Sunday, May 1, 2016

Good Food In

A funny thing can happen when a woman turns 30. By funny I mean, a big-time bummer wake-up call that the metabolism once enjoyed during the folly of youth can no longer be counted upon. Yeah, hilarious. I have always enjoyed a slim physique, and an input-use-output system that allowed me to gluttonously imbibe in as much food as I'd like without much accumulation in the badonk.

Then, 30. Or, the sad truth of reality catching up with me. To be fair, I have typically always eaten a pretty healthy and inclusive diet, and kept active through running and yoga. Every winter, I gain a bit of hibernation weight as my running slows down and my comfort food dishes increase. This year, however, the weight didn't shake right off when I started race training again. What gives, body?

Well, what gives is the fun is over. Another newly 30 friend of mine has been making great strides, totally overhauling her family's diet, and it has inspired me. The subsequent health improvements her family has experienced are considerable. I have been giving more thought lately to what I am eating, making a more concerted effort to eat better quality food and less junky stuff. Honestly, I initially just want to lose the extra weight, but as I reflected and got real, I knew I also wanted to feel better. Less tired, less hangry between meals, less dependent on sugar to fill me up.

I have been cutting sugar. I even felt myself detoxing from it, which shows me how much I was eating. I think I have passed the initial threshold of craving it, and have become used to not starting my day with sugar in my tea. Being more conscious of what I'm eating has also become a kind of deeper meditation for me on what I'm putting into my body, what I'm feeding my family, and what I want my food dollars to do, limited as they are.

I have written before about our choice to buy ethical* meat from both a small hobby farm and a delivery company specializing in humane animal treatment. This matters to us. Vegan and vegetarian diets aren't for us (after much consideration and a brief stint years ago), but buying non-factory farmed meat is our way of voting with our dollars while ensuring good quality food is on our plates. (And, really, it tastes so much better. Have you ever had bacon from a happy pig? It's ah-mazing). We do what we can.

Food and nutrient guru Michael Pollan's simple credo that I am trying to follow is, "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." Eat food meaning, real whole food and not processed stuff. I also try to choose local food at the market (in season) or the grocery store during cold months. This can be hard, denying ourselves the $14 table grapes from Chile in February, but eating seasonally makes things taste so much better when we do get to eat them. I have read a lot about nutrition over the years, especially as a mama, and I count myself extremely lucky to live in conditions that allow me the luxury of this accumulated knowledge. I have the time to read up, the money to buy groceries (albeit, our budget is tight), and an education that taught me to think critically before evaluating a report's merit.

All this to say, I'm still waiting for my winter weight to slowly come off, but in the meantime, I am feeling more alert, becoming more creative in the kitchen, and preparing snack foods that are protein and energy-rich to curb my hangries (I tend to be hypoglycemic). My palate has become less dependent on sweet sugar and more receptive to a wider array of flavours, though I can't say the same yet for the girls, who regularly turn their noses up at mom's new vegetable experiments. Sigh. I'll give them time and keep trying.

*Ethical, to us, meaning small scale farms that treat animals humanely and not as food sources. Our pork, chicken and beef are all pasture-raised, hormone and filler-free, and lead happy lives. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Every morning when I go downstairs to begin the day, a new item awaits my attention. The seedlings we planted have all sprouted their first leaves and wait for their turn to be watered. I pour milk for the girls, lemon water for myself. I move down an assembly line of little heads, tying ponytails, weaving braids. Then, before I start making breakfast, I fill the measuring cup to water the plants. Almost every morning, I pause. I consider these plants. I think back to the tiny seeds we planted mere days ago, and marvel at what they have become. Magic.

Not magic, I know. The seed cycle. Abby learned about it in kindergarten. But what happens between the part when the seed is planted, the soil is watered, and the first sprout appears above the surface? What mystery is happening that our eyes are not privileged to witness? The same thing happening in the blue eggs up in the nest down the street. The same thing happening in the cow's belly as she prepares to calve. Life is starting all around us, behind the curtains, and whatever magic happens there, we can only imagine.

Doesn't this look like a guy with his hands up?

Sometimes, this ritual reflection on seeds prompts me to notice creative magic happening all around me. Channelling through my girls hands, through the crayons, and onto their paper, creativity leads to elaborate scenes with amazing details, drawn out for us to see. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be the conduit, sweeping the residual debris from my imagination's dusty attic so that creativity can move through me and out into existence.

Whatever you call it, that creative force, there's no denying its abundance in spring. Having lain dormant through winter, or dry spells, or other stagnation, the inherent creation of new life, new ideas, new projects is palpable all around us. Advertisers try to capitalize on this energy with sales on DIY supplies for home improvement projects. Workplaces begin to ask employees to identify summer leave plans, and travel ideas take root in our minds. At the same time of year we dust cobwebs from around our front door frames, we clean our own stale detritus, at least those of us who answer the call to create.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

April Enraptures

Caught up in the dramatic flair of April, I am enraptured by her manic weather. Whereas a couple of weeks ago I was hibernating, building a fire, pouting and sliding the kids into snow pants, today we wore sleeveless shirts and sunscreen for a day at the beach. I felt a little looney, but happy to run down the waterfront with a flock of seagulls and a trail of little girls, sand kicking up from under our fast-moving feet. We collapsed back at our spot, marked by a blue blanket. They dumped their bag of sand toys and began building cities; I sat in thought and gave thanks for the goodness of a mid-April day spent riverside.

