Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Outside my window the leafy tree branches dance in a big, wide, slow sway. Back and forth, in time with the tempo the wind sets. Gusts come in, then retreat. Clouds appear where, only a moment ago, there were none. I know this dance, this preparatory performance. A summer storm is coming. It must come. After a week of humid, hot warm days, our atmosphere can only take so much. Pressure builds until the skies erupt in a torrent of big, fat raindrops, powerful winds and then ... the temperature drops. The grasses are cooled. The trees stop swaying, and it passes, making way for another slew of warm days ahead.



I know this summer theatre well. Predictable, understandable, and completely outside my power, so all there is to do is watch it coming and then succumb. We have been blessed with storybook-beautiful summer weather, charmed by such hot-weather indicators as dragonflies and slow-flying birds. We have been rotating between the pool, the park, our colouring books and the kitchen before falling into our needs delirious with exhaustion.


 Our garden is transitioning from "leave it to grow" to required feeding, diligent watering, transplanting, snipping, and harvesting a few early treats. This is our first year growing garlic, so eating the tasty garlic scares this week was an inaugural treat. We have been eating our chives, rhubarb, green onions, spinach and sage. We're still waiting on blueberries, raspberries, basil and tomatoes. With 11 plants, our tomato harvest is promising, but anything can happen. We tend to the plants as best we can and hope the harvest gods will smile upon us.



Garlic scares

Lavender

Abby finishes school this week and then we hit the ground running into summer vacation: Canada Day, reuniting with our east-coast friends, a baptism, my grama's 90th birthday, visits from our American relatives and promises to go to the secret pond. I know we'll need a respite of lazy pool days and slow mornings after all that, and I look forward to those almost as much as our busy adventures. We have a loose list of summer to-do's: a drive to Nova Scotia, cottage visits, the wildlife preserve, a novel study, the movies, sleepovers and eating ice cream for dinner once or twice. Summertime, and the living is easy.


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Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy solstice

Happy solstice! This has been a special day for my family since we've been a family at all. A day to be slow, lift our faces to the sky, feel the sun, and cultivate gratitude for this, the longest day of the year. Since living here, we mark the day by noticing our front pink peonies have bloomed, and going to the strawberry patch to pick buckets full of nature's candy. Truly, there is nothing more sweet than a bursting, red strawberry right off the bush, already hot from sitting under the solstice sun. 

We kept Abby home this morning for a celebratory field trip to the farm with our friends visiting from Australia. This girls are all capable enough this year to make solid contributions to our berry collection pails, so we came home with quite a haul. We'll freeze some, bake some into treats and eat the rest gluttonously.





 We celebrated Father's Day understatedly, just the way he likes it: Greasy spoon breakfast, then send him to his dad's for an afternoon of board games while the girls and I swim the day away and prepare a barbecue feast. It has been humid and hot, the best days to have a backyard pool. Four, sometimes five times a day we all hustle outside and see who will jump in first.


I teach the girls the words to Porgy and Bess' Summertime, hoping that as they grow older and develop their own summertime soundtracks, it might make the cut. Mine also includes Nat King Cole's Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer, the Sesame Street theme, LFO's Summertime Girls and Ace of Base's I Saw the Sign, because it was on repeat summer of 1994, and that was a memorable summer. 



Abby organized and threw a pool party all on her own to celebrate the coming of summer. She wrote out a plan, right down to the peculiar menu of popcorn, cheezies, watermelon and pancakes she made herself. The pancakes were actually a huge hit, so that will teach me not to doubt her authority when it comes to pleasing a crowd of seven-year-old girls. 


I haven't tried it before, but around the world on the summer solstice, many yogis will do 108 suryanamaskars (or sun salutation series). I don't think these little sun children of mine will grant me the time to get through all 108, so I invited a few yogi friends of mine in similar situations to collectively attempt 108 together. So far this afternoon, I'm at three, so I better go hit the mat while the kids are occupied in "quiet time" upstairs!




Friday, June 17, 2016

Restless

I can't discern whether it is turning 30, or being a mother to many young children, or something else entirely, but I have noticed a growing restlessness. An internal fidgeting, quelled by small resolutions and declarations to shake things up a bit. I have been sitting with (wrestling with...) an impetus for change. Everything is going pretty swimmingly around here, I have felt pretty stable and accomplished in recent years, and have started and ended my days with steady peace and satisfaction. I don't believe in jinxing things, but I have been feeling a little bored. And that won't do.


I have always felt responsible for my own happiness, and so in noticing these uneasy feelings taking root and beginning to grow, I have tried a few changes on for size. I cut white sugar from my diet, to see if that change would help me feel better. It has, unsurprisingly, left me feeling more energetic, less bogged down digestively and more even-keeled in the hormone department. I still use food with sugar as an ingredient, like sauces and prepared grains, but when baking or preparing food or choosing a snack, I have been kicking the white stuff. I have also noticed many foods taste sweeter when I can focus on naturally-occurring sugars and tastes. (Above is my tried-and-true fave summer drink: Sun Tea. Add hibiscus tea, lemons, berries and honey to water in a mason jar and let it steep in sunshine all morning. Strain, sip, enjoy). 

