Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Petrie Island Morning

We are in full-tilt summertime mode over here. Late bedtimes, long morning swims, spontaneity, any excuse to get outside. The warm weather lends itself to a stronger connection with our natural world, doesn't it? Exploring new parks, we discover new kinds of trees. A neighbourhood walks sees our growing appreciation for all kinds of flowers, and we give them new names. Playing in our front yard, we watch our seedlings grow into mature plants. Looking out our window, we have watched a family of cardinals grow from two birds to six. We are called to get out and explore our hood a little more, dig our feet into our surroundings, taking ownership of "our spots." 

One of the places I felt immediately drawn to when we arrived last summer was Petrie Island. It is now a city-operated beach park, but I remember it as a secluded, waterfront oasis we used to escape to as teenagers who craved something different, something to call our own. Now, I love bringing my family down for walks along the trail, spotting turtles, water birds and frogs. We take any opportunity to bring a snack or lunch down to the shore to enjoy eating al fresco, listening to water lap the shore, only a short drive from home.

My friend's sister runs a bunch of conservation-minded programs there, including one geared towards my kids' ages every Wednesday and Thursday. I joined my friend this morning to learn how to survive on the island. We learned to build a water filtration system, identify nuts and seeds and edible plants. The girls loved seeing the turtles, snakes, frogs and snails in the nature centre's aquariums, and running around with a group of kids collecting rocks. They also loved when we recognized their attention spans were waning and let them run over to the park instead of following the group any longer.  

I said this summer would be about taking it easy, letting adventures unfold organically, shying away from organized activities and scheduled outings. A weekly foray to Petrie Island is totally something I'm cool with scheduling in my planner and trying really hard to attend. It's educational (which makes me feel good about any yelling/TV-watching/laziness that ensues the rest of the day), laid-back, in a beautiful natural setting and cheap: $2 per kid per visit. 

It gave Abby something to boast about. "I learned to filter water and I saw a frog," she said in a rush as soon as we got in the door back home, where Daddy watched over baby Summer. Hailey and Robin remembered finding rocks, throwing rocks into the water, climbing high and their friend Hen-wee when I asked them if they liked our morning outing. I liked catching up with my bud, learning a thing or two myself (like did you know you could filter water through a sock?), and watching my girls explore the beach I used to flock to as a teenager.

I highly recommend it, if you have the means to get there (although I think even the city bus has a route right to the island now). It has left me with beautiful scenes to photograph, (really digging the embedded links in this post, eh?), an evolved connection to my local beach and conservation area, and plans for future summers: hiking with all my girls (on their own two feet!), learning to kayak, having family pictures taken on the rocky shore. 

The best side effect to a morning spent on the island is two napping toddlers, conked out for the afternoon.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sur La Plage

I have been humbled. I hate to begin with a cautionary tale, rather than focus on the transformative beauty of our beach vacation to Maine, but I'll be honest: Taking four young kids on a trip anywhere is the antidote to serenity. Tantrums, disruptions to routine, major diet changes (replace nourishment with sugar and you get the idea), shared sleeping quarters. I wondered aloud many a times, "what were we thinking?"

Collected beach treasures
There were some pretty worthy moments: Watching Summer feel a wave for the first time, seeing her eyes light up, reflecting the electricity of rushing surf. Hearing Hailey's giggle carry over the roar of beach din. That time we all sat at the same table in a restaurant, happily eating our meals. Feeling like my heart would burst with pride as Abby learned to swim underwater, by herself. Watching Robin learn the names for our extended family members who joined us, before galloping full force into their outstretched arms. Reading my book against the backdrop of crashing waves, sipping a glass of wine, snacking on a plate of cheeses.

There were also some, shall we say, highlights that will go down in our family's collective history of our travels to Ogunquit. There was the time we all managed to get ourselves dressed, ready and on time for dinner in Perkin's Cove and Hailey pooped all over the back row of the town trolley. There was our shared joy in watching Summer take her first steps, on the beach-- our beach-- sacred ground.  There was our successful conversion of Rich from land-lubber to full-blown boogey-boarding enthusiast. 

All that to say, we had to re-align our expectations after a few hiccups, but once we did, oh it was paradise. I was overjoyed to watch the sun bleach my little girl's tight ringlets and paint their skin the colour of peanut butter. I loved watching them seamlessly adjust to beach mornings, pool afternoons, without any complaints. I loved a fantastic date night with Rich, spent at a bar and grill right on the beach. I loved leaving the girls with my teenage cousins on the beach while I took walks with my auntie and cousin, absorbing their nuggets of wisdom.

