Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Longest Night

Checked off our list: 
- Watched Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and Rudolph
- Baked peppermint fudge, butterscotch marshmallow squares and shortbread
- Hosted annual girls' Christmas dinner
- Wrapped gifts with girls' homemade wrapping paper (aka their painting I re-purposed as wrapping accoutrements)
- Took crying pictures with Santa
- Taught Summer to "Ho-ho-ho"
- Packaged and delivered Christmas hamper to food bank
- Mailed Santa letter
- Wrote and sent Christmas cards

Things are moving along nicely, but not without a few moments. I had to check myself for necessary holiday-related anxiety about the cleanliness levels of my house. When it came to scrub floor versus go to sleep after putting in a 16-hour day, zzz's won. It's silly, really how busy things can get when I stop being mindful for a day or two. 

Today I celebrate the winter solstice. This time last year, things really came to a head for me: I lost some of who I had become, there wasn't much peace, I was letting my anger win out in a sleep-deprive landscape after a year of big changes. I reflected on how dark I felt in this post, and am glad that this year I can accept the quiet and the darkness of the solstice as par for the course. I am purposefully slowing down and scaling back, knowing how important it is to just rest and hibernate with my busy little ladies. I notice them sleeping more, asking to watch movies and snack more often. I honour their requests, and balance it with time outside, letting our cheeks become rosy, our breath trail off as exhaust in the air. 

Downton Abbey Christmas dinner posing
We joined Rich's family at Calabogie for a weekend of winter fun and family togetherness. We took a nice country drive through trees frosted over with ice crystals, right to the tips. We went swimming indoors, and played out in the snow until our noses were running. Hailey learned the hard way what happens when you lick a pole in winter, and the girls opened their gifts from their grandparents. We also took full advantage of the giant soaker tub, fitting five ladies into a growing pile of bubbles in the warm water jets.

Now, I will begin the longest night of the year by heating up a glass of apple cider to sip while I write a little, and then do some slow, deep yin yoga by the glow of the Christmas tree. Namaste.

My view in savasana.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Summer's Hugs

When Summer hugs, she means it. No pretense, no forced awkwardness or resistance. She just tucks in her chin, spreads out her chubby little arms and goes for it. I love that about toddlers. How everything they do is so honest. I know that when she beep-beeps her little caboose back up to sit in my lap, then turns to cuddle in for a hug, it is her way of saying something to me. I hear her, loud and clear, and say it back with a squeeze and a kiss on her soft, wispy head. 

She hugs to say she's sorry, and that happens a lot. She is learning to take that angry feeling in her arms and hands and growl with clenched fists, instead of slapping her sisters. When she doesn't remember to do that, she hugs them, by way of apology. She hugs Skylar, she tries to hug Goober, she hugs visitors to our home and her grandparents and, more recently, her baby dolls and stuffed cats. She is a hugger. 

Her sisters like to cuddle, and hug, but as they develop language and find other ways to share, they rely less on hugs, hitting, and roll-on-the-floor tantrums. For all the loud, the bad, the crazy, there is a lot of love, and it makes me feel so ... I don't know. Accomplished? Proud? When I see these girls love on each other, or run to me for a hug for no reason but to share one, I feel like I am doing what I am meant to be doing. That's how I get paid.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Snapshot: Snowstorm

We are one day into official winter, as my kids know it. Snow has blown in during a blizzard, marking the visual transition from late fall to early winter. I don't really like winter, if I'm being totally frank, but I can get into the excitement of an entirely new landscape covered in snow. The novelty inspires me to do very Yukon things. Like pull Abby to school in a sled over snow drifts, while wearing snow shoes. She thought it was the most hilarious walk to school ever.

I also learned to use the snow blower, since Rich is still recovering. It was fun watching him grimace as I left uneven snow layers in my wake. We built a roaring fire while the snow fell yesterday, but instead of Silent Night and Let it Snow, it was a more chaotic scene with smoke alarms ringing, cranky twins walking into wall corners, and Abby trying to negotiate whether she would have to eat her awful dinner of meatloaf and spaghetti squash. 