Petrie Island's beach will be groomed as the city prepares for an onslaught of summertime beach goers, but today, the shores were still resplendent in treasures leftover from the ice break. The girls had fun with water-worn sticks, bird feathers and rocks. The warm sun, the empty beach and the never-worn sandals on our feet made me imagine we'd been plucked from one season and released here with the blink of an eye. We didn't question the mystery of how, we just got down to business soaking the marrow out of this first beach day. Carpe diem

"April hath put a spirit of youth in everything." - Shakespeare. 

Cheers to spring! Shooters for breakfast! I have been making myself smoothies for breakfast and giving the girls shots glasses of the leftovers. With spring comes the end of hibernation and, for me, a renewed focus on putting better food in, exerting more effort out, and feeling my energy level rise alongside the plants in my garden trays. With longer, warmer days comes an invitation for adventure, and I want to be able to keep up! [ETA: smoothies are spinach, pumpkin seeds, chia, honey, ginger, frozen mango, Greek yogurt and water]

Monday, April 18, 2016

Springtime Love

I have been feeling so alive lately. Blood pumping through my legs, air in my lungs on long Sunday morning runs. Sunshine on my skin as I help take the bikes and ride on toys out of storage. And the visual stimulus of so many tiny green buds on my countertop as I watch chickadees land at our bird feeder. Ah, Spring. I am happily enraptured by Mother Nature's fickle mood swings. Bring on the upswing of her manic depressive season!

We went to all our favourite parks in those first few warm days. The girls reacquainted themselves with the best climbing walls, the old tree fort that had been destroyed (time to build a new one!), and double check that, yup, they can still do all the same cool tricks they remember from last year.

The girls helped plant our seeds with much more patience and care than I thought them capable. For flowers, we planted heirloom Marigolds, Black-eyed Susans, Moonflowers and Butterfly Weed. For vegetables, we planted two kinds of basil, parsley, sage, spinach, three kinds of tomatoes, all heirloom. I also started some sweet potato sprouts. I'm hopeful that the plants that rested in the garden over winter will turn out okay: raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, chives, garlic and lavender. I love gardening. All the life metaphors about it are true. There is such joy in creating, watching something grow, succumbing to the fates and harvesting our plants as a family.

I am so thankful for spring, a promise fulfilled. Spring, we love you right back.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Poetry Teatime

In a list of concrete things that bring me joy, poetry and tea are quite near the top. Poems were the first medium I employed to express myself through writing. Discovering that I come from a line of women poets made me believe I had inherited a beautiful treasure to protect and explore. I still write poems in my journal, and read my favourite poets work whenever I want to feel inspired. Poems help me to look around and see extraordinary beauty without judgements of worth.

And tea? Don't get me started on tea. Afternoon tea, tea after a cold morning walk, tea after the kids go to bed, there is always a time and occasion to be marked by a good cup in my home. All our family gatherings featured tea time, and still do. The girls are old enough to manage sipping from small cups of rooibos tea (no caffeine for these already hyper ladies), with milk (not too hot, they beg) sweetened with honey.

I am pleased as pie to put my loves together (poems, tea, my girls) for a new afternoon ritual called Poetry Teatime. This isn't my idea, in fact it's a homeschool-started practice to introduce poems to young learners in an easy, enjoyable atmosphere (because poetry has become kind of intimidating and inaccessible, hasn't it?). The idea resonated, though, and my girls have taken to it quite well. 

We light a candle, steep the tea, put out snacks on pretty napkins or plates, set the table and sit to listen to a few poems. Sometimes I use a picture book told in rhyming couplets (a fantastic way to wade into poetry and improve literacy in young kids). Sometimes I read a few poems from a collection. We recently bought a book of well-illustrated, short simple-language poems the girls and I love.

I read them a poem, we talk about what it means, we imagine "what if it happened to us?", and we discuss themes (cold days, the stars in the night sky, etc.) Sometimes we sit and think about them quietly while we finish our snacks and tea. It makes me so happy, to share something I love so much with my girls. Language can take us places, help us express ourselves, and be used to make sense of our world. It is a gift that has made all the difference in my own life. As these girls' mother, it is my gift to pass onto them to use as they will.

