Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Sometimes I'm negative. I complain, worry, bitch, and moan.

But sometimes all it takes is a certain song to come on the radio...a song to make me bop, smile, sing along, and shake myself out of the funk I'm in.

At Christmas time, when money is tight and time is short, a song like David Myles' "Simple Pleasures" is the perfect balm for my busy spirit. In addition to being really catchy, it also has a wonderful message. It reminds me to be grateful for all the simple pleasures in my life.

Take a listen, then come back and tell me if it made YOU smile. It's worth listening to the whole thing through.

Basket

In the evening, when all is quiet and the dishes are washed, I sit on the couch to knit. Two little kittens start the evening out by wrestling and stalking my balls of yarn, but (being babies as they are), they are soon tuckered out and find a place to sleep.
What could be a cosier bed than this basket of wool, on the table beside where I sit (conveniently close enough to reach out for a little rub or a pet)?

Their little blissed-out faces speak of full bellies, adventures outside, and mouse dreams.
Oh, to sleep the sleep of a well-loved cat!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mad

A while ago, the dad of the house lost his cool with Jude.

It happens.

Jude is particularly sensitive to raised voices, and although we know it's ideal to be calm and reasonable, we don't always manage that. Daddy raised his voice, and I watched from the sidelines, wanting to step in, but torn between presenting a "united front" and jumping to my child's defense.

When my husband raises his voice, it triggers an old terror in me. Don't get me wrong; our dad never laid a hand on us; he never had to. His raised voice and steely stare were enough to convince us that there would be hell to pay if we didn't do what we were told, and NOW!

When I raise my voice, it is usually with complete exasperation.  The kids barely blink. But when my husband raises his voice, it cuts them to the quick.

It turns out, Jude doesn't need me to explain to my husband how his "mad voice" affects the kids. After the storm had subsided, Jude went to his desk to create this:


 Jude loves to draw this "not allowed" circle-with-a-line-through-it symbols. He put them to good use here, eloquently illustrating his very tall father leaning over him with a mad face. He makes it clear that this is NOT ALLOWED.
 Also not allowed: telling Jude to STOP with a mad face on.
This is the part of the picture that spoke most clearly and spurred my husband to work harder at keeping his cool: a self-portrait of the artist, his ears enlarged as if to say, "I can HEAR you and it hurts my ears (and my spirit) when you shout at me".

No parenting guru could have conveyed the message more clearly. I may take to drawing pictures to express my feelings, too, although I doubt I could capture the simplicity and eloquence of Jude's.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Musings

Visit Nadja to join in the fun of Monday Musings!

Right now...I'm breathing deeply to recover from the chest-pain-inducing stress of getting three kids out the door, realising that my husband used the van all weekend and left the gas gauge on the fuel light, dropping my screaming toddler off at daycare, and arriving at work. On time. Amazing.
This weekend...I went on a whirlwind trip to a cottage in Northern Ontario. I spent the weekend with a gang of loud, outspoken, hilarious, warm women, eating beautifully rich food, drinking wine and hot whiskeys, painting our nails, sharing our stories, knitting, napping, and cuddling. This has replenished me more than a weekend at a spa!

Some plans for the week: Monday, I want to book an appointment with an optometrist...my eyesight is failing rapidly! I will start preparing for our weekend away, celebrating Christmas early with most of my family of origin at a cabin in the woods: gluten-free baking, packing for five, wrapping gifts, etc. My niece, Meredith, will celebrate her eighth birthday next weekend as well!
If I find some time for myself, I hope to get out for a walk in the continuing mild weather which is rather unseasonal!

I am grateful for my husband, again, for taking on our three kids and our two nieces this weekend so my sister and I could escape! Everyone was happy and healthy upon our return, and I never had a moment's worry. He's a star! Also grateful for the way I've been embraced by a gaggle of wonderful women.

