Monday, March 30, 2015

sweet life

Margot skims the "sludge" off the boiling sap.

The fruits of the morning's labour.

Margot finds a friend.

Plink, plink, plink...the drops get faster as the day warms up.

My view from the open-air outhouse...see my Dala horse mitts?

Sleepy toddler finds a place to lay her head.

This one wasn't feeling so well.

...and this one was just crabby.

It hurts a lot when your feet start to thaw after a dip in ice-cold meltwater.

We have had seasons where the sap is running and done in February. This year, the sap is just starting to run and it's almost April. We don't tap trees of our own but the next best thing is having friends who generously invite us to join in the sugaring off.  They graciously welcome us year after year: a gaggle of soon-to-be-muddy kids, two parents who always seem to be chasing a toddler or wearing a baby, and piles of food to share outside.

Sugaring off season is beautiful for so many reasons. There is the quiet hush of sweet-scented sap that rises from the evaporators. Hot, strong coffee softened with this year's syrup, or simply, a mugful of hot sap for the children. The wind in the trees, the squelch of mud on our boots, the absolutely riotous mess-making of children who have finally been set loose on Spring.

The stories that people tell when they are away from screens and telephones and deadlines have a focus and depth that is rich. There are layers of clothes that are taken off then put back on depending on what the sun is doing in relation to the occasional clouds that pass by. The women and some of the medium children head off on a walk across the fields, following the trails of skidoos that are slowly melting away. We notice the paths the deer take, different from ours, and marvel at the miles of stone fences that cross this region.

The toddler stays at the "cabane" (sugar shack), and when I get back, she is fast asleep against daddy's chest. The big boy went for a ride that has no name: a sled tied to the back of a skidoo. His feet are soaked and we have a few tense moments where the cold begins to seep into, then out of them as he warms them by the woodstove. My biggest girl has had a tummy ache all weekend so lays low on the old couch, nibbling whatever is set out on the old table that groans under the weight of food we all bring.

There is always a pot of something heating, and lots of laughter as we look back on how the children have grown, and how this operation has grown since the earliest days when they used to boil the sap in an old filing cabinet drawer over an open fire.

When everyone is full of sap and has a bit of a chill, we head home: filthy, exhausted, cheeks pink from sun and wind, hair sticky from syrup, dried sap caked on the kids' cheeks where they lifted the pails off their spiles for a sip. We bathe them in batches, tuck everyone into cozy pyjamas, and marvel once again at the ease with which they settle into sleep after a day of mud and sunshine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

some handmade {with love} things

The braids!

The eyelashes!

I'm not sure when or why I started loving hand made things. Actually, that's a lie. My mom knit sweaters and made clothes for us. Dresses were perfectly fitted in fabric we chose ourselves. I always felt so special wearing those one-of-a-kind garments to school. I can remember sitting on my mom's lap at the sewing machine, visiting the local fabric shop, and as I grew older, learning the skills of creating by hand from her. My mother always said yes to me when I wanted to learn something new. She'd find the materials I needed and would patiently guide me till I'd mastered each skill. I have been a maker since childhood, and no few greater joys than that of whiling away the time with some little project in the works.

Working full time has curtailed the amount of time I can spend creating, but the juices still flow prolifically. I have learned to carry a notebook with me always, to jot down any fanciful little thought that pops into my head. That way, I can come back to it later when my children are all past the age of 15.

I've become a maker of little things (I confess, I kind of always was) because I can get the satisfaction of finishing something on a regular basis.

This post is a shameless display of things I've been making lately and other handmade things made by other people. 

I spent a bit of time in early March creating an elephant hat for Norah. I've always loved elephants since I did a project about them in Grade Two. I used soft, locally-raised alpaca and love the natural colours! It JUST fits, more as a cap or beanie and is fine for Spring. If I were to make it again I might add an extra inch or so to make it fit more deeply (over the ears a bit more). The pattern is a free one that you can find here! I'm thinking I'll add an extra elephant to increase the size, as Margot is clamouring for her own elephant hat.

