Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cooler Nights Mean ...

As the temperature gets cooler at night, I am reminded that this wonderful summer season will one day be over, nothing but pictures and memories. This serves as a call to action, to lap up every last bit of summer before school starts after labour day and before our cool weather gear comes up from the basement. 

The other day for lunch we ate rice pasta with tomatoes and basil from our backyard, and I thought to myself, "Isn't it so great that we can do this?" Then I thought how we wouldn't need to put an end to summer if we just lived in California all year long. Of course, the warm rapture of summer winds wouldn't be quite so savoury if they came year-round.

I picked a bouquet of marigolds for the girls' snack/craft table, and noticed again how the opportunity to surround ourselves with summer's bounty is a gift.


I see colour everywhere I look, conscious that once again, those hues will be replaced with muted blues, greys and whites. I see opportunities for summer afternoon pool floats, last chances to walk to Dairy Queen for ice cream, a couple of weeks left to hit up our fave beaches. I see it all fleeting and fading and want to grasp at it, touch it one last time. 


"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home-grown tomato." - Lewis Gizzard, Journalist 1946-1994



Carpe diem.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Off to the lake

The day began, not surprisingly, with a panicked phone call with my mom. I was tired, frazzled, trying to collect last-minute sunscreen bottles and car snacks. I had been on my own with the girls (sunup to sundown) for the past week. The idea of driving two hours on my own again with a vanful of girls wasn't at the top of my "what I'd love to be doing right now" list. My mom encouraged me, and the girls were excited so, with one foot in front of the other we loaded up the van, we drove to Tim Horton's (obviously) and hit the road to northern Quebec. 


And you know what? Somewhere between the rolling hills and country landscapes (complete with livestock sightings), between the emerald green water and the jumps off the dock, between the screened in porch in the most beautiful cottage I've ever seen and the catch-ups with my longest and best friend, between the delicious dinner and freedom for my girls to run around as their wild selves, I decided that this day was right at the top of my list of "what I'd love to be doing right now." 


It was beautiful in all meanings of the words: the small treasures and big wonders. The way Summer curled right into my best friend's boyfriend's lap. The way Abby jumped right into the lake. The smile Hailey grew when I thanked her for being such a good girl. Robin's penchant for stirring up mischief, the kind that borders naughty but is mostly hilarious. All these qualities paired with a gorgeous summer day at a cottage made for a really good, warm feeling. 


I drove home with four nodding, then sleeping heads behind me. I exhaled big and deep, satisfied with a belly full of good food and sun-warmed skin. The sun was setting over farmer's fields and quaint Quebec villages. CBC's Vinyl Tap was on the radio and life felt good. It was idyllic, and anyone would be validated in calling me hokey, but when it feels right, I do it. I mean, it started out with self-induced panic, but oh, giving into the call for adventure was so right. 


I'm so glad we went, and that we have these pictures to prove the water really was as clear and as blue as we remembered. 


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Adventure Day

There must have been some magic in the really sweet and encouraging messages I received after my last post, because yesterday, I felt like superwoman. (Thanks, guys!) I looked around the breakfast table at four little faces eating cereal and in under a minute dreamed up an adventure plan for the day. Before I had time to let doubt set in, I mentally made sure I had a quick snack idea, a safety plan, and a timeline: check, check, check. That settled it.

"Girls, I have an adventure idea. Let's ride the city bus, go to Parliament to see Daddy and the changing of the guard, ride the bus back to the mall, get candy at Sugar Mountain and come home for lunch!" Note: it was also upwards of 30 degrees, and already 9:30 a.m. 

"Yeah!" they chorused. The younger three call out bus sightings when we drive and walk around, but had never actually ridden one. It was time! They ride for free! Yay!


They were like kids on acid, fascinated by the 'sparkly floors,' handles, lack of seat belt, and assembly of strangers surrounding them. Summer tried exposing my breasts, Abby loudly asked why that man had only one tooth, and at one point I listened to a guy's life story, told directly to me even though I made no eye contact or commitment to listen. Ah, the city bus.

I packed our supplies in a backpack (camera, wipes, diaper, 2 apples and 2 packs of cranberry-almond crackers, a water bottle, my wallet and car keys). I brought an umbrella stroller, so that when we arrived downtown, there would be no scene of scattering Niman girls: Summer sat in the stroller, each twin held a handle, and Abby walked beside me. 

