Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yarn Along? Not Today.

I'm too busy feeling sorry for myself.

Sweet Protege, you served us well!

This past week, our VCR and car have died. Our internet is down. I can't blog or take photos or drive myself to the library (as my husband needs my vehicle to get to work). We've already blown the budget I optimistically created for April, and it's not even April yet.

Then last night one of my children woke up screaming insanely, scratching her bottom. You experienced moms out there are nodding knowingly. A flashlight check confirmed my fears, and we will all be treated for pinworms this evening. I spent the night with a writhing child, clinging to the 6 inches of mattress she allowed me (in MY bed). I had to teach a classful of little ones on no sleep, while leaving my mother to wash all the bedding and tend to my exhausted children all day.

I had a date planned for this evening, to see "The Good Lovelies" at a local tavern, and was really looking forward to it, but am unwilling to leave the kids with a babysitter when one or all of them might wake up crying and itchy. And I'm so tired I have a headache.

Did I mention it's also "that time" of the month?

I don't have time to read or knit. I DO have a bit of time to feel sorry for myself...

There!

That feels better.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Unconditional

Remember when you were pregnant with your first child, and you made all those sweet promises to your unborn baby...about how you'd always share the wonders of the world with them? You couldn't imagine being impatient with them, raising your voice at them, being impatient or frustrated with them. We all think we're going to be better than "those mothers"...

The trouble with parenting is that you have no idea what you're getting into, until you're irrevocably INTO it. When you made those promises, you didn't imagine holding a screaming baby for hours, or dealing with a toddler who bites, or trying to get three kids out the door on time on a winter morning. You'd turn to books, but when your kids are small, it's hard to find the time to read anything, let alone some dry how-to-raise-amazing-kids-with-this-magical-three-step-process type of book.

Because here's the rub: There is no magic trick. Children don't come with instruction manuals, and the advice we get from our own parents, TVs latest guru, or well-meaning strangers doesn't often help, because your children are unique: they're YOURS.

The expectant mama...blissfully unaware.

But giving them lots of love is a good start. Setting reasonable boundaries, listening to them, tuning in to their needs, and giving them many opportunities to learn and explore safely take you further down the road to your goal of raising healthy human beings.

We can be so hard on ourselves. I reflect a lot, and wake up often in the middle of the night replaying a scene from the previous day, wondering what I could have done differently or better, worrying that I've irrevocably damaged my child's sense of trust or self-esteem (because I yelled at them in a moment of impatience, or said "No" too many times). I know that every parent loses their cool. But it seems the worst of ironies that we so often reprimand our children for impulsive behaviour, losing control, or being impatient when we are such good role models of these behaviours!

Innocent beauty and ultimate trust rolled into one sweet being.

About a year ago, I started reading Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting". Every once in awhile, you come across a book that just resonates with your soul, finds communion with your intuition, and reassures you that what you felt in your heart was just right. I don't recommend reading loads of parenting how-to books, as they can make it hard to figure out what YOUR stance is. You may sense what you feel is best, but it cab be challenging to articulate. People think you're wishy-washy, or airy-fairy, or artsy-fartsy. Yes, I've been called all of the above.

Patience and good role-modelling starts early.

I often found myself giving in to things my own parents said or did ("If you don't stop that right now, I'm turning this van around and we're NOT going to Aunt Lana's house!!") I cringe internally when I hear myself saying things like this: coercion, bribes, empty threats, "because I said so!" kind of statements. They just unsettle me, but in the heat of those moments where you're surrounded by screaming kids, or you're late for work, or overtired, sometimes you feel like you have no other option.

Learning to be human in this world.

Forget that these techniques actually don't do a whole lot. Ditto for timeouts. When my older children went through the hitting/biting stage, I'd give them a timeout. They'd do it again within an hour, and I'd give them another timeout. The next day I'd give them more. So...duh. Obviously the timeout doesn't work. Growing out of a stage does. By the time we had our third child, we started recognising developmental patterns and have eased up on the "discipline". Gentle reminders, distraction, and removing a toddler from a situation (without isolating them) seem to be more effective in the long run.

I finished reading "Unconditional Parenting" this morning, covering the part I'd been waiting for: alternatives to traditional parenting. Kohn doesn't offer a band-aid solution. He does, however, offer a beautiful list that will be posted on my refrigerator. This sang to my mother's soul:

1.  Be reflective.
2.  Reconsider your requests.
3.  Keep your eye on the long-term goals.
4.  Put the relationship first.
5.  Change how you see, not just how you act.
6.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T
7.  Be authentic.
8.  Talk less, ask more.
9.  Keep their ages in mind.
10. Attribute to children the best possible motive consistent with the facts.
11. Don't stick your no's in unnecessarily.
12. Don't be rigid.
13. Don't be in a hurry.

