Wednesday, October 19, 2016

No Answers

In talking with neighbours and friends, we all agree the foliage this year seems particularly spectacular. Brighter, more vibrant than other years. I thought maybe my eyes were just metaphorically more open, more observant of the changing colours, and so that was why they seem extra beautiful fantastic this Autumn. It happens every year, predictably. i must be more attuned to noticing life's beauties this year. Nope. Everybody seems to be making extra effort to get out to the woods for walks and hikes. We want to be immersed in these living works of art.

So I thought to myself, "Is there a scientific reason the leaves are brighter this year?" I wondered if the drought in July, the late spring or the sunny October days may account for the beauty. Tree experts in the news hazard best guesses, but there seems to be no known cause. What?! Hold the phone. A mystery! An inexplicable, un-Googleable, spontaneous mystery? No identifiable, quantifiable answer! This is amazing, to me. Stand and behold this magnificent wonder.

In a world where there are answers to everything, I am in awe. Whenever I need a recipe substitution, a tip for getting crayon off walls, an answer about what kind of dinosaur that is, where the closest Bridgehead Coffee is located, there is always an answer within a few seconds of beginning a Google search. This convenience and access to answers is amazing; a true testament to the unfathomable, limitless capacity of the human mind for technological innovation.

Today, there is no answer at my computer. There is only hiking. It began a beautiful, warm morning with a weather forecast promising blue skies.  My sister, Summer and I drove into Gatineau Park, an area people will drive from hours away to visit this time of year. We chose a 2.5km hike around Pink Lake and began to bear witness. That's all one can do, really. Unanswerable questions like "why are the leaves so beautiful?" are shifted aside to make room for awe and wonder. 

Gold-leafed trees erupted all around us, as though we were walking through a film reel edited to display only yellow tones. We turned into the sun and the lake was alight with turquoise, a pop of jewel tone among the rich hues of the trees. Further along the path, the maples weren't just red, they were nearly neon. The orange leaves weren't ruddy, they were glowing like fire. There simply weren't enough ways for me to categorize, document, and describe the wonders my eyes beheld. So instead, I walked among them, let their magic pour over me and into me. The warm sun blessed my skin, and I felt communion with every other leaf touched by the same rays. 

When something so rare as an unidentifiable phenomenon comes along, one so obviously beautiful and so easily accessible to people from all walks of life, I am humbled beyond questions. I obey. I worship. I absorb what magic I can and I feel what it is to be present. Not curious, not pensive, just part of a fleeting Autumn season's beauty. 

If you have time for a walk or for a longer hike, I implore you. Go. Leave devices and the world of answers behind. Go for a walk with mystery, even a short after-dinner stroll through beauty and wonder. May it leave you awe-struck, even just a little. Let the wonder still your busy mind. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Warm Autumn Days

The weather this fall has been warm so far. Yellow leaves alight in trees seem more vibrant under blue skies. Our sweaters warm us in the mornings, get left on park benches in the afternoon. My window stays cracked open at night, so I can hear the blackbirds caw in the morning, warning me day is about to break. 

Routines are entrenched: mornings, after school, after supper and bed. Abby's piano practise delights me as I wash dishes. The girls brush their own teeth in the morning, eliciting giggles and messes that make me smile. Candles alight at the dinner table, signifying the darker days and crisp air at dusk. Unpacking quilts and blankets, making sure everyone's mitts still fit. Soups, stews, casseroles, breads,  wait for us on our plates at the long, wooden table.

I am thinking about Halloween costumes, Christmas gifts, books to read, wondering if we have enough (of anything!) for our family, preparing the home for cold weather, putting the garden to sleep, yoga, appointments, drinking enough water. My mind is busy, (isn't everyone's?) but, the warm autumn weather calls me to put down the lists and go outside. Live in the poetry, the symphony of dried leaves crackling underfoot, did gusting through increasingly sparse trees, the rapture of colours exploding across our landscape. 