The little smocked dress was a gift for Violet when she was born, from my dear Grandma. Her friend Mrs. Florence Nesbitt made it. She was in her late eighties when she carefully stitched this beautiful garment for my little girl. The trouble was, I was so afraid to ruin it that I never put it on her! It hung in my closet for years until I finally realised recently that no one could enjoy it there. I took a deep breath and have been putting it on Norah for every special occasion. I'm so glad I did. It fits her perfectly and sets off her dark beauty so well. It makes me think of my Grandma every time I see it.

Norah has taken to being Queen Elsa at every chance. She found this little crown in our toy box, a gift from our dear friend, the Wabi Sabi Wanderer. It fits so beautifully and is the perfect little accessory for play. And for eating homemade pea soup.

Now, lest you think I've forgotten my three big kids, I wanted to share their favourite handmade with you. That would be handmade adventures. On weekends they pack up their backpacks with snacks, Thermoses full of hot chocolate, jack knives and compasses, flash lights and band-aids, and off they go on quests into the woods. We don't see them for hours, and when they return they have rosy cheeks, scratches, tears in their clothes, and many stories to tell. This might be the best handmade thing in this post.

Finally, I wanted to share my latest obsession with you. Inspired by this beautiful artist, I have taken up my needle and thread and have been stitching fabric buttons. They're perfect for my nightly creative time (after 9 pm when everyone is in bed, a load of laundry is in, the dishes are washed, and the lunches are made) because they are small and quick to make. I love the open-endedness of making little things like this. Now I have to figure out where to sew them. The little patches were prototypes because I had no button blanks at home! Now I want to get all sizes so I can create tiny artworks with tiny stitches.

What have you been putting your hands to lately? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

pony photobomb and other stuff

It was the dripping icicles that told me it was finally safe to go outside.

The kids made a snow-friend with pine cone eyes and an icicle nose. Norah and I doffed our mittens, and we brought our one remaining hen outside. She seemed shaky and stunned by the air and the warm sunshine, and tolerated our strokes and coos. She has now taken up residence on the porch, and shares the kibble with our cats. 

It's near-impossible to get a photo of my older kids when we're outside now, so vast is their roaming area. A giddy feeling passes over me at the thought that for the next eight months (or so) we'll be free to wander outside without risk of frostbite. The sun hints of warmer days to come and I couldn't help but pose for a selfie. We survived another winter! And I was photobombed by our pony. He's pretty happy that Spring is coming, too.

Monday, February 9, 2015

love runs through

This past week was filled with the joy of reunion and of meeting loved ones for the first time. With sweetness there is always a little sadness, though, that comes with the knowledge that we must once again part from these same loved ones, at least for awhile.

My husband was born in England, and moved to Canada with his family when he was seven. He's had a few visits back to see his extended family there, and I have met a few relatives who have travelled here, but one of his aunts made her first trip to Canada this past week, with her daughter and two grandchildren. This aunt, my children's great aunt, has been a part of our life through the cards she sends to each of our children on their birthdays, but this was our first time meeting her face-to-face.

I shed tears off and on that first evening, as I watched my tall, handsome husband with his arm around his tiny aunt. I thought of the pain she must have felt to have her young nephews move so far away, to see her own children lose their cousins to the distance between England and Canada. I have seen my husband with his other English aunt, dear Daidy, and love to see his face alight with the love that women pour over their sons and nephews. He is different in their presence, and I see the little boy he must have been then (complete with an adorable English accent, which he promptly lost to "fit in" with his Canadian school mates). I also see those pieces of him that don't always seem to fit with his dad's family falling into place and making sense with these relatives from his mother's side of the family.

It was beautiful to see resemblances I hadn't known were there. Violet's colouring is different from her great aunt's, but I saw a ripple of similarity in the placement of their features on their faces. Having seen photos of my husband's grandmother, with whom I've shared many a letter over the years, I feel like I have met a part of her by meeting her eldest daughter (who resembles her greatly).

Margot cuddled up with her aunt to read a story brought all the way from England, and the kids all performed songs with fiddles, banjos, voices, and drums. The house felt crowded and cosy, warm and wonderful, filled for once with my husband's family instead of mine. 

We spent a snowy day sliding, sipping hot chocolate by a camp fire, and warming tiny hands. My sisters-in-law and cousin-in-law and I passed children around, shared snacks, filled cups, brushed snow off of rosy cheeks, and took care of each other's babies the way women are meant to do. There doesn't seem to be a word to describe that feeling, when your heart swells, your throat tightens, you wish you had infinite time together, and you feel joyful all at the same time.



