Monday, September 22, 2014

Answering

This time last year, when we were counting down the weeks to move into our Ottawa home, adjusting to life with a new baby, and helping Abby transition into full-day kindergarten, I could not handle juggling any more balls in the air. Pumpkin patches, apple picking, harvest festivals all passed me by, and while I lamented that I was missing out, I took solace in knowing it would all be there next year.  Not a very carpe diem way of approaching things, but we were in survival mode and that calls for a moratorium on all rules, routines and policies.

But what does that mean for us now? This year, we are settled. Back-to-school required minor adjustments, but Abby's expectations were set and met. Summer is growing and sleeps in predictable patterns. Hailey and Robin are content with paper and markers, and equally enthralled with nature hikes, road trips and cupcake treats. Rich has a nice work-life balance, finds time for the things that matter to him, and we both enjoy our show together, neighbourhood jogs and the odd date night thrown in. If I look around me, everyone is content where they are with what they find.

Fall mantle.  But for whom?
Then, there is me. I am content, too, don't get me wrong: bills are getting paid, our bellies are full of food, and we are healthy. But I remember the things we missed last year and feel a pull to do it all. If I list it all off, it sounds absurd: the Carleton University butterfly exhibit, farmer's market last harvest week, apple picking, my own freelance writing projects, a trip to Montreal's Biodome, attending workshops at Ottawa Writer's Festival, a hike in the Gatineaus, the pumpkin patch, helping a pregnant twin mama with meal delivery, visiting friends when they come to town next month, Thanksgiving everything, then Halloween everything.

As you can see, it is all too much. On top of what we already have booked: a race for me in October, a trip for Rich and I in November, Sunday morning gymnastics for Abby, and family dinners for Thanksgiving and my birthday, my existing writing commitments.

Comfort foods
I think I just answered my own question. It is clear that when we have free time as a family on evenings and weekends, we aren't going to do everything. In fact, I know everyone would be happy not doing anything but eating and cuddling at home, like we do. Maybe the occasional walk in the woods or trip to the park. I just have a hard time shaking the nagging voice that says I am not seizing the days, making them exciting, creating long-lasting memories on outings with our girls. But when I step back: am I doing that for them? Or is it maybe more for me? I am answering my own questions again.

Thanks, blog.




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Contrast

I read somewhere, probably somewhere pithy like Pinterest, that black and white pictures are to the creative soul what a novel is without pictures. We see an image, and our imagination takes us the rest of the way. I don't know, it stuck with me. Maybe because I am a defender of novels in a day where reading is qualified as Buzzfeed lists, trending hashtags, and linked articles no longer than 700 words. Or maybe it is just because behind a black and white filter, an image seems to take on more depth, more importance. Suddenly, I can see majesty in something I didn't notice the first time around.


I can see here how Skylar is ageing. I can see how soft and fluffy her fur is, after a morning when I don't think I stopped once to pat her coat or cuddle her squishy body.  I can see depth where I usually see nuisance. 


This fall we have made decisions about how busy we are to be, how intentionally we are to make good use of resources, how much free space we'd like to leave ourselves. For fun, for housework, for impromptu all-doll tea parties and subsequent all-doll sleep sessions on the playroom carpet. I see things moving a lot slower, and when I notice something sweet, telling or otherwise beautiful I remember to take a picture. I frame the shot, smile behind the lens and snap the shutter, committing to both my own memory and the camera card's a moment. I revisit it when I upload it to my laptop, editing shadows and contrasts, light and dark. 


The poet in me is fed and happy. I have found beauty, lyric, symbolism and a story told in a picture I took of a fleeting moment. I have made space and time in my days to do nothing but watch my family be silly. I catch Abby leading Robin by the hand to a corner of the couch to cuddle, just the two of them, unprompted. I see Hailey pick herself up after a fall and choose to smile instead of cry. I see Summer do some cute new leg move and scan the room to meet me eyes, checking to see if I saw her accomplishment. I did. 





Monday, September 15, 2014

Transitory

The weekend rainfall was all the permission I needed to stay in, drink tea, and start making preparations for fall. We tried on hand-me-down shoes, jackets and hats for size, consigned too smalls and extras, put away sleeveless rompers, canned tomatoes, cooked warm comfort foods, meal planned, read by the fire, organized the play room, and donated a whole whack of loved but finished toys. There was very little summer about our days. Swimming is on hiatus until the warmer temperatures subside from the forecast for good. We all put socks on this morning, because the hardwood floors were cold.


I feel like planning. I made fall travel plans, by myself and away with Rich. I purged a bunch of stuff to make our house flow more efficiently when the cold weather comes and we spend more time indoors. I gave the fireplace a test run and thoroughly enjoyed the smell of burning firewood that permeated the main floor, drifting up the stairs to our bedrooms. It felt cozy, and it felt right.  


I take comfort in embracing the transitory nature of autumn. It feels a lot like nesting in preparation for a baby. I laundered and filed seasonally appropriate clothes, moving girls up a size and storing away special baby clothes to save for ... for whom? Nieces or nephews, grand babies, friends' babies to come. I took out quilts to play with and stored away sunscreen and swim goggles. I gathered root vegetables and the last of the tomatoes to turn into something warm and nourishing in our bellies. 