That's the snapshot right now: a little December disarray set against the sound of Christmas carols on Songza, smoke alarms, and crying. Or, you can shift your gaze to the tableaux I prefer to remember from the first snowstorm of the season: Cuddles on the couch, wrapped in wool blankets, using Skylar and Daddy for warmth, watching a Christmas movie before dinnertime, fire crackling, and everyone caught in a rare moment of peaceful quiet, little inhales and exhales around the room.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Getting Zen with Skylar

“Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.” - Shunryu Suzuki

I could stand to learn a thing or two from our retriever, Skylar. As I read more about Zen, and try to apply Buddhist precepts of mindfulness, honesty, clarity and selflessness to my life, I realize I have a pretty good role model, down around knee-height. Skylar has been quietly Zen-ing around since we brought her into our family as a puppy, seven years ago. Here are some ways I have been trying to apply a more Zen-like perspective, with notes about how Skylar is way ahead of me.

1. Do one thing at a time. I am a multi-tasking maven, perhaps to my detriment. I have been making dinner while listening to a fave podcast while researching photo printing services, answering phone calls, and doing posture exercises. When Skylar does anything (goes for a walk, eats her meals, begs for a head scratch) she only does that thing. She focuses intently and is very clearly present.
2. Make it slow and deliberate. Skylar does nearly everything deliberately. That is to say, she is not absentminded-ly watching the squirrel run across our lawn, she is completely encompassed by one sole activity.
3. Do it completely. Skylar doesn't half-ass anything. It's all or nothing, in one shot. I, on the other hand, frequently start things, interrupt them with other demands, and forget to put away the thing from three things ago, leaving a pileup. I would like to practice this, but have a feeling the demands of three attention-deficit toddlers will impede this practice for the foreseeable future.

4. Develop rituals. Now, I am pretty regimented, but what the Zen monks mean is that everything of importance deserves a ritual, completed with 100% focus. I don't think Skylar prays before meals or sets an intention before licking Summer's face. I can tell you, though, that her biology is hardwired to anticipate certain things happening at specific times in the day. When they don't happen according to her instincts, she is relentless. Just try forgetting her 11:30 am dentastick treat. She makes time for what is important, and I must learn to do this, too. On both of our lists is a daily walk, and I am usually happy to fulfill our shared need for this ritual.
5. Devote time to sitting. I don't know if what Skylar does when she's curled up next to me on the couch is meditating, but that is one of life's greatest mysteries, (at least one of my life's greatest mysteries. What do dogs think about?). I have been committed to a daily meditation practice lately, and have noticed it helps me be more accountable, present, and deliberate in my day. Skylar does a lot of sitting and is impeccably present. I have a lot to learn.

6. Smile and serve others. So much of Skylar's existence is geared towards pleasing us, which is really quite touching and humbling, when I think about this. This practice ensures one's life is not selfish in focus, but makes a positive impact on others' as well. Parenting has been a pretty good crash-course in servitude for me, but doing it Skylar-style, selflessly and with joy, is something I need to work on. 
7. Live simply. Skylar is the epitome of living simply. Her greatest joys come from belly rubs, walks, and dinner scraps left in her dish. Anything else is icing on the cake. Anything less is fine, too. Skylar does not need to have possessions. She benefits from shelter, food and water, and medicine, but does not need jewel-encrusted collars or designer chew toys. She likes the sticks she finds in the woods, uses them, and then forgets about them as soon as they are discarded. She knows the value of intangible love and loyalty.

The added benefit to having a living Zen master in the house is that I have a constant reminder and role model in my quest to live a more mindful life. She might get underfoot sometimes, and can annoy visitors with her ceaseless joy-groans, but perhaps this is just another layer of her mentorship: teaching me to live with inconveniences, to let them go with a deep exhale.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Boys From the Men

I usually shy from using figures of speech containing outdated gender stereotypes, but in this case, I'll make an exception. These first few weeks of winter weather, they serve an overarching purpose: to separate the boys from the men. The plummeting temps force us to put our money where our mouths are and man up. Full disclosure: I am not running through the winter. It sucks, it's cold, it's slippery, and I figure I'll get some cardio in walking the girls to and from school.