Parenting is hard work. No one ever said it would be easy. It is overwhelming, underrated, unpaid, and often thankless.

But important? You betcha. Get thee to a bookstore and  buy this book, then read it. It may confirm what you already know. It may support you in questioning those practices that you find unsettling. It will certainly open your mind, and perhaps give you some backup support when someone questions your approach.

You're wonderful. Your children are wonderful. And your relationship is so worth it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something to Smile About

Cleaning The Spice Rack.
  • wiping down those greasy/dusty shelves
  • shining up the bottles
  • replenishing depleted spices
  • identifying unlabelled jars by scent alone
  • throwing out the ones that have lost their colour/scent
  • making of list of ones to replace
  • lining up the jars that match
  • thinking about the week's meals, and just what I'll put in them
  • marvelling at the wonderful flavours, colours, and aromas that grow on this good Earth!
Hope this weekend gives you lots to smile about!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Yarn Along

Are you getting sick of my colour-effects (to brighten up my webcam photos) yet?

It's been so long since I participated in the Yarn Along, as I work on Wednesdays and rarely find the time to write a post the night before. But here I am!

The twin loves of knitting and reading go together like...well, like Hansel and Gretel. We just picked up this copy of the beloved story, adapted by Cynthia Rylant. It is beautifully illustrated by Jen Corace. If you love textiles, you'll love the details in this book: the beauty of the clothing, curtains, tablecloth is simply stunning. Little red shoes, a yellow sweater with cherries on it, shawls, and quilts...who could resist?

Who doesn't love this story? When I had it in hand at the store, I asked my husband if he thought it might be too scary for our kids. He replied that it's that delicious kind of scary that kids love. And he was right. What's wonderful about this adaptation is that it focuses on the courage and intelligence of the children, AND includes Gretel as a heroine in her own right. We love it and read it nightly.

And that other book? Oh my goodness. "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick is an absolute must-read for book lovers of all ages in your family. It's part mystery, part graphic novel, and all engrossing. It's a tale peopled by a young orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station, a girl with a mysterious key for a necklace, and a bitter old toymaker. Fate brings them together in this unforgettable story. My husband and I were wrestling it out of each other's hands when first brought it home from the library. I googled it recently in order to find a copy for my sister and her daughters, (as well as one for us to keep, for when our kids are older!) and found out that it will be released as a movie this fall. So get thee to a bookstore or a library and read it in its most beautiful form!

I'm still knitting eggs. Sigh. Oh, and that's the Baby Sophisticate, in Tahki Yarn's Donegal Tweed, for a friend who is having a baby in April...because every little man needs a dashing cardigan, n'est-ce pas? Just needs buttons now...

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Best Laid Plans of a Working Mother

If you read this post you'll recall the efforts I go to to ensure that we all get out the door in one piece on Monday mornings. Last night when we went to bed, lunches were made, clothes were laid out, and three pairs of rubber boots were lined up and ready for the little feet that would fill them in the morning.

Winter decided to have a last hurrah and the snow blowing outside this morning encouraged me to put my kids in their snowboots instead. We got out the laneway 45 minutes later than usual, after a harrowing search for Violet's snowboots. After a thirty minute drive, I pulled into town with ten minutes to spare. Margot complained that her tummy hurt. I said in a singsong voice, "We'll be there soon!"

Not soon enough, apparently. As I turned into the parking lot, Margot barfed. And then again. Jude stretched out of his seat to see (because what's more exciting than looking at barf, really?), I roared at him to sit down, and then my mind did that mother thing, where it fast-forwards through the issue at hand to all the reverberations, and simultaneously finds solutions with lightning speed and clarity.

I dropped Violet off, raced to school, got Jude into the classroom, made notes for the supply teacher, then realised that Robin wouldn't have space to bring both Jude and Violet home (as he drives three neighbour children to school every day). I picked up Violet, then arranged for a friend to pick Jude up after school. I've washed the barfy clothes, coat, and blankie, and fed them lunch.

Now Violet is complaining of a sore tummy.

Bowl at the ready, movie on, child wrapped in cosiest afghan on the couch, I am ready for Round 2.

Bring it on.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick of Ireland, My Dear!