A special prayer intention for the week: for myself, that I will learn to let go of harms that have been done to my children and myself.
Something that makes me smile: the sound of farts in the bathtub...always hilarious! Watching old Kids in the Hall videos with other people who "know all the words". The comedy of a naked toddler wearing my rubber boots, which go right up to her bum. So many blessings in my life!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wee Apron

While I'd like to be the kind of blogger that can link to the suppliers of the beautiful fabric she uses, I'm not. While I'd like to make it appear effortless to whip up handmades, it is not.

I hate sewing. I'm the only one of my mother's daughters who does it at all, and while I'm capable, I inevitably end up cursing at the poor machine (who didn't do anything, really...it was my fault the tension wasn't right), pulling the fabric out too forcefully, and putting the whole thing away.

Still, after lots of rethreading, tension-adjusting, and yes, cursing, I occasionally produce.

In this case, I created a little apron for my friend's daughter. What child doesn't need an apron? Aprons are wonderful! You can add various pockets depending on the child's interests. A painter's apron, a carpenter's apron, a chef's apron, or in this case: a pretty market apron (her parents are the CSA farmers from whom we acquire our summer fruits and vegetables)!

 So. Seeing as how she's a little farmer in training, I needed a botanical print. You can't really see the details in the pink bib fabric, but it's got little pigs, chickens, and farm girls on it; I found it in a bag of vintage scraps that was given to me after I'd placed an ad in the local paper graciously asking old women to clean out their closets and donate their old sewing stuff to ME!
Now, I'm making plans to "whip up" another 22 of these, in Christmas fabric, for our Christmas concert (we're doing a song about baking cookies). Let the cursing begin!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Airing Out the Woolens

I washed all our woolens last week, and hung them out to dry on what just might be the last mild day of 2011. The familiar forms and colours of sweaters and scarves danced in the November breeze, calling to mind Jan Brett's "The Hat", where the farm animals adopt a little girl's woolens as their winter garb.


The blue skies were balm to my November-weary eyes.

The cheerful stripes of these scarves, knit by a friend, will do their part to dispel the winter blues, when it is finally upon us.
Some items, like this little green sweater (the first I designed) will be put away; I don't have the heart to give it away (yet), and might just keep it for a grandchild to wear (provided the mice don't get to it first).
The clouds to the west speak of winter's imminent arrival. We'll be ready, with a basket of clean, fresh, warm woolens to keep us from the cold.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten Years: Part Two

I remember preparing for dates when I was a single woman. Candles lit, romantic music on, hours to exfoliate, shave, moisturize, paint toenails, try on different outfits. I remember having pretty bras and lots of choices of what to wear. I remember the leisurely glass of wine and the anticipation of romance.

Dates as a married couple are a little bit different.

On Friday night, in the last moments of Margot's nap, I suggested to the kids that we get gussied up before Daddy's arrival home. Jude put on his shirt and tie, and combed his hair over with water. Violet found her "spawkwy dwess". I hopped into a tub full of four inches of water. Margot woke up and started banging on the bathroom door. The handle of my razor broke so I carefully pinched the blade-head to shave my legs. I threw on the same top I wear for every "special" occasion.
When I came downstairs, these two had swept the kitchen floor and cleared the craft detritus off the kitchen table, and put a tablecloth on it. They were so proud of themselves! They giggled as they anticipated shouting "SURPRISE!" when daddy came through the door. They set the table, and broke two wineglasses while they waited for him to come home.

I found the Billie Holiday CD we listened to on the night we met and put on my red lipstick. When my husband got home, we had a slow dance while Jude watched. Then Jude helped daddy light the candles. We each had a dance with our children giggling in our arms.
The kids ate their pizza while we sat with them and told them the story of how we met, and it occurred to me that everything our children will know of love and romance they will learn from us. A pretty tablecloth, candles, special glasses, a slow dance, holding hands and looking into each other's eyes go along way to keeping those embers glowing. These little ones took it all in, especially when we extended the story to include each of their births. The story of how we met is the story of the beginning of our family, and of the generations that will follow.