Which brings me to manning up: I committed us to being a walking family, and that's what we're going to do. Rain or shine, -30 or +30, we're walking to school. Today was the first bitterly cold day and I was really proud of how Abby and the girls cowboyed up, donned their layers and got out the door before I did. 

Reward: Lukewarm tea in the mugs my siblings and I sipped from growing up. Playing in front of the fireplace to warm cold toes and noses. Stocking up on Kleenex to handle to snotcicle factor.

These days are forbiddingly cold and mean that we can't spend our mornings at the park or the river like in the warmer days. We can still make time to explore our landscape in its new winter coat, but shorter intervals, to be sure. Otherwise, we are retreating into our homemade den and getting our arts and crafts on.

Our location is in close proximity to grocery, auto repair, drug store, restaurants, tons. Since moving here and settling in, it became really important to me to transport myself on foot when possible. Not when convenient and comfortable, but when possible.  Freezing temperatures separate the boys from the men. So, I am layering up and walking out the door: to pick up the van at the service garage, to get the groceries, to deliver Christmas cards. I might get cold, but I am enjoying traipsing around my hood on foot. Especially when I have a roaring fire waiting for me at home.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

In the middle

I can understand the nerves that become frayed as holidays ramp up. There is a strange conflict wherein dark days and cold wind call us to cuddle up inside, but the holiday season asks us to come to be busy and socialize. I really am looking forward to holidays parties, getting dressed up in fancy outfits, sharing big family dinners, making Christmas crafts and baking with the girls. I am also feeling called to honour the upcoming solstice and the quietness inside me with more introspective pursuits. 

I feel both tugs, and as I go back and forth between amped-up business and jazz-jello coolness, I am reminded of a Buddhist concept, the Middle Way. This accepts the truth of extremes and urges followers to carve out a healthy balance down the middle. (Though, traditionally this means the middle way between everything, where there lies a divine emptiness). There is always a middle way, and if I squint, I can discern it among all the demands this season brings.

We're starting the season slow here, as we nurse our poor papa bear to health. He underwent wrist surgery to repair torn ligaments and is to be resting while it heals. I am enjoying having him here to share my days, but respecting that he is a patient, and not a participant. This allows me to have adult-calibre conversations while still attending to my nose-wiping, Crayola paint-supervising duties. I'm a lucky lady.

I am happily planning baking afternoons over the holidays season, mostly to share with others, (but a few to indulge my girls). I am writing out our Christmas cards, planning ways to include lessons in giving to our little ladies, meal planning for special events and setting priorities for gift-giving, so our budgets and our intentions for meaningful, simple gifts don't run away from us. Less is more.

I am hoping that if everyone else feels something similar, a push-and-pull to diametrically opposed moods, that we can all be kind to each other as we strike those balances. Setting boundaries and honouring the right decisions can be difficult, and we could all use a little encouragement. In the end, while I may feel an aversion to mall crowds, party schedules and commercialism, I realize those problems are so silly. I would do much better to bear in mind those who are suffering, especially those in my own life, and instead think of ways to shine a little light for them.

Steel drums being played outside the straw market in Nassau. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


It was such a relief to know our girls were well taken care of while we gallivanted up and down the beach. I was also devilishly happy to hear we missed the first dumping of snow. 

Since we've been home, the girls have had a chance to acquaint themselves with our rules and routines. It seems the gift of having grandparents stay with them for a week was taken full advantage of by these little con artists. They worked their grandparents over for all they could. Can you blame them?

In addition to the fine white sand and a couple bottles of island rum, I brought a few more things back with me. Immeasurable and intangible, but very real souvenirs from time away from my world: patience, a renewed promise to parent with grace, excitement when I notice Rich's smile, and a piece of paper on which I wrote Thich Naht Han's prescription to "smile, breathe and go slow." I did some deep work on myself, in the quiet distance from the everyday businesses at home. Now comes the work of applying it.

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