You've heard of St. Denis of France, he never had much for to brag on.
You've heard of St. George and his lance
Who killed d'old heathenish dragon.
The Saints of the Welshmen and Scot
Are a couple of pitiful pipers
And might just as well go to pot
When compared to the patron of vipers:
St. Patrick of Ireland, my dear.
~Patrick's Arrival


St. Patrick's Day has always been a big deal in our family. My parents hosted parties every year, where we sang Irish songs around the piano, drank green beer, and ate soda bread. My sister has taken on this tradition, and we'll be heading down to her place to celebrate the "patron of vipers" this weekend. Having spent a year in Belfast and travelled extensively throughout the Emerald Isle, I have a particular fondness for this day. I've been a collector and performer of traditional Irish music since my teens, and few things bring me as much joy as lifting my voice in song. Irish music can be humorous, schmaltzy, tragic, and heartbreaking. Even if you haven't a drop of Irish blood in you, raise your glass today to the people of Ireland, and to dear St. Pat, without whom we'd have one less reason to party!

Culinary
Black and Tan Cupcakes
"Dinner with Julie" is an amazing blog by a fellow Canadian; Julie (the blogger!) also just happens to be a friend of my sister's, who shared this link for Black and Tan Cupcakes with me. They look like little mugs of Guinness,(and also reference the British forces that operated to suppress revolution in Ireland in the early 1900s). Every good Irishman knows to avoid the topics of religion and politics (or so I was told on my first night in Belfast)...so, enough said.
 
Creative
Luck of the Leprechaun Painting!
You'll need:
  • large piece of white paper
  • tempera or acrylic paints, or watercolours
  • black construction paper for the pot
  • glue
  • glitter
  • foam shamrock shapes (optional!)
Any number of crafts are suitable on St. Patrick's Day, as long as they include rainbows, crocks of gold, leprechauns, and shamrocks. The painting you see above is what I did with my kindergarten class. Give your child some red paint first, and help them paint the first arc of the rainbow (can you tell I wasn't helping Jude with his?) Then give them orange, then yellow, green, blue, and purple! I pre-cut the little pot, and helped the children sprinkle glitter onto the glue I spread there. You can decide how much control to give your child over the glitter. I tend to be very controlling about it. It's just one of those messes I HATE to clean up. But, if you're okay with finding sparkles everywhere for the next 10 years, cut them loose!
 
At school, we glued on the pot of gold, then added some foam shamrocks. We also glued on this little blessing:
 
"May St. Patrick guard you wherever you go, and guide you in whatever you do – and may his loving protection be a blessing to you always."
 
Social/Outing
Seek out a St. Patrick's Day event! I'm not sure about the rest of the world, but here in the Ottawa Valley, you could go to a different event every day of the week leading up to St. Patrick's Day, all with live fiddle music and stepdancing, hot tea, beer, and food! If you're not fortunate enough to live in the Valley (just kidding!), go here for free streaming of Irish music. Put on some green, dance a jig, and act like the Irish fools that you are (or wish you were)!
 
Fine Motor
Fill the Leprechaun's Pot!
 
As I've said in previous posts, any activities that encourage your child to pinch and squeeze will strengthen the muscles in their hands, which will lead to better fine motor control (preferably NOT pinching and squeezing their siblings...). Many children ages 4-6 struggle to coordinate their hands to grip a pencil correctly. I'll do a whole post on that soon. For now, let's concentrate on hand strength!
 
For this activity, you can use antique sugar tongs, large tweezers, or children's chopsticks (the ones that are connected at the top, available at many toy stores), OR you can make your own, using white glue, popsicle sticks, and triangular makeup sponges.
 
Neat, eh? Cheap to make, and fun to use.

Tongue depressors work even better, but are harder to find. Glue the popsicle sticks on to the sponge as in the photo above. Let dry!

Now, encourage your child to "put the gold nuggets in the leprechaun's pot"...pick up pompoms with the "tweezers", and release them into the cup.


These are easier to pinch closed than chopsticks or real tweezers, so they're a good place to start. You can begin with large pompoms, then work your way down to smaller ones. Have fun!

You might think about creating a "fine motor bin" where you keep scissors, tweezers, feathers, pompoms, paper strips, etc. When you have a moment to fill, pull it down so that the activities are special and fun for your child. If you send your child to school, his/her Kindergarten teacher will thank you for the work you do with your preschool child on these skills!

I'm heading out on St. Patrick' Day to spend the rest of the March Break with my sister and her family. We'll be returning to celebrate my husband's 30th birthday on Sunday, so I'll check back in with you all next week. If anyone tried any or all of the activities shared this week, I'd love to hear about them or see photos!










 
 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

For the Birds!