Green Goddess dressing on everything, from pasta to grilled veggies
I have also felt pulled to do something new and challenge myself athletically. I am still running regularly, and completed a 10km Mother's Day race, but wondered if I could possibly join the ranks of the long-distance marathoners. Doubt and fear quickly crept in, but I took that as a sign I needed to go for it. I signed up for my first half-marathon run this fall. The training will, I'm sure, be arduous and a big commitment. Mentally, I am afraid I don't have the fortitude nor focus to do it. So, I will try to prove myself wrong. This is 30, after all, and I am the captain of my ship!

Rhubarb custard pie made from our own rhubarb!
So, there are those physical changes, lifestyle game-changers to shake things up a bit. But still, the restlessness implores me to keep seeking. I have always been one to take the path less travelled, if not for the novelty of doing something new than for the rebellion of doing something different. Indeed, I parent my kids to the tune of our own family's unique song, but I know I could use some practice honing in on my own voice. That voice, you know? It gets snuffed and quieted with each article, opinion and news story I read, and before I knew it I had great trouble finding my own voice, my own inner wisdom, underneath the piles of accumulated "research." With beautiful summer days upon us, I have resolved to be offline when I'm with the kids, and stop reading about parenting, balance, life choices all those clickable stories that take up time and space in my head. I need to breathe, slowly and deeply, so that I can hear myself think again.


I am a seeker by nature, never satisfied to sit very long with the answers I have found, because they always lead to more questions. I am curious, a permanent student of my life, and with so much more to learn, I feel I will always be asking, trying, doing more and more. As Abby reminded me over breakfast last week, being weird is so much better than being boring. 

I'll leave you with a man in uniform. Swoon!


Monday, June 13, 2016

Summer on a big family's small budget

Summertime enthusiasm can easily get me beat when it comes to my bank account. A little too cavalier in my interest to do and see and experience all the fun things can result in a money hangover that often plagues me with guilt. And no more money. I think I read something Buddist-y about how we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over because we haven't yet learned the lesson. If the lesson isn't, "save money" then perhaps I can flip it on its head and learn to "enjoy what is available" and not suffer while pining for the rest. In an interest to avoid this happening (again), I thought for my own sake I'd take some time to reflect on the summer activities I enjoy that don't cost anything or very little. 

Blueberries!
Whether we are home enjoying summer's lazy vibes or on a vacation or day trip, I like to find something for us to do that is both free and outdoors. Beaches, hikes, waterfront, parks in cool places all fit the bill, cost nothing, exhaust my children, and can take as much or little time as we please. I pack the snacks or picnic lunch (nobody's happy with a hungry belly) and set them loose. I love doing these types of outings with friends or Rich, because now (alleluia!) the kids are old enough to play with each other without my interference or help for, like hours. It is glorious.


Speaking of picnics, I have to remember really hard not to forget that we don't have a magical money fairy, even when it comes to food prep. Yes, it would be nice to skirt my responsibilities in lieu of more pool time, but meals need to be made to feed the six of us three times a day. Eating out, ordering in, or going for treats are out of the question most of the time. (Then, the occasional ice cream cone or chip truck supper are, like, big-time mega treats we all totally savour). If we are going to any activity, I pack our snacks because we can rarely justify buying them. We make seasonal fare like iced tea, barbecue ribs, popsicles, and cold salads that can take a bit of time but, in the end, they are healthy and cheap. Score. 


Summer and reading are synonymous in my world, but can I afford to buy a new book every time I finish one? Can pigs fly? Thank goodness for our library, a mere five-minute walk from my house. And neighbours who lend me their fave reads. And big ups to my aunties who write me very nice letters. They also make for fabulous summer reading that I tuck away into my favourite summertime cookbooks to revisit each year.


Another valuable tool in my frugal-by-necessity toolbox is my increasing confidence to say "no." Believe me, I would love to join you on your road trip to the fair, the animal refuge, the water park and the museum. When each of those activities is at least $60 for my family (most of them are now too old for "3 and under are free"), I have to think long and hard about if it's the right call to say yes or no. It's hard in the moment, but once I have said no and explained why, people are usually understanding, the stress is off my shoulders, and I know that we can find other things that will make my girls smile just as big. (Sometimes, we do, and we make it special. I just budget first and then avoid empty-wallet-hangover.)


In my quest to be a grown woman, I realize that many of the issues that cause me worry or concern are usually self-perpetuated. Missing out on expensive activities only bother me if I let them. Not having matching, new outfits for family pictures will only bother me if that's important to me. The difference between wants and needs is easily skewed, but I am training my eye to discern the line. The best antidote I've found to the "want-sies" is to reflect on what is available to me, and how wonderful those things are. No dollars are worth the late-night bubble-blowing sessions, bare feet running over the grass. Our family time in the pool, impromptu dinners with friends, day trips to new beaches and old favourites, these are the summer experiences I cherish. 


