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.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent Adventure

If you've been a follower of this blog for a few years, you'll know about our little Advent exchange. By "our" I'm including some dear friends: the dynamic duo behind Twig and Toadstool, the Wabi Sabi Wanderer, and the lovely blogger behind Embracing the Now. For years now, we have rallied our pre-Christmas energy, assembled our supplies, and spent our free moments lovingly hand-crafting little items to share with one another. It is a tradition that I can see continuing into the far future, and I dream of a day when we will gather to put together baskets for our grandchildren, perhaps inviting our own grown children to add their handmades to the gathering.

This year, we welcomed two new members to our little group, so instead of creating 5x5 handmade items, we each created three different crafts, times seven. We filled in the little gaps with storebought items (such as candy, beeswax candles, etc.) and pulled together a basket with 25 goodies for our children to open each day during Advent.

As much as we are delighted by the creations of our friends, it is the gathering itself that ignites that first spark of excitement for the coming Christmas season. We arrive at the always-festive home of Maureen, and baskets, tissue paper, string, scissors, snacks, and coffee are scattered across the table. 

We do a little show and tell, then begin wrapping each item. Words aren't sufficient to describe the delight and awe with which each item is greeted, and the warmth that arises from knowing that human hands, those of people who actually know my children, created these little gifts. This gathering of kindred spirits is a quiet pause before the busyness of Christmas is upon us. We prepare our hearts, breathe deeply in the presence of dear friends, and set our hands to the task of wrapping.

I remember the years past, when my tousle-headed children descended to open one little gift each day, and how I said the words, "Maureen/Erin/Shanti/the WSW made that just for you!" Now we'll add the names Gwen and Anya to the list of  women who love my children enough to spend their free time creating beautiful gifts for them.

Each year as we unpack our decorations, we remember Christmases past, and celebrate how we now have a tree full of ornaments that were made by hand, by women they know. My children feel the love.

And so do I, so deeply.

Monday, November 10, 2014

at our kitchen table

It's a place to gather. 

We create here: masses of paintings and drawings, grocery lists and to-do lists, meal plans and blog posts, storyboards and comics. 

We read here. A recent topic for parental reflection is whether or not it is bad manners to read while eating. The older kids are completely enamoured of the Amulet series of graphic novels, and dinner times have never been so quiet. One of my favourite things is reading while I eat, but I've gotten out of the habit because I don't want to be a bad role model. My husband thinks it's bad manners, but I'm into reassessing this judgment as our children become independent readers. The kids put Amulet into his hands and guess what? I caught him reading at the table. 

We also eat here. We gather in the morning; the children eat while I circulate, brushing hair, delivering vitamins, urging them to put down their books and focus on eating. While they brush their teeth and get their shoes on, I sit for a moment to eat a quick breakfast. The toddler sees this as an invitation, and climbs on my lap to nurse. I love this connection before we part for the day.

At the end of the busy day we reunite and connect around the table, each of us sharing a happy or hilarious highlight from our day. As the days grow shorter we light candles and enjoy the warmth, noise, and nourishment of gathering together after a day apart. It sounds idyllic and I don't wish to shatter your visions of my perfect family, but there is also quite a bit of arguing, nagging, and bad tempers. We are human after all.

On the days that we're home, we sit here for tea in the afternoons. Margot was sick with a stomach bug (she asked me, "How big is the bug, mommy?") last week and I spent a day at home with her. Our favourite tea, harvested locally by our friends at the Algonquin Tea Company, kept her hydrated, and it helped that I served it in a pretty mug that was a gift from a faraway friend. 

Sometimes I feel like the safest place in the world is right here at this kitchen table, its scars, spills, paint splotches, and smooth spots telling a story of our life as a family. When I get ready for work upstairs and hear my children's voices rising and falling in conversation and laughter, I know I am blessed. When we sit at it at the end of the day I am reassured that we are all home and safe, together and well-fed.

The kitchen table just might be my very favourite piece of furniture.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Woodland Gnome: A Tutorial

You will need:
 2 5/16" wooden peg doll
bulky yarn, in red (I used Patons Classic Wool Roving)
9 mm knitting needles
white raw wool (or roving)
a felting needle
a tapestry needle for weaving in ends

Gnome's Suit

CO 10 stitches. 

Work 6 rows in stockinette stitch. Break off end, leaving a long tail. 