*Please note: all photos (if not borrowed from the web) on this blog have been taken with my webcam, laptop carefully balanced on whatever surface is closest, yelling at the kids to keep still...then edited at www.picnik.com. Please bear with me...I am actually a decent photographer, when I have an actual camera in my hands!


Welcome to Day 3 of my "Surviving March Break" guide: For the Birds! We've had lots of fun outside, trying to catch some new freckles in this glorious sunshine (hooray for longer days!), and looking for signs of Spring. Today we saw a terrific magic show, and had a long-overdue visit with dear friends. My kids are alternately playing together nicely, and fighting/whining/yelling. The same could be said for their mother.
Today we're going to try some bird-related activities! Have fun...I wonder when we'll see the first robin of the Spring?

Culinary
Chocolate Bird's Nests!

Violet actually has eyes. She is (long over)due for a haircut.
You'll need:
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/4 cup sugar
Bring the above ingredients to boil in a medium saucepan.
Then add:
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Remove from heat. Then stir in:
  • 3 cups quick-cooking (not instant) oats
  • 1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
*You may not fit all the oats in; just add and stir until it is firm and seems like you'd be able to shape it!

Shape mixture into golf balls; squeeze tight till it holds together. Push your thumb in gently, and refrigerate till firm. Then nestle in some Cadbury's Mini Eggs. Delight your children with a Spring treat!
*I halved this recipe for the batch above; you might want to do the same unless you're taking them to a party or making them for your child's class!)

Creative
Salt Dough Bird Nest

You'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups salt
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. alum (if you don't bake your clay; it acts as a preservative. I bake ours!)
Mix the dry ingredients together, then gradually add water. When dough forms a ball around the spoon, knead it well, adding water if it doesn't hold together. Once you've formed your small items, bake it at 300 degrees F for 30-40 min. or until hard. Allow to cool before painting!

  1. Roll a medium sized ball, then pinch and shape it to resemble a bowl/nest.
  2. Shape a small ball of clay into a simple bird shape.
  3. Place nest and bird on baking tray, and bake till hard.
  4. Paint nest brown, and add some twigs/moss/dried grass
  5. Paint your bird, and nestle her into her nest!
Outing
Just take your kids out! Put on rubber boots and take them on a walk; bring a bag to pick up any litter that the melting snow has revealed. Or bring along a small notebook and make a list of signs of Spring (remember to explore the five senses...what signs of Spring can they see? smell? hear? feel? When you get home, make a chart and sort the signs of Spring into their sense-category!

Alternatively, you could make a Spring Scavenger Hunt list, and have your child check them off as they see them (examples: trickling water, exposed patches of grass, mud, birdsong, warm sun, gentle breeze). 

Have fun!

Fine Motor
Turkey Baster Feather Race

You'll need:
  • turkey basters, one per child (or adult who wants to play)! Shop around till you find one that is not too firm (at least for smaller children)
  • feathers (those coloured ones you find at the Dollar Store or craft store
A toddler will need hand-over-hand support to coordinate the squeeze necessary to make the feather move!

Sit on opposite sides of the table, and place a feather about halfway between you. Now, use your turkey baster to try to blow the feather towards your "opponent"...there are no points, or winners here...just blow the darn feather around! If your kids tend to fight over everything, as mine often do, give them each a feather and let them blow them willy nilly! Any activities that encourage your child to SQUEEZE with their hands builds up their hand strength, which leads to better fine motor control. This will make printing, colouring, drawing, cutting with scissors, etc. easier for them!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Somewhere Over the Rainbow


Let's brighten up the week with some rainbow fun!
Culinary
Rainbow Kebabs
You'll need:
  • assorted fruit in the colours of the rainbow! (e.g. strawberries, pineapple, canteloupe, kiwi, blueberries, grapes)
  • skewers
Set bowls of cubed fruit within your child's reach. Help him/her push them onto the skewer! You could show them a picture of a rainbow and challenge them to add fruit in order of the colours. Or, you could ask them to create a repeating pattern, if they have favourite fruits (pineapple, grape, strawberry, pineapple, grape, strawberry)...OR you could just let them have at it and forget about the teaching opportunity! Drizzle with a bit of melted chocolate if you're feeling wild and crazy!