It feels very primal. My biology can sense the impending cold months, and experience has taught me how best to prepare for what's ahead. Fall is something to celebrate, and that reminds me to keep one foot in the present while the other is in a Sorel snow boot, somewhere in December. I am enjoying walks outside, putting knitted hats and woollen slippers on Summer. I wrap Hailey and Robin in our outdoor blanket in the stroller while we walk Abby to school. We crunch leaves, gather fallen acorns,  and avoid the bees making frenzied, last-minute rushes for the flowers.
 

Anyone with an Instagram account knows how accessible autumn's beauty is. The show-off leaves blow about, and scurrying animals add movement to the pictures. In our house, there is baking to be smelled and then enjoyed once it cools, slow acoustic guitar music in the background, dark spices added to our breakfast oatmeal to warm us from the inside. I mourn the loss of summertime, my quickly-fading suntan and afternoons reading in my floatie chair. Sweaters, chai tea and walks in the woods make for a pretty good consolation prize.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Your own curiosity

I know I may be going a bit overboard in my fandom of Elizabeth Gilbert, but I cannot apologize for the resonance I feel in her shared wisdom. I just feel a pull on a thread, the other end of which much attach to her pen. I have found particular wisdom and encouragement from her in application to my writing, and what the craft means to me. She explains very well the reasons it is not just a hobby or interest, but a spiritual practice. I often don't know what I feel about a certain issue until I write about it, privately in my journals or publicly in this space.

She is travelling with Oprah on a speaking tour, and shared a video this week that inspired me. She talks about how difficult it is to follow one's passion, when it is unclear what that passion is. I know so many people in my generation who are bred to follow their dreams, without really giving us permission to not know what those are. You don't need to backpack Europe after university to find yourself. You also don't need to travel around the world after a divorce in order to be whole again (though it worked for Liz).

I know my passion is writing, but aside from that practice, I have wondered before what to write about, what to chase, and into what should I invest my time. The answer isn't to get hung up on what our passions might be, but, simply, what piques our curiosity.

Each day, each hour, that could be something different. It could lead nowhere, it could lead exactly where you need to go. Today, for instance, I am curious about how my book is going to end. I am about a hundred pages out, so I plan to sit here beside the dog, with my cup of chai and find out what happens to Theodore decker in The Goldfinch.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/10/elizabeth-gilbert-advice-passion-oprah-tour_n_5793468.html

Follow your curiosity.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Feeding Time

This time of year, I always feel a pull to clamp down on finances. As CFO of our household, September brings a confrontation with the realities of school-associated costs, fall activities, saving for the holidays and managing expenses. We have made end's meet with Rich's salary, supplementing with my freelancing work, baby bonuses from Stephen Harper and money owed to us from the government after our move last year. We have also made plans to take our first ever vacation as a couple, and have plans to have our van paid off by the end of the year. As the reality of cost-cutting sets in, we begin to make decisions about how best to spend our money, where fall our priorities, and what gets put on the chopping block.


One priority we are both on board with is food. After our mortgage, we spend the next highest amount per month on groceries, including the occasional date night at a restaurant, or take-out pizza. Last year we bought a quarter beef, (butchered, wrapped and frozen) from a friend who lives on a hobby beef farm in the Ottawa Valley.  This meat lasted almost a full year, and was hormone-free, from grass-fed beef who lived happy cow lives. This made me feel good, especially on days when I maybe wasn't my best self as a mama and wife. At least, I could justify, I was serving my family quality ground beef burritos for dinner, even if I served it with a huff. 


This week, the three little girls and I went to visit my friend on her farm. We had a great catch-up, a hearty lunch, and I loved watching my girls explore. My friend keeps laying hens, who roam free and are absolutely hilarious. We were sent home with two dozen eggs and they are deeply-coloured, fresh and delicious. We also greeted the cows, who liked following us along the backyard fence, though they too were free to roam around vast acres of grass-covered pasture. 


We put in another order for beef, once these cows are taken to slaughter, hung, and butchered later this fall. If you're asking: No, this doesn't make me sad. Seeing how peaceful it is at the farm, how cared for and appreciated the cows are in their lives, I am relieved that the meat I purchase to feed my family supports this type of agriculture. My friend doesn't sell her beef to the public, but if you're looking for another source, I Google'd "Ottawa beef" and found a number of leads. 


We also agreed to buy Ontario-farmed chicken and pork from a farm wholesale company, Nutrafarms, Inc. They met our needs where we wanted to fill our freezer with hormone-free, antibiotic-free meat from animal-friendly farms. Many local farmers I found sold chickens whole, and we rarely eat them roasted this way. Nutrafarms sold us chicken breasts, drumsticks, pub-style chicken strips, ground meat and a few whole, from a farm in Niagara. We also selected pork hot dogs, ribs, roasts, hams, sausages and bacon from a farm in Sarnia. We were happy to see the animals are raised humanely, using traditional farming practices. We have had our shipment delivered, our freezer is full and after sampling their bacon and making pulled pork from a shoulder roast, I don't know if I can ever go back to grocery store pork.


