Monday, October 20, 2014

The Great Grilled Cheese Party of 2014

We were talking about our last meals, my friends and I, and what we would carefully select. Thanksgiving supper was popular, as was farmer's breakfast (eggs, hash browns, meat and toast). Me? I'd take a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches and some tomato soup. I'm not on death row, thankfully, so on the occasion of celebrating my birth this past weekend, my friends came over for a monumental feast: An event henceforth knows as Grilled Cheese Party 2014.

Gourmet grilled cheese shops and food trucks have been popping up in most major cities, and pinterest is full of recipes that leave me salivating for days afterwards. I am all about making dreams come true, so rather than have a party outside of a food truck on a cold October night while I paid a babysitter, we brought the party into our house. Each invitee was asked to bring prepared ingredients to make six sandwiches. The response to my invitation was immediate and enthusiastic.

I don't think anyone was able to try each type of sandwich, there were so many varieties. My favourite was Kaylee's Swiss-gouda, avocado and Sriracha sauce grilled cheese. My contribution was strawberries, goat cheese, fresh basil and red pepper jelly grilled cheese. There were other delicious concoctions featuring brie, prosciutto, tomatoes, pears, one with homemade macaroni, cream cheese, oh nom nom nom it was a grilled cheese lover's paradise. I couldn't give the leftovers away at the end of the night, everyone was so full. But now, a few days later, I already miss Grilled Cheese Party 2014 and want another one.

So, what do you need to recreate this genius yourself? We had two griddles going at a time. Each held six sandwiches, so while some friends prepared their creations on the counter tops, others were grilling sandwiches before bringing them to the dining table in a swift carousel of dairy goodness. We  had everyone bring their own bread, as some sandwiches required specific types, but we had room temperature butter at the ready by party time. Between 25 (ish) of us, we went through three sticks of butter. Other than that, all you need are plates, flippers, napkins, wine, beer and the best of friends. Lucky me, I had all of those things on-hand!

I smiled so hard it hurt, ate so much grilled cheese I was ready to explode, did the splits after drinking lots of wine, and hugged all of my friends in one epic night. Lucky, lucky me. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Loving the Long Weekend

For four glorious mornings, I woke up slowly, lazily, whenever the first of the kid squawks sounded from down the hall. Thanksgiving long weekend. Alleluia. Can I just say how amazing it is to live in a time and country where a whole national holiday exists that is dedicated solely to gratitude? I can think of no better remedy for any of life's bummers than practicing gratitude. Even in small doses, reframing an issue to include that for which we are grateful can help transform a problem. This weekend, I was most immediately thankful for slow mornings without time lines.

Around our dining table at Thanksgiving dinner, Abby told us she was most thankful for her family. Bless her. I could also see how thrilled she was to be allowed to wear her new "clip clop" shoes for dinner. 

Hailey told us she was thankful for her fork. 

I took some time to really be thankful for Hailey and Robin this weekend. So often, I am preoccupied with settling their quarrels and cleaning their messes that I forget to sit and watch them be little miracles. They are. I forget how they transformed me when they were born, how they gave me patience and renewed hope. It easy for me to cherish time with Summer, my last baby, and to experience all my parenting firsts with Abby, which require my careful thought. Hailey and Robin at two years old play with each other all the time and, consequently, often get forgotten. I admit, I take their health, good behaviour and presence for granted sometimes. When I am up to my eyeballs in tasks, I forget to stop and see them as they are. 

We took things slow this weekend, and still managed to get a lot done, together. We painted our master bedroom, baked desserts, buns and side dishes for Thanksgiving dinners, visited the in-laws' cottage, and took many walks in unseasonably warm weather. In fact, the older girls and I found a new trail that circles an inlet, a beaver dam and several climbing trees. I can't wait to return this week, so we can enjoy the autumn season in all its colourful beauty. 