I can feel the pull to come inside, soon. The comfortable hibernation will begin when the snow comes. Now, we soak it all in, each golden sunset, each folk song played while dinner is made, each Halloween craft coming home from school, each frosty morning walk, each warm sweater donned. Hugging someone who is wearing a cozy sweater is the absolute best.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Quiet and the Chaos

I'm sure most mothers of young children can relate to feeling overwhelmed from auditory over-stimulation. When all the kids walk in the front door after a day at school and each one has something to share right then, over top of her sisters' voices, my skin crawls. Or when I make some sort of announcement and everyone vomits their questions, projectile words all over me. The insistent, immediate nature of people talking to me all at once makes me want to pull a Zack Morris and time-out freeze-frame that situation.

Earlier this week, on a morning Summer was in preschool, the house was quiet. I lit a candle, poured a warm mug of Ovaltine and sat down to work a bit. After tending to some administrative matters and following up on some pitches, I decided to look into literary journals. Maybe I could submit some of the pieces I've written, or write something tailored to a more specific audience. Silly, ignorant me, I thought I'd find a handful of such publications. I found hundreds, all with calls for submissions. I got excited, then motivated, then anxious, then overwhelmed and I suddenly wanted to turn off my computers (both literal and metaphoric) and sleep.  

The noise in my head rivalled my excited children. I looked for ways to turn down the noise in my head the rest of the week. I went for a long country drive to pick up our turkey. I cooked dinner without music on while the kids watched a TV show. I practiced a challenging yoga sequence that would not allow for my mind to focus on anything but the poses and my sweat level. I found I had to cultivate some peace and quiet, because sometimes the world's volume becomes too much for me. 

Thanksgiving long weekend in our family is all about scaling back, preparing and eating food, sharing with family and friends. and taking time to be especially grateful. It is about the glass of red wine slipped slowly, ambient jazz music, and sitting to read a book with a girl in my lap. It is about more than listing for what we are grateful around the dinner table. It is capitalizing on the opportunity to create stillness in my mind so I can adequately take stock of the blessings around me and feel grateful. Experience the gratitude. Surely, these things and people and chances around me are all worthy of my gratitude.

We went for a walk in the woods, which satisfied all our intrinsic needs. The girls ran wild, yelling about crocodiles in the swamp and chasing each other. I listened to my feet crunch over leaves and stomp on solid, packed trail dirt. I looked up to see myself immersed in an unbelievably beautiful painting of deciduous foliage, alight with fire hues. It felt a little like time had frozen, and I was allowed to keep walking through the scene of falling leaves, taking care to notice each one's particular shape and colour.

All that to say when things become loud again this weekend, in my kitchen or in my head, I will resist the urge to crumple inwards. I will instead try to be thankful for all these little voices, all my railroading thoughts, for they make my life whole.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Learning my Craft

Back-to-school, autumn, September, new routines have all set in and I wanted to be part of it. I am the mama who makes the lunches, signs the slips and gets us all out the door on time, but I wanted to give myself some back-to-school, too. A friend had recommended a site she uses to take all kinds of university and college-level courses, for free. For the love of learning something new. I love learning new things! Me too! 

I chose to enrol in Modern American Poetry, run out of the University of Philadelphia. I chose it because I have been dusting off my poet's hat and wanted to better understand the tradition, the community to which I belong. It has been a few weeks, and I have been gluttonously lapping up the readings, video lectures, discussion groups and assignments. I have been learning about poets, trends, styles and methods that have significantly deepened my appreciation for my craft. I wanted to learn more about those who have come before me. I am learning so much more about how to write poetry.

I have been tinkering with these different methods, carefully choosing my words, giving each line a second set of applications and meanings, now that I am learning to appreciate this poet's code. It makes me feel so alive and attuned, for so many more moments in my day. 

A walk to school: holding hands with two girls and watching the others run uncomfortably close to the road, my mama hawk eyes focus on the dangers. Then, I notice my focus shifts to the beauty of a flock of geese flying overhead. I make everybody stop, gather close, listen, and look for the flying V in the sky. My brain starts searching through my mental Rolodex for the best imagery adjectives, the most delicious descriptors, trying to commit to words this amazing scene. These are my extra credit assignments. 