It was actually fun! We arrived downtown, had snacks and water, found Daddy on the Hill, watched a bit of the changing of the guard while chasing seagulls on the front lawn of Parliament, watched the soldiers parade out, and then back to the bus stop for round two. 



The wait got sweaty, and our bus passed us by. We finished our apples and still no second bus. Some colourful bus stop crazies sang to my girls, while another called out random bible passages. Things got gritty. Then the bus came, we sweat some more, and, thankfully, the novelty of a bus ride carried us the whole 20-minute ride back to our area of town. With a pack of sweaty, tired and beginning to get cranky kids, I could either honour my promise to take them to the candy store or face their mutiny. I chose fun.


Each girl chose one treat, and no one broke or stole anything! Abby and I chose Wonka candy, to celebrate finishing our summer novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Last night after the other girls went to bed, we settled in with our candy, watched the Gene Wilder original movie, and took a night swim in our backyard under the stars. We shared a really nice moment best left between us (to preserve the magic), and then ended the night happily exhausted. 

In short, it was a good day. It was really restorative to see of what I and my four girls are capable. They really are awesome kids.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Enough

Have you ever noticed that when you read a book or article that is meant to be self-helpy that it leaves you feeing like you aren't good enough as you are? I recently cleaned up my Facebook newsfeed so I stopped receiving parenting or zen mama reads. Lately, instead of giving me good ideas or encouragement, I've kind of felt like a big fat failure. Reminders to slow down make me feel like a busy weekend was wrong. Impressing the importance of one-on-one time for a child's development brings me to tears when I think of how little Hailey and Robin seem to get from me. Any piece that tries to tell me what's important for a child or spouse makes me feel guilty when I think of all the times I wasn't calm/nurturing/supportive/present/inspiring enough.


On the other hand, the older I get, the more comfortable I get identifying what I like, what works for me, and what doesn't. This list is fluid, and changes with the season, but it's become easier for me to say, "Not for me, next," and move on to what suits me. So why do I still go to bed reviewing my days and feeling guilty for my missteps and mistakes?

I think the best way to put it is that I am a lone reed (as they say in You've Got Mail) and that means no one is holding me accountable here. Until my children go see a therapist who puts me under a magnifying glass, no one's checking up on me. I'm free to make mistakes, and given the liberty of doing what I think is best. With no one to hold me accountable, I step in and judge myself, evaluate my progress, and can be kind of hard on myself when I react abruptly or use sarcasm or yell. This applies to both parenting and interacting with others.

I am getting more astute in figuring out what sets me off, and that helps reduce guilt when I look back and figure, "Well, if I'd taken more time to do the task slowly, I wouldn't have felt so rushed and cranky." When I don't stay true to what works for me, I sometimes venture into territory where the unknown sets me on edge. With four little ladies looking up to me and a partner who relies on me at home, it can feel like the stakes are high when I falter.


So, what's the answer here? Heck if I know. I am trying to remember I'm never going to get it right, so I may as well work at doing my best instead. I try to talk to myself with love and less with judgement or condemnation, because that serves no one. I remember that, as Anne of Green Gables said, "tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet." I am relying less on books and articles to give me 'inspiration' when what I really need is to listen to the real live people around me and see what's in front of me. I need to start there. And at the end of the day, instead of replaying the mental loop of mistakes I made, I think I'll be better off thinking of little lights in my day for which I'm grateful.  

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Being Cents-ible (there's a free pun for you!)

There are a handful of times in the year where I check out our Mint.com budget spreadsheets and think, "sheeyit." This time of year, we're coming off a vacation spending high (spending money we had saved and put aside), not having any overtime coming in because our worker bee was off vacationing with us (yay!), and staring at a few big expenses coming up: fall activity registration, seasonal home costs (cough* pool *cough), and our annual meat orders.

That's not to say the rest of the year is spent swimming in dollar bills that fall from our magical money tree-- we budget very tightly to support six people on one income. We plan for big expenses by saving small bits over time, live debt-free, keep a very meagre savings, and make ends meet using each paycheque to the last dime.

What that means is that, personally, I start getting want-sy this time of year. It's true that we want what we can't have, and I'm mindful of this. I mean, the Ikea catalogue just came out! Sometimes I feel good about controlling my impulses to keep our budget on track. Other times, I feel immense guilt when I go over on something, even if we really, truly need it.