Using a tapestry needle and starting at the opposite end, thread this long tail through the live stitches. 

Slip peg doll up into the loop you've created, then tighten the stitches around the doll's neck.

Stitch up seam at the back and weave in loose ends.


Needle felt a small amount of white roving or raw wool into a beard shape. Slipping your felting needle in sideways, lightly attach this beard to the top of the gnome's suit.


CO 10 stitches.

Rows 1-3 Knit in stockinette stitch. 
Row 4 (wrong side): *P1, P2tog* Repeat to last stitch; P1.
Row 5: K all stitches
Row 6: *P2tog* Repeat to last stitch; P1.
Rows7-10: Knit remaining 2 stitches as i-cord.

Slip yarn through remaining stitches and weave in loose end.
Take a piece of roving and twist it into trim for the hat. Needle felt this twist around hat brim.
Needle felt a small ball of roving to the top of the hat as a pompom!
Tuck ends of roving inside hat, and sew up back seam.

To attach the hat, I needle felted the sides of the beard to the edge of the hat. I also gave a few jabs of the felting needle to the back of the hat where it meets the top of the coat. You could secure the hat to the peg doll with hot glue if it will be involved in active play!
This little guy was so quick to make, I'll be adding some of his brothers to our annual Advent exchange!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Jumping In, Keeping Up

My sister sent me an email last week, telling me that she didn't mean to pressure me but that she really misses my blog. When I spoke to her later I expressed the difficulty in starting up after a long break. Where should I begin? Should I do a long update kind of post? 

Her advice to me was to just jump in.

So here I am, again. Our life has resumed a brand new rhythm, and if things don't always feel balanced, at least we are all adapting to the new steps. In September we all started back to school, and for the first time in years both my husband and I are working full time at the same time. This has made for some pretty huge changes for us. 

First of all, it means that our littlest one has started attending a home-preschool. We were all very anxious about how she'd handle this transition, but she has amazed everyone with her joy and ability to adapt to change. She LOVES her caregiver, and happily dons her little backpack every morning. She LOVES getting in the van with her older siblings, and kisses her parents good bye at the door then wanders off to play in the beautiful, Waldorf-inspired space her caregiver has created. She is always happy, is fed lovingly-prepared, whole foods, and gets rocked to sleep for her nap each day. 

Two parents working also means that we actually have a bit of money to keep up with our bills. After years of struggling through each month and getting behind (and the stress that comes with that kind of life), we're breathing a little easier and almost managing to (gasp, really?) put a bit aside for a rainy day. It's a very good feeling.

In the midst of such busyness, there is still the stress of getting four children (and two adults) out the door by seven every morning. We yell more than we like, and are still working on organizing ourselves so that mornings are as serene as we dream they could be. 

There is the mad scramble of keeping up with all those things that still need doing, even though the house is empty all day. Laundry and homework, meal planning and grocery shopping, sweeping and music practice (Violet and Jude have started fiddle lessons) and play rehearsals (Jude is a Lost Boy in a local production of Peter Pan). 

There doesn't seem to be much time left at the end of the day for parents to have leisure time. I spin and knit and embroider very sporadically, as the opportunity arises. My husband plays hockey once a week, and we both perform here and there although it's increasingly not worth the time. 

There is wood to get in, fallen barn doors to repair, animals to be tended to, manure to be shoveled, and a roof to be repaired. The fine days of fall are dwindling in number, and we are well aware that the window of opportunity is beginning its slide closed.

I miss writing. I still take lots of pictures of my kids and our lives. Maybe I can commit a bit of time each week to sharing a bit of our lives here in this space that used to feel like a place where I lived. 

Thank you for checking in, and please say hello in the comments to say that you did! I've missed you, too.

PS I almost forgot to mention that I blog at to record the adventures in learning that take place in my Kindergarten classroom!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

shepherdess dreams

The heart wants what it wants.
~Emily Dickinson

I suppose it could be deemed a sort of insanity, to respond with glee to a feed bag of stinky, greasy, dirty sheep fleece left at the farm gate. To take that fleece and spread it out under the trees to remove the worst parts of it, and to give that process a name as pretty as "skirting" might lead the physician to nod in concern.

To take that still-filthy sheet of animal fibre and put it in your bathtub, the one your children bathe in...well. That would just about confirm the diagnosis.