Then last evening, the reunion was complete when my mother-in-law and her sister joined us for dinner. As my husband put the children to bed, these two sisters who live so far apart started singing songs they learned as children, full with harmony, eye contact, forgotten words remembered, and renewed grief at the memory of the father that taught them to sing. My husband opened our daughters' bedroom door so they could listen in on those warm voices singing songs that he sings to them  at bedtime. 

Love runs through families in these ways: stories shared, songs remembered, the glint of an eye or the quirk of a smile. Hands that mimic the gestures of others, the tilt of a head, and the joy of coming together after years apart. 

Friday, January 30, 2015

to be home, with free time

We didn't realise how busy we've been until suddenly, we weren't.

Jude's final performance as a raccoon twin in "Peter Pan Jr." was last Sunday, and this coming weekend will be the first since September that we've been able to spend completely at home. We've adjusted to the busyness of ferrying him to and from rehearsals every weekend and are eager to spend two days in a row at home.

Oh, how I love home!

 I have a deep urge to nestle softly down at this time of year. I leave work a little earlier than usual in order to stoke up the furnace and the woodstove, welcoming everyone home into a space of warmth. I get dinner started and tidy up any messes that were left in the morning. We shift gears from rushing-to-and-from-school gear to home gear. Everyone seems calmer and quieter. 

Our evenings have adopted a softer rhythm lately. Homework is done right away, and we're finding that a bit of humour and loving support goes much further in supporting their efforts than any lecture about "responsibilty" ever could. 

Then they bring out their fiddles. Jude and Violet practice their new songs, and I'm always surprised that the sounds are not painful to hear. They both seem to have inherited their parents' ear and ease with music and self-correct if a note comes out sharp; I'm told they're both "naturals". 

Magically, when all of the must-do tasks are complete, the children kind of disappear! Margot dons her evil cowgirl costume, Violet dresses as Yoda-Bird (a figure of her own making), and Jude grabs his light sabre. I don't know the details of this game, only that it occupies our children's thoughts all day long. Evening is when they finally have the freedom to play with loud abandon. Norah just runs around after everyone and we know she's in good hands.

We find ourselves looking at each other cautiously, afraid to even say it out loud: It's so peaceful. We can do our own thing. No one is asking us for anything.

And he takes up his Sudoku, and I take up my knitting, and we sit quietly with each other for a little while in our home. We take note that it is a little less cluttered and messy, that the children are indeed growing, and that we can foresee a time when this bit of free time won't feel so strange and new.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

the promise

I'm beginning to recognize the possibility that there is no such thing as balance when you are a working mother of four; at least, I haven't found the happy, blissful balance that I imagine I might find if I just work hard enough at finding it. The balance I imagine other working mothers must have found by now. 

Before Christmas, I thought I might actually have a heart attack from the daily grind: waking four children up in the early morning winter darkness, cajoling through their whining and reluctance to leave the warm cocoons of their beds. Feeding and dressing, brushing and gathering (a lot of this time was also spent searching: for car keys, for that missing mitten, for an extra neck-warmer when the temperature dips into dangerous cold). Each day I vowed to be more organized the next to prevent this extra stress.

Mostly, I spent a lot of time yelling. Not just raising my voice, but deep, painful-throat yelling. Scary yelling that left everyone rattled, including me.  In those moments of frustrated, impotent rage, I could hardly see the tears in my five-year-old's eyes, or the way my older children would kind of shut down and shut me out.

Frantically, I tried to get everyone to listen, to get out the door on time, to cooperate and just do what needed to be done so that mommy wasn't late for work. I put the blame and responsibility on three children (my husband would be gone with the toddler by the time this "routine" took place). I'd panic as I drove down the laneway and noticed the ponies hadn't been fed. In frustrated tears I'd climb over frozen-shut gates and clamber over stalls to fetch the hay in my pretty teacher clothes. I'd moan and vent aloud to my kids about how the stress was making me crazy, complain aloud about how daddy doesn't know how hard it is to get out of the house with three kids, and beg them to try harder tomorrow.

