christmas Temptations", featuring my mother in law, husband, and son! Three generations of the family treading the boards...dreamy!

Monday, September 21, 2015

spontaneous camping trip

I was about to do a whole glommed-up mess of photos from our late summer then decided I really must break them up into their chapters, so to speak. My need to write and share ebbs and flows but lately I miss the ritual of chronicling our days here in this quiet space. 

A spontaneous invitation from my intrepid friend, The Wabi Sabi Wanderer resulted in me packing up the four kids and heading off camping. Alone. With four kids. Did I mention that my husband didn't come with us?

But dear Wabi Sabi has been taking these kinds of trips all summer. She said, "Yes, you can!" So I did.

There was the night of the screaming toddler. Then the day of constant rain where we had to eat lunch in the tent. We ended up going to a movie at a local theatre to pass the time. Good plan! One more night with the restless toddler.

  I called my mom and she picked up the toddler and her big sister who had had enough camping. The last full day was spent on a beach on the Ottawa River, playing in the sand. The girls discovered a mine of clay under that sand, and spent the afternoon sculpting beautiful wares. 

I saw my oldest daughter reveal glimpses of her woman-face, all cheekbones and beauty. I saw hints of my son as a teenager. I felt their wonder at a wild creek, as magical as the doorway to Terabithia. I listened to their jokes and stories around the fire, happy to pass the torch of entertaining everyone on to them. And my love for this friend and her children grew all the deeper for all the memories we have made together over the past 10 or so years.

Glow stick performances in the dark, tall tales of the Wild Banana, taller tales of wolf-eyes by the privy (teeny tiny wolves about the size of, ahem, raccoons), and lots of stories about the Titanic. Sharing food between campsites, shifting from fire to fire, greeting each other in pajamas, welcoming each other's children to our outdoorsy hearths.

It was a joy.

When we talked about that trip recently, you know what my kids remembered and enjoyed the most?

The rainy day. 

The day where all we could do was sit in the tent eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches, playing Mad Libs with friends, and snuggling into our sleeping bags. 

And I thought that rain was among the worst things that can happen on a camping trip, caught up in the logistics of keeping things dry, making sure everyone was warm and comfortable.

Camping teaches children to live simply and to be grateful for a warm fire and hot chocolate when they wake up, a towel after a swim, and dry socks at bedtime. 

I felt most grateful to see their faces in the early morning tent-glow, sleeping safely and peacefully, ready to face a new day outdoors with a smile and a sense of wonder. I learned a lot too.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

circle of warmth and light

We wake up early. 

My husband starts a fire while I start the coffee. Pull the breakfast makings from the cooler. Enjoy a quiet moment of sunrise before the kids slowly emerge from their tents, heralded by the buzz of the zipper being opened. 

I warm milk for them as they awaken, stirring in some hot chocolate powder. They gather around the fire to draw in its warmth and look ahead to the day full of nothing, the day full of everything.

We've camped at Bonnechere Provincial Park for five summers now. My children are growing up here and are spreading their wings; they can walk to the beach on their own. They giggle with glee as they run to the camp store for ice cream without a grown up. They seem incredulous that I let them eat chips and eat ice cream every single day.

 They're allowed to stay up late, to see the stars that blanket the sky so incredibly. 
Every evening Margot asks, "Are we going to have a bonfire tonight?" I reply, "Yes, honey, we have a fire every night". 

"But do we get to stay have a bonfire in the dark?" 

And the answer, when camping, is always yes.  Yes to full days at the beach. Yes to ice cream every day. Yes to late bedtimes. Yes to not tidying up their beds in the morning. 

No wonder they love it. No wonder I love it.

I spent the trip reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things" (so good), knitting on my hand spun Ten Stitch Twist blanket, and trying to drink in every moment, trying to kiss every new freckle and caress each sun-kissed shoulder. 

An afternoon paddle with my sister up a winding river led us to a sandbank where we drank margaritas and read uninterrupted while the sun settled low in the sky. 

The simplicity of warming water over a fire to wash minimal dishes, of hanging the tea towel in a tree to dry, of living under the sky and sleeping under a nylon roof, and of eating simple, nourishing foods always leads me down the same path: how can I bring the simplicity and joy of camping into our everyday life? 

How can I nurture the engagement with life that camping allows, with simple chores, with living minimally, and with leaning in to each child to hear about the wonders they beheld that day and focusing on nothing more than that? 

Every moment while camping feels like a meditation, attached to a mindfulness and a mindlessness that I don't even realise is missing from my everyday life until I leave it to come here to the outside. A quieting of my mind and the many things I always feel I have to do, a calming of the busyness that fills every day. 

Too soon, five days pass and we start to pack up again. I hug my husband as we begin, reminding him of the annual pitfall of tension building as we try to get this job done efficiently while the stress we left behind creeps back in. We know from experience that this part of the camping trip often leads us into the pitfall of snapping at each other and the children.

We agree to be mindful of our breath so that we can commit the same calm focus to this task as to any other we've performed this week.

We agree to be mindful of how stress colours outside the lines of our lives: the care of children and livestock, the interminable chores of maintaining an old house and farm buildings, the late nights and early mornings.

We agree that, when stress threatens to swamp our canoe, we will revisit these days under the stars, where all we need and all we love fits within the circle of warmth and light cast by our small fire.