Calling frogs
I made time to finish off an article due today, meet with my cross-country best friend for a late night tea, go for a run, hike with Rich (by ourselves!), watch SNL and listen to some new podcasts while I painted and taped our bedroom. There was an excellent balance of Me Time, Family Time and Outdoor Time. For those things, I feel immense gratitude.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On the Road

I was taken this week with the idea that I am on a really important spiritual journey. I have always dreamed about the day when my kids were independent enough for me to leave for a bit, so I could make a pilgrimage to India and really get to work investigating the contents of my soul. Me, some light linen clothing, an ashram of some sort, and a search for enlightenment. My years of yoga practice and amateur meditation work would be my path to becoming an official student of whatever quasi-Zen, spiritual, mystic following to which I devote myself.

And maybe I will. Future Sarah might just pack up and do that one day. In the meantime, though, I am coming to understand that I am by no means biding my time until I can truly seek, pray, practice and learn. Indeed, it is probably much simpler a task to live devoted to spiritual enlightenment when one has no other responsibilities. I don't imagine many of those serene-smiling monks go home at the end of the day to cook dinner, clean bathrooms, raise four unruly little girls and make time for their marriage. 

Nope, it's all here in the nitty gritty. My spiritual practice is in the choice to yell at Robin out of my own frustration that it cost $400 to fix the dryer, or to speak to her with calmness when reminding her not to push Summer. I am on a serious spiritual quest each time I wake up and prepare to spend a day nurturing these four little beings under my charge. There is much to practice, and I am always learning.

Princess Abby and Princess Mama
I have no idea what kind of ripple effect I may cause as I move through the world around me, so I might as well take the time to smile at the crossing guard lady and say good morning, genuinely. And pat the unruly dog that comes barreling towards me at the park rather than give the owner a dirty look. I might as well make the choice to be engaging and cheerful with the grocery store cashier who obviously wants to chat a bit before processing my purchase. Maybe later, when I'm struggling to make sense of my existence in the heat of rural India, I will have all these experiences of working hard to choose good, grace, kindness and patience upon which to draw.

Applesauce cooling
I may have to wait years, save money, and keep dreaming about a pilgrimage, but as for the journey? I am totally seeking truth right now. I am finding opportunities every day to work at my spiritual practice, to make something of my studies and learn from the great teachers all around me. Remaining calm when faced with some of the gritty, rotten parts of motherhood requires a great well of self-control, and a continually widening perspective of why calmness is important. 

It is easy to lash out, to yell, to sigh dramatically and stomp around. Sometimes, I take the easy way out. Before the guilt creeps in, though, I recognize that I am presented, again, with another chance to try and work on being patient. I've heard from those who have gone before me that patience is really a lifelong lesson to be learned, so I may as well get down to work. I am constantly presented with choices that lead me through a web, one that becomes more simple the further in I venture. Do what's right. Don't yell. Choose love. Be gracious. Simple, simple adages that are always works in progress.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Butterfly Morning

My little Robin, from her earliest days, has been a quiet poet. She would wake up before Hailey, as a baby, be happily lifted from her crib into my arms, and look out the window for a long while at the sun rising over the mountains. As she has grown, she has continued to show me that she is always watching, taking in her surroundings with a keen eye. I see what catches her attention; it is the beautiful things. A flower blowing in the breeze, a colourful earring dangling from someone's ear, a canopy of trees overhead. 

I have been making more efforts to go on adventures with the girls one-on-one. This past weekend, I brought Robin out on a rainy morning for a donut at Timmie's and a tour of the biology department's greenhouse at Carleton U, which was hosting a tropical butterfly exhibit. It was free, not too busy when we arrived, and fulfilled its advertised promises of colourful butterflies landing all around us. I was so happy that I could bring my little Robin to such a beautiful, engaging activity. 

Of all my girls, I knew she would like it the best, so we went just us two. She tried holding an orange quarter with a butterfly perched on top, but she quickly grew nervous and dropped it. She told me she preferred to look and not touch, so that's what we did.  

We acted as though we were the only two there. I hoisted her up in my arms to get a better view, and together we watched colourful butterflies flutter and land all around us. I watched her delicate hand extend to point out a butterfly quietly eating flower nectar, and met her gaze when she looked at me with amazement. It was a moment I hope I never forget.