A poet breathes in experience and breathes out poetry (Muriel Rukeyser). Succinctly. Condensed. Carefully choosing the very best, few words. Poetry is not prose and I am learning how to craft poems that are not so epic-ballad-form. Not so wordy. Worthy. Today, my homework took Summer and I on a field trip to Petrie Island, where we ran the lengths of the sandy beach, chased seagulls, climbed rocks, waded in shore-lapping waves. My assignment was to gather life, beauty, images, experiences. An eternal, infinite study.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

When I Get Angry

When we talk about anger, I notice people become uncomfortable, self-deprecating, or unnervingly quiet. I have had people tell me I seem to never get angry, they wonder how am I always so patient with the kids, and they deduce aloud they must be missing something, because they feel angry most of the time. First of all, blanket statements (always, never) don't come close to accessing the truth, and second, the underlying message seems to be that anger is bad.

Anger feels bad. It makes us feel hot, anxious, on-edge, volatile and uncomfortable. We understand a social message that says anger is bad, we should avoid feeling angry, and that when we do we are failing. Enter guilt. Enter me. I get angry frequently. Indeed, a lot of the time I spend with my young kids brings up angry feelings when their behaviour begins to decline, when things don't go my way, when something else entirely is on my mind but I take it out on them irrationally, the list goes on. The very day-to-day (or, more accurately, minute-by-minute) experience of motherhood requires so much of us during waking hours that it can feel overwhelming, even at times when things are going pretty swimmingly.

This girl is angry because it is too cold to swim. By Robin

Anger can be a lot of things. Anger can disguise fear, anxiety, sadness, worry, exhaustion, depression, selfishness, annoyance, impatience, resentment, disappointment, and more. In the moment when I feel angry, it is easiest and most instinctual to act out my anger without taking the time breathe slowly, stay quiet, and figure out which of the above underlying feelings might be at play.

Goober is only angry when girls pull his eyelashes

Honestly, I used to get angry a lot. It causes me shame. I think back to some of the times I remember yelling at my girls, slamming doors, breaking plates and stomping around the house and I feel like curling up into a tiny ball, disappearing from that shame. Guilt and shame. Anger bad. But is anger bad? In my experience, anger is always popping up, here to stay, part of the human experience. I don't think I even want to live a life without anger. A Valium haze, rose-coloured glasses euphoria sounds dreamy but denies real life growth.

Anger is growth. My kids get angry, act on it, and sometimes get into trouble for their reactions. Not for their anger. Let's stop feeling bad about feeling angry. My kids see me get angry: A recipe fails. A daughter ignores me for the umpteenth time. I stub my toe. Anything. For them, and for me, I breathe in and out. Sometimes exaggeratedly and with dramatic flair. I remind myself the feeling will pass. If the situation does not require immediate action, I try to take a moment and figure out what's really bothering me. As the really good Buddhists instruct, I sit with my anger, give it some attention, and then watch it move along.

Sometimes anger is a feeling that needs to exist and then pass. Sometimes it attracts my attention to something that needs fixing right away. Sometimes anger calls me to make a positive change. Sometimes it tells me to smash a plate, but nowadays I ignore that directive and sigh. It teaches me, and I am open to learning. Lifelong learning. I may never understand, but I can learn why anger is here this time, and deduce what I can do about it now. I can release myself of the shame and guilt for recklessly obeying anger's call to destruct and find in it an opportunity to create. I can connect to something inside myself that needs attention. Sometimes that's just my tense jawline needing to be unhinged.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Poet's Dilemma

I am so fortunate. Is it fortune? I live a life of great abundance. I wonder, what is the most accurate word to describe my freedoms? It may be 'lucky'; surely my life has been a story of serendipity and chance, but that is not the whole story. Perhaps the word is 'blessed'; my life has been made sacred, endowed with many beautiful lessons and experiences. To have been born into my family, in this time and place, has given me the space to grow unencumbered by any oppression. I will have to think a bit more about how best to describe this richness I feel when I take stock of my existence, and what it means.