Creative
Patchwork Rainbow "Quilt"
You'll need:
  • bits of fabric, sorted in bowls by colour (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
  • a large piece of paper
  • white glue (glue sticks don't work as well for fabric!)
Snip up materials into 1" pieces, and sort into bowls. On each paper, draw an arcing line with glue for your child to use as a guide. Placing one colour at a time on the table, help your child glue bits of fabric along the line, starting with red. When they've completed one line, draw another arcing line below the first one. Then give them the orange materials! Continue, with yellow, green, blue, and violet. If your child doesn't yet know his/her colours, make sure to talk with them as they create (e.g. "What can you see in the kitchen that is red? What other things are green?")


Social/Outing
This might be as involved as going to a museum or a public pool, or as simple as getting out to the barber shop or the grocery store! Talk to your child about the road signs you see. Ask them about what community helpers they see around town. Discuss why some people wear uniforms to work and others don't. Talk about what jobs require people to work alone, and which ones require people to work as part of a team.

Fine Motor
Lacing Cards
You'll need:
  • construction paper or card stock
  • hole punch
  • yarn or a shoelace

Draw a simple shape (a shamrock, a rainbow, a car, a bird, or even just a circle or a square) on a piece of firm paper (there are tons of free templates on the internet, if the notion of hand-drawing a shape is scary for you). Cut it out, then hole-punch around the edges, with 1/2" spaces between. Secure the yarn to the back of the paper with tape, then let your child "sew" around the edges. Encourage them to put the yarn through each hole, but don't worry about what it looks like! I've seen Kindergarten kids switch from whip stitch (around and around) to running stitch (in and out) to blanket stitch on one card. The point is NOT to create something neat and wonderful, but to navigate that string into the hole, and pinch it to pull it all the way through. Some children WILL be very meticulous about making sure their stitches all look the same, but others won't. Love their work, no matter what it looks like!

*Helpful Hint: if you use yarn, you might want to wrap the end with tape (like a shoelace) to make it easier for your child to push it through the holes).

Enjoy your day, and make sure to check in for Wednesday: For the Birds!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Preparing for Monday: Let's Get Cracking!

On each day of the March Break (with one day "off") I'll post ideas of activities you can do with your children ages 2-6. Many of the ideas can be adapted if you have older children.  I hope to post each day's ideas the dayjui before so you can prepare and plan ahead!

On Monday, we'll be celebrating the humble egg!

Culinary
In the morning, gently tap on the top of a few eggs; pick out the shell to create an opening on the top of the egg. Pour out the yolk and whites into a bowl and scramble. Set the shells aside...you'll need them later! Let your child help assemble this fun and delicious breakfast.


Now, make your breakfast:
Nest Eggs
1. Oil/grease the cups of a muffin tin (one per egg or person in your family; adults might eat 2 each)
2. Press a slice of ham into the muffin cup, to line it.
3. Pour some scrambled eggs into the ham cup, to about 3/4 full.
4. Pour about 1 tablespoon of cream on the egg, with a sprinkle of grated cheese, salt, pepper, and basil.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 min. (or less if you like your eggs soft). Serve on toast or an English muffin! My kids like these with a healthy dose of ketchup, of course!

Creative
Egg Heads!
You'll need:
  • egg shells with tops cracked out, washed
  • permanent marker
  • a bit of planting mix/soil
  • seeds (sunflower, alfalfa, red clover )
Fill the egg shell with soil. Spread seeds over the soil, and cover with a thin layer of more soil. Draw silly faces on the eggs with the permanent marker. Water gently, and set in an open carton in a sunny window, with some plastic wrap over them until they germinate. Now wait for the egg heads to grow "hair". Different seeds will produce different hairdos. Once their hair has grown, let your children give the egg heads a haircut! Eat the sprouts! 



Social/Outing
Contact your local library and find out what kids' activities are planned for the week! Or visit a local farm and see some newborn lambs or kids. If neither of these options works for you, call a friend with kids and get the gang together for a playdate. Find out if there are any kid-friendly matinees at your local theatre (for those of you in the Ottawa Valley, there will be a FREE puppet show and concert for children at Festival Hall in Pembroke on Monday, March 14 at 2 p.m.!) Your children may not be stir crazy yet, but it's a good idea to have at least one outing planned for the week!


Fine Motor
This may seem like a funny one to include, but this is a skill near and dear to my heart. Many children come into my Kindergarten class without having had any practice cutting with scissors or holding a pencil. We spend a lot of time working on this. Any experience your child has from the age of 2 on is a big help!

Today, give your child some straws; stripey ones or colourful ones are the most fun! These are easy to cut because they are not floppy like paper. Have your little one snip snip snip the straw into bits! Encourage them to keep the elbow of the cutting hand close to their body. This takes coordination and practice, as well as close supervision! You can help by doing "hand over hand" cutting (opening the scissors up is a particular challenge for beginners). Once your child is comfortable with cutting up straws, they can graduate to strips of cardstock, then strips of paper. Just being able to snip something narrow into little bits can be very satisfying for a wee one. They can then use a glue stick to paste the bits of paper on to a bigger sheet of paper! ART!