It doesn't take long for this kind of dynamic to take a toll on everyone. Five minutes into our journey to school, I'd be wracked by suffocating regret and guilt, and would begin my sincere apologies to my beloved children. It truly felt as if I had lost my self, that I'd been possessed. I hated the feeling that this was my destiny, that my children wouldn't even remember that there was a time when I used to stay home full time, creating crafts and baking with them. I feared that their memory of their childhood would consist of a frazzled, stressed out mother who always yelled.

Bless their resilient hearts, they always forgave me. But I could feel our relationship being chipped away, one word at a time, and could see their trust in me slipping away in the rearview mirror.

Once the Christmas holidays rolled around, I finally found time to gather my wits and perspective. I began to make some promises to myself. 

I vowed to stop yelling. I just decided to stop. 

It is so easy to become a victim, to blame our behaviours on our circumstances: I'm just so tired/busy/stressed/spread too thin. 

But there will always be a million excuses for our poor behaviour, and every time we do it, we model it for our children. And we'd never let them get away with those same behaviours, would we?

I'm happy to say that so far, I've kept my promise. I still raise my voice now and then, but have stopped the crazy rages. I have learned to deep-breathe through my nose when I feel that bubble of stress rising inside me. I've even added some play to our morning routine: I pick two upbeat songs and tell the children that their goal is to dance while dressing in snowsuits, and to be ready before the songs are over. I communicate clearly when I start to feel stressed.

It's working! Everyone seems less stressed, because I am less stressed. I'm not less busy, but I'm learning to cope in positive ways that help my children cope as well. And always, I'm learning to put my relationship with my children first. I know they are learning better ways to cope with stress as they see me working to repair what I broke.

In the meantime, I'm booking a counselling appointment to help me sort out my feelings on this whole working-mother thing. Deep down, I dream of being at home and keeping the fire going, tending to our animals, knitting, and being a home-maker. But I'm learning to let go of my feelings of anger that that is NOT my reality at this moment, and learning to find peace in the life I have (busy though it is).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Now She Is Two

Dear, dear Norah,

Today you are two!

You are my little dawn-treader. I hear you up at four in the morning, and I nudge your dad so he can try yet again to comfort you back to sleep. I know deep down that I will soon find my way to your side. I never can resist it when you say, "Mama...nuuussss!" This morning when I snuggled in with you, I marvelled at your size. I remember when your entire length could curl up against my ribs, and now your feet nudge my thighs as you drink. You have your fill then say, "Mmm...miwt". You still think nursing is the best. Sometimes I wish you'd voluntarily wean so that I could get more than six hours of sleep a night, but mostly I'm so grateful to still have this quiet time with you.

You toss and fuss until I surrender, and we descend the stairs by the light of the moon. You look like a hairy beast. We cuddle up on the kitchen couch with a pile of your favourite books. You happily flip pages while I put on the coffee. When it's time to get the big kids up, you climb the stairs with all your strength and energy. You call them by name, climb on their heads, and somehow they are never cross. You have delighted them since you were born and the romance has never faded.

This morning we took a bath together before everyone else got up. I remembered the night of your birth, how I returned from an acupuncture session and had a candlelit bath. I ate two bowls of this chili, and before I could believe it, realised I was in full on labour. Your arrival was swift and thankfully there were extra women on hand to guide your birth into this world. This morning, you poured water on my head, said, "I need dat bup", and yelled while I washed your hair. You washed your own tummy and squiggled your fingers in your belly button. I just watched you and loved you with all my heart.

You were born the youngest in a family of four, born into the clamour and mess, yelling and chasing that is part of every large family. You just fit right in, yelling and chasing to keep up with the older ones. You are definitely two, loudly demanding "Mine!" and stamping your feet to let us know you are displeased. You are adamant about "no biaper" and sometimes make it to the potty in time. You put "b" in front of most words: sheep=beep, lips=bips, cup=bup, and hilariously, soup=boop. 

We love you so very much. We are so thankful you're here. Tonight we'll celebrate with spaghetti, cupcakes, and a few little gifts. We might put up our Christmas tree, too. We know you're going to love the lights, sparkles, and excitement that surround us at this season.

You were and still are the best Christmas gift I ever received.