We didn't talk a lot, and I knew she wouldn't want to. It wasn't a morning to quiz her, or encourage her to work on her speech. We observed, we found beauty, we shared looks of wonder. We turned our heads up to see the busy cloud of fluttering wings darting around the ceiling, captivated by the flashes of colour.

A butterfly was passed onto my hands, so I squatted down to bring it close to her. She stepped back, hesitant in case is flew anywhere near her face, but stood close enough to see its antennae, its legs, its slowly opening and closing wings. For a moment, I saw the essence of childlike wonder erupt over her face, evidenced by her shy smile.

It was only a morning, but without anyone else to detract from our moments together, I felt like I learned so much about my younger twin girl. My hope was that she would feel special, attended to, and worthy of my undivided attention. I think she did, as much as I can gather from her limited speech. What I know for sure is that I have a very deep soul in my Robin, and I am the lucky one for being chosen to mother her beautiful little spirit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Outside my window … I hear dried leaves flowing down the street.

I am thinking … I have to hammer this post out so I can make time for a quick half hour of yoga before bed. And I hope that row of Pepperidge Farms Monaco cookies I just ate doesn't do funny things to my digestive system whilst I am yoga-ing. 

I am thankful … that I remembered to get cookies while grocery shopping. Otherwise, it such a bummer to come home from getting groceries with no yummy treats for mama.

I am wearing … a vintage T-shirt, my fave jeans

I am creating … a daily writing plan. I am getting serious about my writing, but this means different things on different days. Some days I want to write free-flow style. Other days I want to tackle more meat in my short stories. Sometimes I have deadlines for freelance stories that I need to write, do interviews for or do background research.

I am going … to take Robin on a special mama-Robin date this weekend.

I am wondering … how our applesauce will turn out tomorrow. Trying a new process whereby we keep the peels on, blend them up nice in my super-blender, then cook the mush with cinnamon and lemon juice before we can it.  

I am reading … Dr. Laura’s “In Praise of Stay-At-Home Moms.” I admit I am usually a fan of hers, as polarizing as her views can be. The last few weeks have been long and exhausting, so I opened this old book in search of some encouragement.

I am hoping … that we make the right choices for our family this month. Rich and I are entertaining some new ideas of how to balance our budget and make our earnings go furthest, but that usually involves a bit of risk, a bit of testing new ideas, and those two things frighten me more than they should. (I’m working on that!)

I am learning … that what I am doing every day is good enough, and that all the rest is just the cherry on top.

Around the house … it smells like a mix of campfire and homemade buns.

In the kitchen … I am waging war on fruit flies. They are worse this year than I’ve ever seen.

I am pondering … when to close the pool for the season.

A favorite quote for today: “Just do right.” –Maya Angelou. When I ask myself, “What is the right thing to do?” my heart almost always knows the answer. It’s simple, but it makes me feel a whole lot more honest and genuine about decisions I make.

One of my favorite things … well, other than those cookies, (which don’t exist any more because I ate them), my favourite thing right now is my tinted Burt’s Bees lip gloss. I swear, it takes me from zombie-looking and anemic to radiant and sexy.

A few plans for the week … make applesauce, bake banana bread, get a good distance run in, order in more books at the library, send invoices out and have some more quiet time to myself.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Amidst the Noise

Yes, it is fall, and yes, the outdoors are beautiful right now. I'll leave it to the more poetic minds out there to wax about the season, because they probably don't have loud toddler chatter as distracting background noise. It really makes contemplation and the conjuring of lyrical prose difficult achievements. Suffice it to say, we are enjoying this momentary jolt of warm weather with afternoon swims, airy sun dresses, walks under the canopy of fiery leaves and primal displays of enthusiasm via interpretive dance on our front lawn. Look at that, I can be slightly poetic amidst the cacophony of little girl shrieks. 

Some days I find really easy activities to engage the girls' attention that are both age- and season-appropriate. On those days, the deafening screams of toddler arguments are tuned out by my new favourite frequency: quiet confidence. Today was one such day. (Mondays make for great resolution-setting days, don't they? If I am to declare myself a renewed mama of patience, no yelling, calmness and fun ideas, it might as well be on a Monday.)