I was in my happy place, with my people, disconnected from the outside world, with not a worry on my mind. Yeah, you could say it was awesome.

Long live the beach vacation.

Friday, July 11, 2014


I don't know if it is the loosening of tight schedules, the magic of summertime, the growing social skills of the girls, or the consistent fostering of imagination, but the kids have been playing together. Without the TV on. Nicely. For long than five minutes!

I feel, again, like we have arrived somewhere I'd been waiting to reach. They colour, play dolls, pretend to be animals on parade, chase Summer, hide, wake their Daddy up, read books ... together! Usually Abby directs the play, because she is the oldest and therefore the de facto boss when I am in another room. Hailey and robin have become willing participants who worship the ground Abby walks on. I think they are just so happy to be included, finally. They have always played well together, but now their big sister is home to teach them things like wearing tea towels as turbans and walking in plastic disney princess heels. 

And Summer. I may be pushing reality away with denial that she is growing. She hobbles along, chasing her sisters, even if it means they pretend she's the monster and run away again. She wants a sippy cup of milk when they get sups of milk at dinner. She wants a hat when they put on hats in the play room. She wants nothing more than to be part of it, which just warms my heart. This. This is what I imagined in those quiet, hazy moments after Summer was born and I could begin imagining life with four daughters. 

With those pleasant thoughts, I leave you. Just for a week. It is summer vacation and time to check out, log off, disconnect from the world wide web. We are driving eight hours tomorrow to my favourite paradise by the sea, in Maine. It is the beach I return to in my mind when I need to calm down. When I began doing guided meditations as a teenager, this is the place I would imagine, listening to waves lap the shore, smelling sea salty air, feeling warm white sand. My family has been returning to this beach for three generations, now onto our fourth with my own little ladies in tow. 

Surf's up!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Listen

Johanna (left): It's been a wet week here in our parts. It's somewhat unusual for the Yukon (it's usually dry), but I have been enjoying it none the less. 
Regardless of the rain, we still go out for our walks. The dog needs it, and I am realizing, so do I. 
The steady pitter patter on the hood of my rain jacket. I listen to it, like it is music. 
I have learned to slow down my life to a completely easy pace since moving to this little community of ours. I realize that stopping and noticing the sound of rain, is not a luxury that 
many people get to experience. While to some, they are too busy to stop and listen to the rain, I find it grounding and peaceful. It reminds me to be present and thankful for the gift of today.

Sarah (right(: It comes in different than any other time of year. Summer rain hits my window pane hard and fast, without warning, a rapid staccato against glass. Sometimes when I'm sleeping, I stir when I hear nature's best white noise machine, a steady, heavy rainfall. We routinely have the windows cracked open, so when the rush of summer rain commences, we all take pause. We listen. Sometimes there is thunder rolling violently behind the clouds, and we all pretend we're scared so we can cuddle under quilts and giggle. Sometimes, when the girls are asleep and I sit by my backyard window writing, a sudden rainfall into the backyard pool is the only thing I hear. I am lulled into a trance by it, a meditation brought on by summer rain.

The well-known poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken ends, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Two women, who became friends via the magic of the Internet, were both living life on roads less traveled by. Circumstance had them both live in Whitehorse for a short time, where they became best friends. Life's map has them currently in differing geographic locations, but their connection and camaraderie continue as they continue on paths of motherhood, friendship, creativity and discovery. The Two Roads Project is our effort to reconnect with each other and our inner artists on a weekly basis, each Friday. (Or thereabouts. We don't always know which day of the week it is).
Johanna writes here. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Secret Pond Adventure Day

One of the best byproducts of living back home is having my girl friends, my lifelong besties, be here to help me raise my girls. It takes a village, oh yes. We are thrilled that our families are here to help us, too. But any girl knows there is no replacing her girl friends.

Today we went on a day trip to a secret pond. It was such an adventure to traverse the route, by car and on foot, to reach our oasis. We were all so excited by the mystery and secrecy. Long gone are my days of getting into night clubs with the right password. Now, I am all about the hush-hush swimming holes. 

We had a picnic, swam, splashed, built sand castles, learned new tricks, laughed, talked and caught up  with each other in a way we aren't often afforded. It was a quintessential summer beach day, and we all agreed we need to make time to return to our hideaway on a regular basis. There was too much goodness floating around for us to pass on.