Today we read poems about winter, to help us deal with the confusing and rather depressing winter scenes that have been greeting us each morning (did Mother Nature forget it is mid-April?). Before I knew it, the girls were describing how it felt to be out on our morning walk, caught in cold rain-snow drizzle using short descriptive stanzas. I took out a marker and they helped write their first collaborative poem. Robin and Hailey proudly stood up and used their memory and very early letter recognition to decipher the words, reading the poem out loud. I cried happy tears. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Do you ever have dreams about your teeth falling out? I hear they are common, and I've read in bookstore dream analogy guides they signify a life change is coming.

 I can feel the dream now, if I try to imagine it. The feeling that some bone in my mouth has cracked. I slide my tongue along my teeth until it finds one with jagged edges. The slight pressure of my tongue running against it knocks it loose, but not out. I close my mouth protectively, hoping fiercely, desperately that I can keep it in. 

No matter how much I bargain with the fates, I feel it dislodge and fall to the floor my mouth's cavern. Worry tightens my shoulders and converges across my brow. My tooth has fallen out! Suddenly more feel loose, unglued, jagged-edged and my panic rises.
How did this happen? What will my mouth look like? Does anyone notice, can I just keep my mouth closed, full of broken-off teeth?

These dreams are intense, to me. My panic is primal and immature. I never rationalize that I can get dentures or that a trip to the dentist can end my suffering. All my sensations are stuck in the present, frightening moment and I feel wildly out of control.

A big change, I suppose, can make me feel the same way. When a big decision looms, it weighs heavy, doesn't it? It becomes easy to obsess, fixate, play out different variations of the same scenario in my head. One story with a number of alternate endings takes me away and, before I stop myself, I have become carried away with worry, panic, wondering what everyone will think.

These are just thoughts, I'm learning. Not natural responses, but conditioned streams of thoughts formed by years of second-guessing and pop culture self-diagnoses. Habits. In my awake mind, far from the kidnapping sense of dreamworld, I can rationalize, if I try. I can steer clear of ego-driven 'what-if?" scenarios and keep my inner monologue basic. Should I try? Will it hurt anyone? What if I fail? (Ah, but what if I don't?)

I am considering my options, asking myself the big question, "but what do I want to do when I grow up?" Sometimes the possibilities are overwhelming. Sometimes they feel so finite I give in prematurely to disappointment. Mostly I have to talk my ego off the ledge of drama and self-destruction, assuaging its fears (my fears) that mama's here, it'll be okay baby, but you have to trust me. Nobody ever died from a piece of bad writing.

Or maybe I've just been looking at Summer's toothless grin too intently this week.

Monday, April 4, 2016

What's New

This is what my boot room looks like, just inside the front door: six pairs of shoes, five pairs of rubber boots, three pairs of winter boots, three pairs of running shoes, two pairs of work boots, one pair of fancy mama shoes, six rain jackets, five splash pants, two down vests, six spring jackets, two fleece jackets, cubbies still full of hats and mitts and a thin layer of mud, leaves and twigs brought in from our adventures.

This in-between season weather has us guessing every morning. This morning, the wind made the air feel like -22. Later this week, there's 20cm of snow in the forecast. Last week, it was 15 and balmy. What's a mama with a big family to do?

I find myself asking that question a lot lately, to no one in particular. What am I supposed to be doing here? What is required of me right this moment? And, last but not least, what do I want to be doing with this morning, afternoon or evening? With the same gusto that I spring clean, I am re-visiting and re-arranging priorities. Spring feels new. A magic breeze blows in, prompting me to look up exotic vacations I can't afford, plan summer road trips that are months away, begin writing little ditties no one will see and budget for bigger-ticket items I've been dreaming for a while.

There have been big and little new things: new plants and colours on our counter tops, new (to us) sandals for the girls awaiting warmer days, new books bought with Easter gift cards, new dishes being cooked, new rituals introduced. With the ushering in of new, I take a break and have to ask myself, What do I want for my family? What's important here? What matters to me? If I don't, I get carried away in the new and the bigger and the better and that's a recipe for debt, exhaustion and disappointment. No, thank you.

The girls are in new seasons of development, and that means we can go on new adventures we couldn't before, and try new activities together. I am eager to begin, but it requires taking a pause to  keep in mind what each girl can handle before losing interest, or patience. 

Abby can make us all breakfast, and loves to help. She is learning to ride her bike at the moment, on her terms, as always. Hailey can mostly write her name, but is so thirsty to learn the rest of the alphabet, and to keep working on her drawings. Robin has memorized a few books she likes to "read" to us, and wants to learn to do everything Abby can do. Summer has learned how to speak and joke about butts right alongside her sisters, but her little body hasn't quite caught up to what her mind thinks she can do. 

Case in point:

Summer is perpetually covered in bruises and bumps, because she just can't move as fast nor as dexterously as her sisters. Last week, she fell walking down the stairs too fast and cracked a tooth that had to be pulled. Her smile will look like this for the next six years or so, a constant reminder to me that my vigilance can only go so far in keeping them safe. Sigh. 

I guess the first thing I should do to usher in spring is go buy a big box of bandaids to get us started. Adventure awaits!

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