So, here's a list of things that enrich my life without the added guilt of cost: (a reminder for me as much as some ideas for you, oh cash-strapped friends)

1- Podcasts
Oh man, this is just in the last couple of years and some podcasts have really enriched my life. Making dinner, doing dishes, deep-cleaning a room or re-organizing the garage all become less awful activities when I turn on one of my go-to podcasts. I feel more worldly and informed by listening to in-depth analyses of current events on CBC's podcasts (Tapestry is my favourite). I transport myself into new worlds through NPR's Snap Judgement and Invisibilia. I joined along with everyone else checking for Serial updates last fall as though they were heroine. I like Dear Sugar because it's like having good friends over for tea. I could go on. Go find your own favourites! They're free!

2- Yoga
I tapped into this at age 15, and dove into it full-force when I was a very cash-limited university student living off $60/groceries a week (if I was lucky and didn't need money for the bar). The ashtanga yoga series, once learned with a good teacher, was easy to memorize and do on my own. I still go through the motions of the familiar movements today. I do subscribe to an online service (yogaglo.com, $20/month) for more diverse classes, but when money gets tight it's back to my two yoga DVDs and the ashtanga series.


3- Library Books
If you can't tell already, I need escapes in my day. The original literary vessel for the ultimate escape, the book, is still alive and kicking in my world. I frequent my library, and almost always have a list of books for which I'm on hold to borrow. I keep a list on Goodreads.com of books I'd like to read, so it's easy to consult my list, go online to request a few titles, and they are ready and waiting for me next time I go to the library.


4- Running
I also tapped into this free reservoir in university. I had gained the requisite Freshman 15 or so, and didn't have any money to spare on gym memberships or recreational sports. With a good pair of running shoes (this is a must, don't run in old shoes) I was set to get out and burn calories, raise endorphins and sweat things out for free. All you need, literally, is ground. I continue to run and though it may cost me time away from home (which comes at a premium, let me tell you), the benefits definitely outweigh the slim cost of a new pair of shoes every year.

5- At-Home date nights
This one takes a bit of convincing, for me. It is almost always more fun to go have a night on the town with my love. Reservations for a delicious dinner and a movie or concert would be wonderful, but it's a reality reserved for once or twice-a-year occasions. We still go out for desserts, or runs together, or the odd 'real' date, but most of the time we save money and have date nights in. Dinner and a movie without a babysitter to pay is also fun when neither of us has to be the designated driver-- we're already home! A bottle of wine to share always makes up for any disappointment on my part not to be heading out downtown.



Sunday, August 9, 2015

August Days

"Summer in the South" by Derek Walcott

Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms. 







Friday, August 7, 2015

Vacation

For our family vacation, we opted this year to keep things low-key and rent a cottage for a week. No need to rely on restaurants, easily accommodating to wily toddler moods and lack of a good night's sleep and teething, (which are our central variables this summer). We also found one in an area of the country we hadn't visited, which satisfies my annual goal to travel somewhere I've never gone before. We set out for the Eastern Townships of Quebec and were welcomed with open arms, clear skies and clear lake water. And a frog:



The girls' favourite part of the vacation was the family of ducks that waddled up the bank and across the lawn, looking for food. We stocked up on oats on a trip into town  (being better for ducks, nutritionally, than white bread), and had them, literally, eating out of our hands! Abby named them, Summer engaged them in loud conversations, Robin hogged all the oats to throw and Hailey wanted to swim with them. I identified with the mama duck, who stood back a bit to let her kids gorge themselves and enjoy the strangers, but kept them in line with subtle quacks and nudges.



The town reminded me a lot of Kelowna, (where we stayed on our way home after our wedding), so that was a nice romantic throwback. We found a killer poutine stand proprietor by a nice family who doted on our girls, a blessing for parents with slight anxiety about bringing our kids to restaurants.


I spend all my day with these girls all summer long, but I really enjoyed this vacation together. We stayed up late, cuddled on the couch watching movies during rainy afternoons, ate dessert with every meal, swam out to floating docks only to jump right back in, played hide and seek and ate outside for every meal. Hailey told me quietly she, "loved the cottage very, very much" with a shy smile: her way of telling me how special our vacation was to her. It warmed my heart. 



The cottage was luxury: dishwasher, laundry, DVD players, ceiling fans and floor to ceiling windows to watch the sun rise and set each day. My mom came along the first few days, and it was so nice to have her there as a bona fide cottage-going family member, sharing hugs and laughs. I watched old movies with Rich after the girls went to sleep (or, at least, their shared room to giggle into the darkness of night), and with no distractions, it was really nice to just sit and be us.



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