We went for a short walk, all the little girls on foot, to a neighbour with a giant pine tree down the street. They collected big, open pine cones in little buckets. At home, we spread a peanut butter-oat mixture all over the pine cones, tied string to the tops, and rolled them in birdseed. This process was messy, involved several reminders not to eat the birdseed (before my resolve was thinned and I just let them eat birdseed), and, the best part: proud little grins. 

It was messy. Many seeds were eaten.
 We all walked out front after lunch in our bare feet to check on our pine cones and see if any birds had found our treats. A squirrel had taken one away, but the rest still hang. I posted Skylar under the tree this afternoon to guard our fir tree from rodent intruders.

My recent decision to pare down our level of busy-ness came in good time. I had forgotten how many needs our home has this time of year. This weekend there was a garden to cut back, logs to pile for firewood, and family dinners to prepare. It felt really productive to perform sweaty, hard work with immediate and visible benefits. Abby helped me finish cutting back the hydrangea and plant some tulip bulbs for next spring. The little girls contributed their pine cone bird feeders, to help our bird neighbours fatten up for winter. Rich helped dig up some ugly, brown-flowering bushes to make way for berry bushes next year.

Dried, chopped and ready to burn
He also transported and piled maple logs from my mom's (former) tree. The maple's roots had been damaged and the tree was dying. I couldn't stand to have that magnificent part of our family's history be turned into sawdust by the arborists, so I asked if we could have the logs for firewood. And maybe some crafty projects. I climbed that tree, carved it, watched my babies sleep under its hypnotizing branches dancing in the wind, posed next to it for pictures, and had my Grama wax its leaves and mail them to me in the Yukon when I was homesick. I remember helping plant that tree in our backyard shortly after moving in. Now all that's left are rings to count in a pile of logs at the side of my house. I'm sure there is some poetic metaphor to be made, but the increasing decibel of singing coming from Hailey and Robin's room has quashed all hope of inspiration.

The remains of our family maple tree

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Two Roads Project: Close-Up

Johanna: (Left) At this age in my life, birthdays start to be less about the hoopla and attention, and more about meaningful connections and introspective thinking. 
Yesterday was my birthday and my big request was for butter chicken (with naan and basmati) and carrot cake for dessert. I woke up to many happy birthdays from Noah and Katia, and enjoyed opening my cards over a delicious breakfast of pumpkin waffles. I received phone calls and was just the right amount of celebration. 
Birthdays have a way of getting me to look at my over all life. How are we doing here? Am I happy right now in my life? Is there anything missing? 
In the New Year we hope to be moving on to a new posting, in a different part of the country. This big change on the horizon gives me hope and excitement, for the new changes that will surely unfold. 
With a big move stewing in the back of my mind, I think about what I want next for myself, for my family, for a home. I know that there are certain things lacking right now that I will want to fill in (a church or spiritual community, extra activities for the kids, more culture), but I also know that there are many beautiful lifestyle attributes (slow living, lots of family time, close connections to nature) that I will want to continue as we move on. 
There is hope and anticipation and possibility. There is the chance to look inward. There is the opportunity for change. And I am looking forward to it all. 

Sarah (right): When I am old and my memory is fading, I hope I remember the intimacy of family. The smell of my babies' fluffy scalps as they rested heavy on my chest. The rough bristles on the nape of Rich's neck as I run my hands over it. The freckles, the sleep noises, the split-second expression I see: things only I notice. I want to remember Hailey and Robin's identical ponytails. Each day they wear their bangs this way, in floppy ponytails tied with impossibly small elastics atop their little heads. The contrast of sun-bleached white hairs against suntanned forehead skin. The wispy, airy feel of hair that has never been cut. The curls at the end, corkscrew tight in the back. These two little heads come running at me and collapse into my lap. I find myself staring down onto these little ponytails as we read another story, cut fingernails, slide on shoes. These are the things I hope flash before my eyes in my life's montage, evoking a powerful feeling of love found in the most minute of places.

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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