Your older child can cut up straws, then take the fine motor practice a step further by threading the pieces onto a piece of yarn. A blunt tapestry needle is helpful, or just wrap a bit of tape tightly around the end of the yarn (like the end of a shoelace). Wear the beautiful necklace your child created for you!

Join us tomorrow for Tuesday: Somewhere Over the Rainbow!
PS My apologies if I've broken any copyright laws by borrowing the photos in this post from the world wide web.

Friday, March 11, 2011

March Break Inspiration

I am a mother of three. I am a teacher of 19 kindergarten children. Today was the last day of school before March Break begins. My husband will be working through the break, so I'll have 10 hours a day with my children.


Many of you out there homeschool. I think that's marvellous and have my fantasies of being home with my kids every day. Then Violet tries to gouge Margot's eyes out, or attempts to strangle her brother, and I know that spending some time apart is as much about survival as it is about financial necessity.

I want March Break to be fun for my children, enjoyable for me, and cheap. You probably want all of these things, too. So, join me next week, where I will be sharing lots of ideas of how to entertain your 2-6 year-olds.

If you want to prepare for the week, you might want to pick up some supplies: acrylic craft paints and brushes, salt and flour, large pieces of paper, glitter, yarn, and perhaps some large butcher paper. Gather up your children's favourite books and music, and some blankets and pillows.

Prepare to get messy, and to fill your house with lopsided little handmades! See you on Monday!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Whispers

I've been busily creating these sweet little eggs from this Rhythm of the Home (be sure to check out the designer's blog), in preparation for a birthday celebration in April, as well as a seasonal exchange with friends. They're quick to make, and so darn delightful, especially when stored in a carton. They make me smile.

(The good old webcam comes through for me again, with some help from Picnik!)


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Beginning of the Season

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten Season in the Christian tradition, and many of us will begin preparing ourselves for the mystery of Easter.

I feel that my own young children and the children that I teach are not yet ready to understand Easter in terms of the crucifixion of Jesus; it's just too much for them to comprehend (especially since a few months ago, we were celebrating His birth). They don't understand WHY anyone would want to kill a loving teacher who was spreading healing and kindness.

For now, the focus is on the concepts of rebirth and new life, which are universal themes, especially in Spring!

Both at home and in my classroom, we will create a Lenten Garden; visit this link for a great tutorial (because I haven't created ours yet, AND I don't have a camera!) Ann Druitt in "All Year Round" offers a lovely description of this garden. It will appear lifeless (moss, bare twig-trees, etc.), until Easter arrives, at which point I will adorn them with small potted crocuses and other living things.

Another great symbol for children is the story of a caterpillar. In order to become what it is truly meant to be, a caterpillar must give up its "life" in becoming a chrysalis, only to burst into new life as a beautiful, ethereal butterfly. You could also plant a seed (which again, appears lifeless, and must give up its existence as a seed in order to bloom into a flower).
In sharp contrast to the deprivation one feels when going on a "diet", I enjoy the quiet contemplation of this season, and the sense that by "giving up" something I enjoy (in my case, coffee AND sugar) for the forty days leading up to Easter, I am tilling the soil of my spirit, creating a nourishing space where beauty can thrive.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Day for Women

Upon watching season one of Mad Men on DVD, one must pause to wonder: how did women (or anyone BUT white men) survive the early 60s? It would be funny if so much of it wasn't true: the sexism in the workplace, the stilted conversations between husband and wife, the husband chatting with the wife's psychiatrist after her appointment. No wonder the women chain smoked and had mai tais and mint juleps in their hands all day long (even while pregnant)...yikes!

My mother spent her career as a nurse, and she remembers how the (male) doctors were gods; they patted the nurses on the heads (and likely on their asses, too!) It's easy from our modern perspective to think that we would not have stood for such patronising behaviour. But if we'd been raised in a culture where sexism was just a given, we may have thought it was just the way things were.
Imagine most men's shock then, when the women's movement gathered force! They must have thought the world was falling down around them. What? You want MORE than to just hang up my hat and be a sexual plaything? Handing me a drink at the end of the day and putting up with my affairs isn't ENOUGH for you? What goals could YOU possibly have? (I am exaggerating: I know not ALL men treated their wives and secretaries/nurses like servants/playthings)...