My children joined in the process of cleaning a raw fleece, rejoicing when it started to look whitish after about the fourth bath. My daughter found one miraculously snowy fluff, about the size of a cotton ball, that was free of vegetable matter (or VM), and pressed it lovingly to her heart.

After leaning over the tub of scalding water and not agitating the wool (while trying to carefully pick out bits of every piece of flora that grows locally: milkweed seeds, grass seeds, straw, spruce needles, and so on), I finally surrendered to the VM, as prolific as constellations in the night sky.

As the fleece dried in the sun, many of those flecks fell through onto the table, then even more sifted down as I carded it on my ancient drum carder. In the spinning, my lap was covered with tiny bits of straw. By the final plying of two strands together, I had to just accept and love the bits that were left; they were twisted in tightly enough to stay. 

The creamy white of this East Friesian's fleece came to life in a simple improvised hat pattern (loosely based on the Dustland Hat). I made it as a gift for the shepherdess who left that smelly bag at my farm gate. I picture her wearing it out to the barn next Spring, on one of those nights when her ewes are lambing, a simple hand-made reward for all her dedication and care.

I may be crazy, but I'm now avidly following this blog (after reading this beautiful and inspiring book), and just got Paula Simmons' Raising Sheep the Modern Way through inter- library loan. It might not be enough to knit clothing from fleece to finished piece. 

It's funny to think that a century ago, most small farms had a few sheep to provide clothing for their families, and now it seems like the maddest notion ever, to add a few fleece-bearers to our little homestead. But I've got a breeder lined up for when I take that leap and trust that the moment will feel right when it is. 

I will someday be a shepherdess too, wearing a barn-hat I made from fleece to finished piece.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Years

Every couple of years Margot has a check up to make sure that her quirky heart isn't getting any far, so good!

Margot met Dr. Maharajh for the first time since her surgery at our last appointment. This man fixed her tiny heart. He changed our family's history. We kind of love him. Tara Giralomo is the nurse who took such good care of us for the whole journey.

Margot loves her cardiologist, Dr. Gardin. She thinks she's kind of fancy.

Victory Jump on the fifth anniversary of her surgery.

When I wrote this post, one year after Margot's heart surgery, I was still rather raw from the whole experience. I looked at the photos with a clinical eye, and wrote about it as if I was telling a story about someone else. Life carried on so quickly and busily that I rarely looked back. If I came across photos from the months leading up to her surgery, when she was so frail and thin, I barely glanced at them before tucking them in behind other photos that were easier to look at.

It occurred to me recently that I still haven't made a photo album of her first year.

But each time we visit CHEO, I ward off that vestigial anxiety that parents who have had a child in the hospital know. I avoid the eyes of the other parents in the cardiology waiting room, because our story ended so happily. Maybe theirs will too, but maybe they don't know that yet. We didn't know what the future would hold for our baby when we first joined the cardiology club.

Back then, I didn't know if Margot would live to turn five. I wondered if she'd get to Kindergarten, and if she did, would she be delicate? Would she be able to keep up with her friends or would she, like Beth in Little Women, stay behind while everyone went on with their lives?

Yesterday we went on our class trip. Margot is in my class, and was most excited about riding on a big yellow bus with no seat belt! for the very first time. Her backpack was packed with a towel, sunscreen, swimsuit, water shoes, and some snacks. She was nervous when we were in the cave, but perked up when a classmate took her hand. She giggled and ran ahead through a tunnel of sumacs, her hair a halo of fuzz around her freckled face, following the gravel path back to the parking lot.

As we were leaving, I glanced at my watch and noticed the date:
June 23.

That date lit up in my mind when I realised that it was the five-year anniversary of her surgery.

And there she was, laughing with her friends, eating pizza, frolicking in the water, running over for a hug. My girl made it! She likes to show her friends her scar and tells the story about how her heart got fixed with a little patch and some thread.

This summer I will put together an album. I'll look at it with her someday and will say, "Hey, remember that time that we survived?"


This little girl is thriving.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Farm Sale

I pulled the flyer off a cork board in town, and stuck it to the fridge a few months ago: "Poultry and Small Animals". They had me at poultry! It was to be on the same day as Violet's birthday, and she looked forward to the outing.

We woke the kids early and set off with that "moving right along" feeling I always get when I drive in the rising sun with a coffee in the cup holder. I remember the feeling from my childhood, when we'd be setting out on a camping trip or a long drive. I remember it when I embarked on a new journey in my teens, then into my twenties: anticipation, excitement, adventure. The adventures these days are a bit smaller now than they were then, but with kids along, you never know what might happen.