This may seem a mundane and possibly dull way to spend my time, reflecting upon the perfect moniker for my treasured existence. Indeed, it is ironic to spend any time at all fixated on the difficulty of this task when it hopes to clarify (only in words) the beautiful feeling I get when I am awake, present and tuned into those riches all around me: My kids, my husband, my writing, my mind, my home, my extended family, my friends, my neighbourhood, my country, my awakening, my insatiable, curiosity, my quests (big and small), my health. 

We finished our morning activities and asked each other, "what do we most want to do?" Naturally, the girls each wanted to first disagree with each other's ideas and promote her own as best. We decided on a walk on Petrie Island, because the weather was nice, and we hadn't been for a while. We walked in the sunshine, noticing frogs and turtles below us, geese and airplanes above us, and a dancing melee of trees and plants all around us. These eyes and minds that notice, these make us so rich. 

When a girl tripped or fell (growing, clumsy girls seem pulled to earth by a special sort of gravity), hugs were given freely, from us parents or other sisters.  A quick kiss, a pat on the bum and off she went to discover what the next best tree to climb. These tender hearts, these appetites for exploration, these make our lives abundant.  

Maybe it is par for the course of being 30 years old, reflective and contemplative as I navigate these years as a young mama, wife and wordsmith. Maybe I'll forget this train of thought tomorrow. Maybe I'll finally find the word, and recognize it immediately, like when I chance upon the exact right snack to satiate my hunger. In the meantime, I will finish this day in stillness with mouth curled up slightly at the corners, reviewing the bounty of blessings that form the whole of my days.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September Sets In

There has been much curiosity directed towards me, asking me what I will do now that Hailey and Robin have started kindergarten full days. Most often asked smiling, with eyes wide and an indicative chin motion towards me, hopeful that I may have some liberated answer, I suppose, like, "Anything I want!" Summer, of course, has never been an afterthought in our family. From the moment her existence announced itself on a pregnancy pee stick, Summer has been a very loud, noticeable presence. At three, she is oblivious to any expectation that she sit quietly and entertain herself. So my answer is given with a slightly quizzical look and an empty promise to figure out something.

Summer experiences life on a higher plane, I think, and an assumed belief that all the world's a stage. When the older girls are in school, we will indeed be tasked with figuring out what we will do together. Two mornings a week, she will attend a preschool program. On another she will take gymnastics classes with her best friend while I watch/write/read my book on the sidelines. Beyond that, I am tuning my perspective to be one of appreciation for this year we get to spend together, just her and I. I hope we will bake bread, make errands fun, explore new places, frequent the library, visit friends, and soak up all the benefits of a mama having just one little lady to entertain.

September may mean the drudgery of a return to rules, structure, routine and reality (after a blissful, adventurous summer), but it also means harvest time. Our meals centre around what is locally available and ripe for the picking. This menu is seemingly limitless. All the goodies are ready: root vegetables, garlic, squashes, tree fruits, beans and corn. I will take this offering from September and lap it up greedily. Sometimes literally. 

Our tomatoes are still coming in by the basket every morning, leaving me no end in sight for canning tomato chunks, salsa and ketchup. We picked 35 pounds of apples in about five minutes this weekend, so now we have applesauce to make! I'm hoping our cold basement cold will suffice as storage for the remaining apples, to eat through winter. (I figure if the ones I buy in the store in January have been sitting in cold storage, why can't I load up now myself, locally?) 

I took down my dried lavender and picked off the flowers. I'm not sure how I'll use them. Last year, I made these nice room fresheners by mixing the dried flowers and baking soda in a mason jar with holes in the lid, sprinkling the powder onto carpeted areas. I might make some tea this winter, or use it for a nice chill out moment, opening the jar just for the scent.

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