Today we modern (Western) women can giggle at the bra burning and the slogans decrying marriage and motherhood, and complain about the fact that in some ways the women's movement backfired in that we still do a majority of the housework/childrearing while also, in many cases, being the main breadwinner of the family. We have all the rights of men, and all the same responsibilities and pressures that women have always had.
But today, we can talk about it. We don't have to always pretend that raising our children is the deepest joy of our lives when in reality they're driving us to the liquor cabinet. We don't have to eschew knitting and the "domestic arts" for fear that our "sisters" will deride us for being against "the cause". We can write about the complexities, wonders, and frustrations of our lives with honesty, and hear the support and common experiences of women across the globe.

Today, I thank those brave women who didn't just accept that a woman's ONLY place was in the kitchen or bedroom. I commend their vision and hope, the sacrifices they made to make our modern lives better. I also salute the women of today who are reclaiming the right to stay home and raise their kids, be loving spouses (in equal partnership), to knit and can and sew and create a welcoming home. I salute the women who haven't had children, who work in traditional women's careers and who work in "men's" jobs. All of our experiences have value, no matter what choices we make about how we live our lives.

Today is the 100th International Women's Day, and for most of the women in the world, the women's lib movement is just a distant whisper. Today, let's give thanks to the courageous women who came before us and fought for our freedom, and send a loving prayer to the women who are still fighting, or are too frightened for their (or their children's)safety to fight.

In our busy lives, it's hard to think about what we can do to help women around the world. For today, start small.

Hug your daughters, tell them you love them, and give thanks. Hug your sons, too (because in so many ways, the women's lib movement freed men as well). Call the women that have inspired you and supported you. Send a note to women who have mentored you and encouraged you. Gather with women and make a toast (with mai tais!) to those who marched before you.

And, as always, count your many blessings.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Snow Day

Mother Nature decided that I was not to attend Seedy Sunday today. The snow is so deep that a third of the farm gates are sunk in the white stuff. The van is stuck. The lane way has not been plowed.


When I look out the door on a day like this and ignore the hydro lines and road signs, I can imagine how this place might have looked 100 years ago, blanketed in a quiet cover of clean, beautiful snow. I think about how life just went on for our foremothers; they stoked up the fire, tended to the animals, and nestled in for another day of preparing meals and mending.

So, I am choosing to see this snow day as a gift.

I have extra time to create some order in this house, and prepare food for the upcoming busier-than-usual week. I can spend some quiet time with my girls (Jude's off down the lane way to be picked up for a birthday party). I can maybe snuggle on the couch for a moment with my man.

Maybe we'll go on a deep-snow adventure, or create something pretty. I am so thankful for this day of grace.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Seeds, Serendipity, and Spring Cleaning

Today we're preparing the house for Spring. No, we're not putting out pretty nests and coloured eggs (yet)! The basement has held a winter's worth of wood, and the bits of bark and kindling must be swept up before the inevitable Spring inundation. I'm exaggerating...it's more of a trickle, but enough that we have to use a sump pump to keep the freezer, furnace, washer and dryer well out of the water's reach. The cobwebs also need clearing, the shelves some organising, and the little corners of scariness tidying.

The basement is one of those unpleasant places to clean, especially if you live in an old farmhouse. The floors are rough, the walls are damp; constant vigilance is required to prevent mildew, mold, and mushrooms (I'm not joking). I've read that if the house were a person, the basement would represent our subconsious mind. No wonder they're so often damp, dark, and creepy! Ha! I'm looking forward to creating order in this neglected space. I visit it often each day, to fill the furnace with wood and the washer with laundry. I'm picturing a cold storage room full of bins of potatoes, carrots, squash, garlic, beets, and so on, and tidy shelves of jewel-coloured jars of preserves and sauces. I'm also hopefully planning to try fermenting with the help of a new friend...more on that later.

We're also getting ready to start our seeds. In years past, a dear friend and gardening mentor started all our seeds and shared the gardening work. Since we've moved here, we've had a spring baby that required medical attention, and a garden started from greenhouse (purchased) seedlings. This year I'm starting my own! We've moved a shelf into our kitchen where the south facing windows are, and are taking a look at what we hope will be a cold-storage room in the basement.

The webcam works in a pinch!
If you happen to be in the Ottawa Valley this weekend, please consider stopping by Fellowes High School in Pembroke where the annual Seedy Sunday event will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Vendors, guest speakers, live music, fresh local food, and a kid zone all conspire to entice winter-weary souls into thinking: Spring! I'll be volunteering at the door, performing some music, and selling a few hand-painted cards at a friend's table.
Hooray for the webcam!