When buying bulk meat, the initial price tag is a tough pill to swallow, at least for us. I spent a lot of time looking at our monthly budgets from the past year, and when I subtract what we spent on meat, our weekly grocery bill goes down substantially. The upfront costs should be justified, at least that is the hope. For now, our freezer is full, our weekly grocery bill is dramatically slashed, and I can feel good about supporting friendly farming practices. In terms of our budget, this is all good news. Now, I plan our meals not around what meat is on sale in the flyer, but what we have in our freezer already. I know I have to make it last, so once or twice a week we have a meat-free dish, like tonight's quiche (from the farm eggs, yum!). 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Learning as Sisters

Now our mornings don't include Abby. It's a little sad to me; I miss her when she's away. Each morning after dropping her off, the little girls and I walk Skylar in a loop around our neighbourhood that takes us home alongside Abby's school playground. Her class stays outside playing, most mornings, after the bell has sounded. I love this time. We approach her from the opposite side of the chain link fence, and I see her before she sees me. I watch her run, climb the tree, pretend she's dead (it's a weird game she's been playing with her friends lately) and laugh. I see she is happy and comfortable and thriving.


When we return home, Summer begins to get cranky for her nap. I drop her off in the land of nod, go back downstairs and then begin to have fun with Hailey and Robin. I love this time of the day, too. It is just us three. I usually make a French Vanilla latte (lately, in my novelty Anne Taintor mug) while the girls colour a picture. This is where I gauge what kind of mood each girl is in. Next is whatever we want to do: Go outside, finger paint, make bread, dance, do really short yoga sequences, watch Sesame Street, face paint, anything! The world is our oyster for a couple of hours, and it is becoming such a gift to devote this time to getting to know them better. 


As much as I might miss Abby's presence, I can see these girls really bloom. Without their big sister to direct the play, boss them around, or talk a mile a minute over top of them, they are slowly unfolding layers of themselves in a reversal of beautiful, intricate origami. 

Check out what this mama does with her daughter's scribbles!
I am learning how to interpret their twin language, and trying to encourage their use of actual words.  They are patient teachers, and tolerant students. I have caught them grabbing each other's hand a few times, and my heart just melts. I am trying to make more small efforts, here and there, to do things with each girl individually, because I can see that is beginning to be important. They are usually fine with being the one to say goodbye, but the poor girl left at home usually needs a quick distraction in the form of a sweet to get over the sadness of it being not her turn out with mama. We go on quick trips to the store or mailbox, something out and away from the house, so no interloping sisters can intrude on our special time together.


Hailey and Robin are becoming such joyful sisters, both big and little. They listen to Abby's every command, playing dress up or tag or zoo. They try to sneak into her room every chance they get, and the first thing they do in the morning when I greet them is ask, "Where's Abby?" When Summer wakes up from morning nap, they get right to colluding together to entertain my littlest lady. They sing to her, read books as best they can, chase her, put things on her head, and show her exactly what they want her to do, by physical force. The sisterly bonds forming in this house are too cute to handle.


Friday, September 5, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Comfort


Sarah (left): What brings me comfort? Warmth, familiarity, ritual. As the season turns and I begin to look ahead to a time of preparation, I return to some traditions of comfort. As I noticed the first inklings of cooler nights and crisp mornings, I have slowly begun welcoming warm comfort foods back into our meal rotation. This week, Abby suggested we use some of our tomatoes to make Johanna's famous tomato soup. I jumped at the chance to use some of our garden bounty, and we had a jar of homemade chicken broth in the fridge waiting for just such an occasion. Abby helped me pick some ripe tomatoes, and that evening I blanched, peeled and crushed them for the soup. I picked some basil from our plants, and spent a quiet evening listening to a podcast of CBC's Tapestry while I diced onion, crushed garlic and stirred simmering soup. The next day at lunch, we made some grilled cheese sandwiches, and poured everyone a bowl of soup. I think it was the first time the twins had ever been served soup, as the idea of the mess daunted me last winter! Rich enjoyed his in a stone chowder mug I picked up for him in Maine, because he likes best to sip his soup. Abby, of course, informed me she didn't care for tomatoes and didn't want any, but she relinquished eventually, tried some, and finished her bowl. Hmm.

Johanna (right): With Noah now in school for the afternoons, Katia and I get to spend some special time together, just the two of us. 
Yesterday we tried our hand at a delicious tomato basil bread recipe. 
The scent of the basil (fresh from the garden) as we chopped it up was so delicious. 
The feeling of kneading the dough was comforting and rhythmic. 
The warmth from the oven, the coziness of the kitchen. 
There is something so comforting about homemade bread. 
I used to think that it was one of those impossibly difficult things to make.  But after a few lessons and a very good everyday whole wheat bread recipe thanks to Sarah, we now enjoy homemade bread every week. 

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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