Once the kids had eaten, we put a movie on for them, and enjoyed our own pizza and some wine, and told stories we hadn't told before. It turns out, after ten years, we have lots more to talk about.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ten Years

This morning as our kids woke up and piled into bed with us in their usual order: Jude and Violet between us, Margot on top of me, I looked across their little heads to the man who shares this tremendous task of parenting with me. This is called love in a family; sometimes all you get is the brush of fingers across the span of a queen-sized bed you bought as newlyweds, unable to imagine how full it would be within a few years.

Ten years ago, I was 27. I was living in a one-room schoolhouse, and performing in a local theatre production, reprising the role as Maria Von Trapp that I'd played in The Sound of Music the year before. The show was called "Reflections" and celebrated 20 years of musical productions.

The young man who played percussion in the orchestra pit was not a complete stranger to me; his mother was a singer as well, and I'd seen him at the whitewater rafting company where I performed in the summers. He was cute; tall, muscular, tanned, musical. He was also seven years my junior, and hadn't really crossed my 'radar' except to notice that he was cute.

After the cast party on November 18, 2001, I saw him walking down the road; he planned to hitchhike home at two in the morning. I knew he lived on the way to my house, so I picked him up. We went to a local truck stop, ate grilled cheese and cream of cauliflower soup, and talked like we'd been starving for conversation all our lives. When we got to his house, we sat in the driveway listening to a CD of Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald (he knew all the songs), and watched what turned out to be a meteor shower. We talked and talked and talked until the sun came up.

Neither of us wanted the conversation to end yet, so I suggested a road trip. That's something you do on a first (unexpected) date when you live in the country. We stopped by my house for coffee (and so that I could brush my teeth!), then headed out to Mount Saint Patrick, a wee settlement dominated by the Catholic church and a Holy Well, where petitioners visit to draw up water used for healing and blessing. We wandered the graveyard and signed our names in the Holy Well guest book. We drove some more and found a field where we cloud-gazed and talked some more.

After much talking and laughing, one of us got up the nerve to try a kiss.

The rest, they say, is history. After a brief separation where he went to Scotland ten days after we met, and stayed there for two months, we've been together ever since.

This morning we smiled at each other. Our faces show some traces of our journey: sleep deprivation, stress, laugh lines. Our bodies have changed, too: he's a little thinner, I'm a lot curvier. These days, we talk about how we're going to make the money stretch another month, argue about parenting, and feel like the proverbial ships in the night, passing in a hurry, kissing as we go out the door, handing the kids back and forth in what we call tag-team parenting.

We don't have a babysitter for tonight, but I think we'll find a quiet way to celebrate the fact that after ten years, we're still choosing to be together. The passionate tidal waves of those early days have quieted into the steady ebb and flow that is a marriage.

But if I look really closely, and listen very quietly, I see that man I fell in love with in his face, and feel that giddy thrill in my heart that I knew when I realised he might actually be mine.

I wonder sometimes about the Holy Well, and wonder what we'd see in our signatures in that guest book; can handwriting hold all the hopes, dreams, wishes, and prayers of two young hearts that were quickly falling in love? I suspect that when we make the trip back there, and look back ten years, we might just see all those things in our names, written side by side.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shuffle One, Shuffle Two

Ottawa Valley Stepdancing is unique to this area. It's a blend of Irish and Scottish dancing, with a Canadian style all its own. It evolved in the logging camps, where men of different backgrounds gathered every winter to work. The shoes have taps, but unlike tap shoes, they're loose. The rhythmic sound of these taps pounding the floor is the soundtrack of my childhood.

My next door neighbour and best friend started lessons at the age of five, and practised for thirty minutes every morning, while I sat on the couch watching and waiting to walk to school. As we grew, I often accompanied her to contests, where she soon cleaned up in her divisions. She became very well-known for her grace, beauty, and fleetness of foot.

She is now a mother of five, and operates her own dance studio where she shares her passion and gift with others.

You can see her performing in this video; she's wearing red, and dances with her husband (on drums), and her brothers-and sisters-in-law. I get goosebumps every time I see her dance, remembering that little five-year-old girl who practised so faithfully.