I was so enthralled watching my girls swim with my friends. They are comfortable with them now, having become familiar with these faces. This goes both ways. I am watching them all learn each other, and have silly fun in a way only little girls and their surrogate aunties can manage. I trust them intrinsically, and am happy to sit back and let them all form their own bonds with my kids, and I with theirs.

We came home tired, smiling, and talking all at once when we came through the door, telling Rich all about our adventures. The girls are all napping now, tuckered out from hours spent in the water. In other words, just the way a little girls should after a well-lived, beautiful summer morning.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pep Talks

Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I'm good enough. I think everyone does.  

It is such a comfort to know it's not just me. That many mothers feel like they don't love their children enough, aren't doing enough, should be more connected, should have it figured out by now. That many other creative types wrestle with issues of inadequacy, that feeling of being a phony, worrying that I'll be sniffed out by aggressive critics. That all marriages have repeating patterns of highs and lows, circulate around the same issues, year after year. When I know these experiences are shared by so many other people, it makes it much easier for me to forgive myself for worrying in the first place.

It's only natural, I figure. And maybe it's necessary to be a little worried once in a while. When I concern myself with wanting to do better, in any arena, then I am challenged to do something. And I love a good challenge.

It's knowing when to try, when to remind myself to be more patient, when to be more kind (to others and myself). And knowing when I am just being self-destructive. Of course I am a good mama, because I approach it with the best intentions, I work hard, and I love fiercely. Of course people are going to disagree with or not like what I write. But limiting what I try and do, or wracking myself with guilt isn't going to get me anywhere. So, how do I know when my thoughts come from a good place or a bad place?

It may sound strange, but I write to myself. I talk to myself like I am my oldest, most trusted friend. I work through issues and worries and neuroses, and complaints by arguing with myself on paper. I lay out my arguments, I get really raw with what I'm feeling, and I step back and ask myself where it's coming from and what I should do with it. Honestly, before I'm done posing the question, I often hear the answer coming. I write that out, too. my answers are often rooted in the same message: do what's right (you always know what that is, if you think about it), do it with love, and cede control of outside influences.

These days, I am pleased to say, my worries are few and my joy is extrapolating by the day. And whenever I need a little pick-me-up, there are smiles to share, music to dance to, stories to read and kitties to pat.

And barbecue-cooked pizza to eat. Al Fresco. With my family. And a glass of wine. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Sun

Sarah (left): Allow me the indulgence of waxing poetic, for a moment. I want to run away with summer. Forget the forbidding cold of winter, pretend there is nothing but the sweet, pervasive smell of fresh flowers, wafting in my open window on a gentle breeze. My senses are alive with the intake of sunscreen smell, cherry popsicle taste, gentle reggae tunes, holding a cold glass of water, observing my world from behind oversized sunglasses. I tell myself there is only now, only this time of year when flip-flops and a maxi dress are suitable attire for any occasion, my golden skin the perfect compliment to every ensemble. My writing comes alive, I devour book after book, and I feel like the most present mother when I take my kids to parks with healthy snacks of fresh fruit in our beach bag. This is me at my best, greedily drinking the marrow from each day's bone, until it is sucked dry and brittle (much like my hair after my daily salt water swim). The sun: I worship at its altar. We rotate around it, getting close as we can this calendar year. I am seeing where its light reaches, in all the nooks and crannies of God's green earth. 

Johanna (right): These are the days where the sun is the highest and strongest in the North. 
For months we barely see the sun, and it is often too cold to go out and take any of it in. But now, right now, in the thick of the summer, I am soaking it all up. 
The sun does funny things up North. I find myself still awake at midnight, looking out at the sky that is just beginning to turn to dusk. But it gives me that energy to keep going. To take it all in.
The warm dry heat on my face as I walk along on my daily walks. The Aspen leaves whispering in the wind. The faint smell of wild roses, labrador tea, moss and spruce.
I cherish it and want to be outside all of the time. 

The well-known poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken ends, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."
Two women, who became friends via the magic of the Internet, were both living life on roads less traveled by. Circumstance had them both live in Whitehorse for a short time, where they became best friends. Life's map has them currently in differing geographic locations, but their connection and camaraderie continue as they continue on paths of motherhood, friendship, creativity and discovery. The Two Roads Project is our effort to reconnect with each other and our inner artists on a weekly basis, each Friday. (Or thereabouts. We don't always know which day of the week it is).
Johanna writes here.  
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