And now for the serendipity, that quirky little force that brings good things into your life just when you need them (and least expect them). Some of you are aware that I've had some camera issues lately. I had resigned myself to reducing my normal amount of blogposts, using my mom's camera, and slowly saving up for one for myself, without any expectation of when I might be able to afford one.

Then I got a message on Facebook from a university friend who now lives in Australia. We haven't seen each other in 15 years or so. We've been in touch sporadically. She told me in her message that she is one of those silent followers of my blog, and loves the glimpse it gives her of a life so different from hers. I had no idea she read my posts, and was touched by her words.

Imagine my delight and gratitude when she told me she had a camera to send me! Turns out her dad loves to buy new technology, and sends her his castoffs. She didn't like the idea of me not being able to take pictures of those little daily moments (like yesterday's mental photo of Violet in a too-big, saggy-bum bathing suit and a Santa hat), so is generously offering me one of her dad's cameras!

To say I am touched and overwhelmed by the way life provides is an understatement. So, a shout out to Nikki, away on the other side of the globe, and to everyone who has offered suggestions and encouragement.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Two

Margot at a few weeks old.

My Sweet Margot Joy,

Today I reflect on the day of your birth, a cold, clear morning two years ago. I started labour at around midnight, and just breathed in the quiet dark, curled up against your dad's back, until I knew it was time to call my support team.

My midwife, Leslie, lived a good hour's drive away, and I remember my profound sense of gratitude at seeing the headlights sweeping across the wall as she drove up the lane way. We'd had it ploughed that day because we knew our time was near.

This was my third labour, so I knew what my habits were: I like to be left alone, with a wet cloth to press over my eyes through each contraction...no distractions, no music, no words of encouragement. I prayed that you would be born by morning, and once Leslie had checked me out, she assured me that I would, indeed, be holding you by sunrise! She just barely caught your sister Violet, so she too knew how things go with me in labour.

By very early morning, my Doula (your aunt!) Julie arrived; the atmosphere was peaceful and calm. This was my first nighttime labour, and I understood why most animals give birth at night. We called your Nanny, and your aunt Lana, to let them know they should head out soon if they wanted to be part of this birth. Aunt Lana took this photo of the homestead as they came up the road in the dawn light:

Wisps of smoke from the chimney, house warmed to welcome a new babe.

Once I got into the bathtub, it didn't take long to reach the "pushy" stage. Violet was awake by now, and watched from the bedroom door, secure in Nanny's arms. Jude was snoozing away, in spite of the noise and activity just below him.

Then, there was you...my beautiful dark-haired girl, so different from your siblings, but decidedly MINE. I asked over and over if everything was okay, and I wonder now about mother's intuition; it would be 7 weeks before we'd realise that your tiny heart was in trouble.

But on that early morning, there was just you, in bed with your mom and dad and sister, and soon your brother; he woke up minutes after your birth. That bed was all that existed for me that morning, full of the man I chose and the children we created together. The tree outside the window stood bare, its empty arms reaching up to the late-winter sky. But were my arms full? You betcha.

Papa arrived to meet his new grandchild, then appointed himself head chef, cooking a big country breakfast for the tired support team. The sun rose, brilliant in a clear sky, and although I'd been left upstairs to rest and nestle in, I was drawn downstairs by the smells of coffee and bacon, and the lively chatter that travelled up the stairs. I settled into the wing back chair beside the wood stove, and basked in that I-just-birthed-a-baby bliss.

Tired daddy.

The weeks that followed are a blur now, of attempting to nurse while small children climbed up for a story, trying to pump to keep my milk supply up, struggling to figure out why you weren't gaining weight, and the realisation that something was, indeed wrong.

I had to record you as a presence in this family; I feared you might not live through your surgery.

Margot at exactly age one.

My Margot. Now you are two. There was a time when I wasn't sure if you'd make it here, and today I feel more than the normal joy and gratitude at milestones reached. I suppose it will always be this way, that whisper of "what if..." that casts a brief shadow over my heart.

You are aptly named, my wee wrestler, early morning song-singer, book-lover, belly-laugher, and wordsmith. You love your knitted blanket, nursery rhymes, listening to CBC in the van, other babies, and your Nanny. Your blue eyes contain so much soul and intelligence, and your curls can melt hearts.

Your love came unexpectedly, and we are so grateful for this surprise of your presence; we accepted you with joy and are thankful every single day that you chose us to parent you.

Happy, happy birthday, my girl.

Love,
Mommy