I'm delighted to take my own children to stepdancing lessons now! The echo of the taps off the cinderblock walls of a school's back room brings it all back to me. My children are starting at the beginning, learning to balance, shuffle, brush, flap, and stamp. The littler one hangs onto her brother's arm for support, and can hardly contain herself when the fiddle music starts.

See how her foot isn't even touching the ground?

They learn to really hear  the music, clapping along, counting the beats, and listening for the accent signalling that it's time to begin.

Shuffle one, shuffle two, shuffle three, stamp, stamp!

All together, now.

It begins!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday Musings

I'm joining Nadja over at Patch O' Dirt Farm with some Monday Musings. Join in, and make sure to link back to her space!


Right now...everyone is still sleeping. Lunches are made, backpacks are at the ready, clothes are laid out. The kittens are wrestling. It's still quite dark outside, and it looks like it'll be a cool and windy day.
This weekend...we stayed home! Friday night we had our usual pizza and a movie night (we watched "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" (modern version) which the kids loved!). Saturday I ran into "town" to do one of those "stock up" shops (everyone needed new toothbrushes, I needed guitar strings for the club I'm running at school, etc). Violet went to a birthday party in the afternoon, and Jude and I visited a neighbour. They have three boys, so Jude was in his glory, playing a Wii for the first time and wrestling to his heart's content! Sunday was one of "those" days...when I attempted many things and didn't manage to accomplish any of them. I should have just hung out with my kids, knitting!

Some plans for the week: the calendar is remarkably blank this week, so it looks like we'll hang out at home, visit the library, and get through our work/school days. Thursday I'll likely have a gathering of women over to knit for the afternoon! Friday is the tenth anniversary of the day my husband and I met, so we'll be figuring out a way to get out for the evening, I hope!

If I find some time for myself, I'd like to watch a few more episodes of the first season of "Glee", make a bit of headway on some Christmas gifts, and perhaps go out for a walk or two!

I am grateful for my husband, for putting up with me when I'm premenstrual, and for my friend Gillian, who claims I'm the best "kvetcher" ever. Her laughter at my irrational bitchiness helped me to let it all go.

Some special prayer intentions for the week: for a friend who is having surgery and setting off on a long road to recovery, and his family.

Something that makes me smile: the long, rambling, on-the-spot songs Violet sings "I wiiiish....I had a Unicooooorn, but I won't give up! I'll keep siiiiinging....I'll siiiiing like the Little Mermaid...." all done in a high-pitched, repetitive tune.

Have a wonderful week!

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Big Show

Our kitchen is quiet these days.

After months of gathering around the table three or four times a week, hashing out ideas, collaborating on harmonies, adding and taking out elements to get the songs just the way we wanted them, our evenings are quiet now.
The candle was always lit, and there was always wine or tea to help pass the time.

Our kids wandered in and out, showing us their growing awareness of rhythm, singing along with the bits they knew.

It wasn't work. It was wondrous good fun, the sounds of music blending with our children's voices. When bedtime came around, we'd pause for stories and teeth brushing. Then the kids would fall asleep to the muted tones of songs their father wrote.
Then, it was finally time to do the show! Here we are, just before going onstage, with the man himself: Ron Sexsmith!

You can see one of our numbers that night by going here! It was a wonderful opportunity, and a fun experience for all. I think I'll keep my day job, at least for the time being, though.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Possibilities

I've once again dug out the beautiful celery green yarn (Donegal Tweed by Tahki Yarns) I bought when this girl was a baby. I purchased enough skeins to create the perfect sweater for myself. I wanted to wait till I lost my baby weight. Then I got pregnant again. Then I used a skein here and there to create baby sweaters for friends.

I've a hankering now to make a sweater (even if I haven't lost the so-called baby weight). I think I like this one...we'll see. I have enough yarn left to do it, once Christmas gifts are all tucked away and ready to give.

For now, I'm winding the skeins into "cakes" under the watchful eye of the little girl who will one day become my apprentice. Oh, the possibilities in a skein of yarn, and in the hands of a child.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Bonfire Night

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

On a clear, cold November night, the time is right to gather friends around a bonfire to herald the shorter days that are upon us, and to remember the story of Guy Fawkes. This English tradition of burning a "Guy" to represent the man who, in 1605, attempted to blow up the British Parliament has taken on contemporary meaning as thousands of protesters involved in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement donned Guy Fawkes masks, perhaps celebrating his rebel's spirit.