We arrived at the fairgrounds to find a parking lot full of cars. We entered a large open barn, where the kids bolted from one cacophonous cage to the next, wondered at the Toulouse Geese with their enormous feet, petted ducklings, laughed at the ridiculous hairdos on the Polish chickens, and fell in love with every baby bunny they saw. 

We spent every cent we brought and each of the big kids left with a box. 

We've increased our flock by six and our indoor mammals by one. I'm pleased to introduce Fondue and Eclair, our pair of Indian Runner ducks, Daisy the Lionhead bunny, and four Australorp hens who will become our new laying flock!

As we walked out of the barn, my husband wearing a look that said, "How did this happen?", I slipped my hand into his and whispered, "This is my dream. Coming true". 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mother's Day, One Week Later

On the Friday before Mother's Day I was frazzled and weepy, feeling overwhelmed by the tremendous piles on my plate. In case you don't know, teachers are ridiculously busy at this time if year: planning class trips, grad ceremonies, working on report cards, coaching sports and/or academic events, and it all happens outside of school hours. Add the pressure of the very high expectations that parents put on teachers, together with the pressure that teachers (typically lifelong high achievers) put on themselves and you have a recipe for burnout!

Expressing these feelings of stress does not always come easily to me. In fact, I often don't even register how spread out I am until I reach the edge, when it all comes out (usually at my husband) in an incoherent mess of bitching and/or whining. That never really has the intended results, does it?

So Friday was the day where I finally recognized my exhaustion, my spread-too-thin-ness, the toll that being in constant demand from my job and family was taking on me. It's hard to say that! I really want to do it all, and do it well. I want to be an awesome: mom, teacher, wife, blogger, homemaker, community volunteer, fitness inspiration...but I can't be awesome at it all. I am only one woman after all.

Then on Sunday my five loves brought me breakfast in bed, and left me alone to eat it while I read. They reassembled to shower me with gifts made from tissue paper and Popsicle sticks, then left me on my own again to create a card for my own mother. 

I don't need a day at a spa to replenish the well from which I draw love and patience. A bit of time alone, to indulge in my greatest personal joys (reading, knitting, napping, chocolate, and coffee) is all I require now and then to put on my big girl boots and get out there and into it once again. A bit of yard work and meals outside also did much for my mood. The pedicure was *ahem* very relaxing.

In case you're wondering why I'm posting this a week after Mother's Day, I did jump right back into it. I belatedly send my love and admiration to all you mothers out there who, in spite of stress, exhaustion, tight budgets, and no time to yourself keep taking care of business. You're amazing!! I'm amazing!! We're amazing, aren't we?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Dead Bird

Early one morning, my children found a dead bird on the lawn.

 I found them out on the porch, Birds of Ontario in their hands, working at identifying it. They wrapped it in leaves and placed it in a box, and before I had a chance to talk with them about it I saw them busy out on the hill. They were quite solemn about it all and later when I visited the site with the girls, I saw what they had created.

Carefully placed stones encircled the bird's final resting place, complete with a grave marker that reads: 

Name: Gorden 
Age: Adult
Dide of Window

Violet explained that the pony-hoof clippings were shaped like hearts.

Throughout the day, they visited the grave, even digging the bird back up to look at it closely once again. It was plain and grey, its thin lids covering its dull eyes, but it was beautiful in death all the same. They'd cover it back up, then run off to play again.

Margaret Wise Brown, in her inimitable way, wrote a story about a group of children who come across a dead bird lying in a field. They cradle it gently in their hands, find a box in which to bury it, cry and sing dirges, and create a beautiful grave for the fallen creature. They visit it every day, until they forget about it.

I found an old copy in a "discard" pile at a school library years ago, and have kept it all these years knowing that someday it would come in handy. I haven't read it to my children yet but mentioned it recently to my sister (who is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant) in a conversation we had about the animal "funerals" we used to have as children. 

Children play to make sense of the ordinary and the profound. They conjure deep emotions in play, exploring what it feels like to love, hate, celebrate, and grieve in imaginary ways. I know that this bird will come up in conversation in the days to come, and that they may also mention their GG (their closest experience with death).

 I felt proud to see them treat the bird with such respect, compassion, and dignity.