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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Rain Dance

The farmers were desperate for rain. They were in danger of losing their crops without it. The driest May since sometime in the 1940s. 
Yesterday was another hot one. We splashed in the pool and drank lemonade all afternoon, unaffected by the drought. We made plans for the next day to swim, maybe invite some friends to join us. We counted on sunshine.


Then came the rain. The plants, the gardens and grass are all so happy. You know what? So am I. A grey wet day became an invitation to attend to domestic matters, help the cogs in this domestic machine run a little more smooth. Time to tidy, make snacks for the week ahead. To sit and read by an open window, listening to the orchestral winds and rainfall. 




And so, on the seventh day, we all rested. Sat back and let ourselves be nourished, restored. 









Friday, June 3, 2016

Field Trip

I heard there was a new, super awesome aquarium in one of my favourite waterfront towns. There was nothing to decide but what day and how soon. Brockville is about an hour and a half away, so committing to a day trip on a sunny summer weather June Friday meant going along with another road trip enthusiast to expand the fun levels exponentially, my friend Alyssa and her kids. Tim gorton's drive-thru complete, we hit the road and caravanned our way south.







We packed a picnic lunch (obvs), ate it in front of the St. Lawrence seaway, and literally looked at each other with wide-eyed smiles, remarking how much fun road trips are, and how happy we felt to be out on the water on such a nice summer day. We took the cheese factor up reeeeeeal high, unabashed. The kids saw tall ships, live sea otters, a number of fish species, a pirate ship and what it looks like to carpe diem.


 The aquarium didn't disappoint, either. When the doors opened, a kind older lady ushered our gaggle of kids up to her open tanks full of crabs and starfish, inviting each kid to look up close at each species. We then went to see the otters eat, after rolling and playing with each other. It is literally impossible to be anything but happy watching otters roll and play.



The kids climbed in and out of every hidden tunnel and crevice on a giant ship climbing structure. (That was a joy, as a parent on her own with four really fast-moving children. I couldn't really keep an eye on them, so I waited by the exit and hoped for the best).



Our impromptu field trip turned out to be a fabulous kick-off to the season of adventure: road trips, beach days, late night backyard swims, and al fresco everything.




Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Explode

The beginning of this month saw snow (!) and here we are, the last couple days of May, with weather that has been heavy, humid and hot at 40 degrees. This spring season has been very 'blink, and you miss it': The tulips were here and gone in a week. The garden was all brown and now explodes with green. The girls were bundled in layers and now run free in sundresses. Alongside the enthusiastic fruit blossoms, eager to explode from branches, my girls have been growing and developing at an astronomical rate. Within an hour, Hailey and Robin learned to swim. Summer learned all the alphabet and numbers to ten. Abby can skip. I hardly noticed that things must have been quiet for us a few weeks ago, because now they are fast and wild and growing freely in the direction of the sun (plants, children and artists, that is).


All doubts I had about my pathetic-looking indoor-grown vegetable sprouts have been loving new homes outdoors in plentiful, well-nourished soil, restoring my faith in myself as a gardener. Really, the best garden growth happens when I step back, leave it alone and cross my fingers, hoping for the best. I am now fully optimistic we will be rolling in tomatoes, spinach and basil come August.


It must be human nature that when we are deprived of something so long and then presented with it again, we lap it up with desperate indulgence, lest it be taken away again soon. This is how it has been with warm, sunny weather. It has been so long since my bare skin felt wind blow over its tiny hairs that we are spending all day outside. Sunscreen and hats on, Mama packs the snack bag and fills the water bottles and the adventure begins. A short break for lunch, then another park, or a swim, or sending the girls to play and imaginary game for a few hours while I plant, or read, or sit happily, surveying the scene. We come home filthy, sun-kissed, knees skinned, and wonder why we're so tired. 


I am beginning to set into motion plans for summer adventures, road trips, books to read, and meals to cook with stuff I've grown. (It is amazing how quickly my daydreams and plans begin to revolve around food). I went to Toronto for five days, and it served as an unofficial kickoff to summer. It was hot, I ate delicious food, ran along the waterfront, visited family and friends, found my new summer jam song, and saw Beyonce in concert. That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure, words can do no justice. 


Yesterday, my first day home with the girls again, I could feel summer vibes creeping in: we put off homework, coursework, even dinner plans in order to stay outside, lazily chilling by the pool. We re-applied sunscreen when we remembered. I stayed in a bathing suit until it dried and it was time for another dip. We had an impromptu dinner party with friends who brought dinner (saving the day and adding to the fun). It's all happening, my favourite time of year. No real constraints or pressures, just good warm weather days with the people I love, doing what I love best.


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