Around here, we build a "guy" out of old clothes stuffed with newspaper. I proudly draw his face; somehow, I always manage to capture that expression of both defeat and disdain for his captors that I imagine Guy Fawkes wore when it came time for his exectution, all with a Sharpie marker! The man himself was executed by being hung till almost dead, then drawn and quartered. The English sure know how to deal with dissenters, don't they? That'll teach 'em...

 We howl and hoot, and raise a glass to all rebels and dissenters everywhere. Not that we condone blowing things up to get your point across. But you do kind of have to admire Guy Fawkes' spirit, right?
 The children are even more delighted than the grownups.
I used my fancy nighttime lens to get these cool shots. No, I didn't. I just did the best I could with my beloved little cheapy. Jude's latest headgear is an old skiddo helmet, a gift from his grandpa.
This is one of those traditions that I suspect my children will carry with them into their adulthoods. They'll remember the feeling of anticipation as daddy lights the fire, and mommy lights candles all around the front porch to welcome our guests; the excitement as friends arrive, and the wild abandon of being out late on a cold November night, the moon and stars adding their light to that of the bonfire.
There is a certain magic to Bonfire Night that has made it one of our family's favourite traditions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Waterhorse Sweater

It's grey. It's itchy. It'll keep him warm on a windy, rainy day by a loch.
It's the Waterhorse Sweater!


This kid loves tweed caps, and looking like his daddy. So he proudly donned this as soon as it was blocked, and went for a wander on our "moors".

 Of course, a six-year-old boy can only pose in thoughtful, Scottish ways for a few shots. Then, it's back to his dance moves.

I'm really pleased with how it turned out. I used the Saddle Shoulder shaping from Elizabeth Zimmerman's "Knitting Without Tears", and let me tell you: if you're afraid of math and design, this genius of a woman can set you on the path. This is my second "original" sweater, and I'm thrilled with the fit. It's made with Briggs and Little "heritage" in Threaded Grey and White. The itch factor is reduced once washed, and I find this wool gets softer and softer as time goes by. I love it for its rustic feel and look, mild sheepy smell, and price! And you can't beat 100% wool for warmth, whether you're in Scotland or Canada.

It's perfect for my explorer-son.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Blogging Quandary

Our internet has been uncooperative lately. It should be sorted out soon. I don't have time to check other blogs, as much as I love to read about the lives of others, and I find I'm kind of enjoying the "free" time. Evenings that are usually spent browsing and blogging are spent reading, going to bed early, or cuddling up with my honey for a movie.

It's weird. Even though blogging allows me to focus in on the wonderful bits of life, and provides me with a beautifully organised documentary of my journey as a mother, I feel more present in my life when I'm not blogging.

I remember in the height of blogging madness, I thought blog-thoughts all day long. Each photo was blog-potential, and I berated myself if I forgot my camera when something wonderful happened. And I have most of those moments posted on the blog. But my memories of the actual moments are a bit blurry.

So. Doing leaf rubbings with my kids just for the fun of it, and being present with them (rather than grabbing for the camera and making sure the background isn't too messy) is feeling really, really great.

I feel like I'm striking a balance, finally, by not posting every day, and sometimes not posting at all in a week. I don't really have a great camera (all the really nice shots on here are done with my mom's camera which she generously lends me regularly so I can create a "bank" of blog photos), and my time is limited these days.

Letting myself off a hook that I myself hooked myself on feels really, really good. Saying "Yes!" to my kids instead of "Just a second!" feels really good. Just living each moment, without thinking about how I'll retell it in a post or wondering if I should tidy up before taking a photo feels really good.

So, I'm taking the internet break as a blessing, and will be back here now and then. I do want to show off Jude's Waterhorse Sweater (it's finished!) as soon as I can manage to get the photos loaded up!

Until then, take care.