Sunday, February 14, 2016

Forty Below

One of my favourite kids' books is Robert Munsch's 50 Below Zero, set in the Yukon, about a boy who goes out into the woods to search for his sleep-walking father on a cold winter night. It's silly and beautifully illustrated and captures the real wonder and adventure of going outside in the deep, cold of winter. We've been reading that book, along with some of our other winter favourites (Gruffalo's Child, The Snowy Day, Northern Alphabet) because it has been cold ... really cold! It has been -48C with the wind chill. Otherwise known as the weather in which I wear my feetie pyjamas and don't leave the house unless absolutely necessary.

I like these spells of extreme cold. It feels a little adventurous. I like to pretend we're in our house surviving against the raging, fierce elements outside. We kind of are. It's a little romantic, hunkering down, lighting fires, making forts. And when I do have to go outside (to start the car, get groceries or walk the dog), I wear gear reserved just for days like this: my goose down jacket (bought second-hand from a sled-dog musher), wool and rabbit fur hat, beaver hide and fur mitts, long johns, scarf across my nose. It feels like putting on a costume and, even though I am 30, I pretend I'm an explorer, wandering alone in the barren North, in search of supplies.

As I write this, the kids are watching a movie after paying face paint, and looking outside it appears warm. Sun shining, wind blowing softly. Across the screen of white snow out front, I see my home's shadow, notice the smoke coming from the chimney and dancing off into the sky. The fire crackles and burns beside me; soon everything will smell like campfire. Then I will go make pizza dough for heart-shaped pizzas, to share with my Valentines. A perfectly wonderful day to be kept in by the biting cold.

Part of what makes these cold days so exciting for me is the comfort in knowing I can stay inside and be warm, if I choose. I remember that there are those for whom this frigid cold is a real danger. Those without proper heat or insulation, those without proper homes at all, those without winter jackets, hats or mitts. I am grateful that these cold days don't threaten our comfort or safety, and with that measure of gratitude, I will whole-heartedly enjoy the banana blueberry muffins we baked, leaving the oven open after the heat the kitchen. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Choosing My Religion

I don't know what it is about the way my brain works, but I have a really hard time accepting things I learn. I am trained and inclined to question everything (to a fault, sometimes), chew on an idea, play devil's advocate and then eventually discern whether I accept or reject a concept. I don't like vague or superfluous language. I embrace an idea with much more vigour and enthusiasm when I come around to it on my own.

When Summer was born and my life was as chaotic as it had ever been (living in my mom's basement, belongings in storage, Abby starting school, adjusting to a fourth baby), I opened a book that turned things around for me. During sleepless nights, desperate circumstances and fluctuating hormones, Karen Maezen Miller's Momma Zen guided me through difficulties with just the right combination of grace, empathy, hope, realism and wisdom. It was based on Zen Buddhism (Miller is a Buddhist priest and wrote the book as a mother to a baby girl), and gave me some concrete tools to get through tough circumstances.

Nearly three years later, life is less chaotic because we have a stable home and no plans to uproot, but more chaotic because each of my girls keep growing into increasingly complex beings who operate independently from my way of doing things. I am, daily, going through things that challenge my sense of self, my ego, my expectations and sense of control. Honestly, it is really unnerving to a type-A over-thinker like myself. I have found great help and hope in teachings across the spiritual landscape, but lately, something is changing the way I am choosing to live.

I have returned, again and again, to my Momma Zen book, and other helpful articles I've saved about incorporating Buddhist teachings into my relationships, most notably motherhood. I've chewed on them, weighed their merit, looked critically at their tenets and still, I find great value in some of these teachings. I recently splurged on a compendium of three books written about incorporating Buddhist teachings into various stages of motherhood, Sarah Napthali's The Complete Buddhism for Mothers. Napthali is not ordained, nor does she have an extensive list of spiritual training titles. She is just a mum (she self-describes) who has done a lot of research and interviews about using Buddhism to become the best version of herself as she navigates the tricky waters of motherhood. I have begin to read it, and I feel like I am coming home.

It's a long book, at over 700 pages, and one I expect I'll be slowly chewing my way through for months or years to come. Already, it is helping me feeling like I am waking up. There is no room for guilt, or negative self-talk, or reliance on social media or popular news to raise my children and find myself. Instead, it is really helping me find that I already have everything I need. It's more a matter of accessing this guidance, and that is a big-time practise (for me).

It is not a new venture with a new religion; I am not worshipping at a new altar. I think mothering young children has just left me ripe to accept a new way of seeing my surroundings. If I don't actively pursue some kind of spiritual practice, the drudgery and human condition of this very demanding, relentless job could get me down. My analytical nature would likely drive me to find more fault and blame than joy. Probably, if I were not a mother, this would eventually be the case. 

A new teapot for us after the other broke
I promise not to become preachy, or pushy, or flaky or distant. I am definitely not interested in high horses, or divisive dogma. But I hope that as I work along here at improving my own experience, it might make a difference. I hope that my girls will feel more seen, heard and understood. I hope that I will feel more richness in my days and patience through challenging moments (many may they be). I hope that I will have more finely-tuned tools to help me respond with grace, the way I want to. I hope those around me will feel more connected, because we are. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Give In

This week, we celebrated our first bona fide snow day. When Hailey and Robin woke up, opened their curtains and looked out, they couldn't see anything; their windows were covered in ice. Freezing rain had fallen all night (the day after the Nova Scotia groundhog called for an early spring). Everything was topped in a thick layer of ice, so school buses were cancelled and we stayed in. It felt so relieving to take a break from it all, do a bit of baking, watch a movie, colour birthday cards for Toots and light candles. We gave in to the call of the cozy.

Abby got out her new Easy Bake oven and made teeny tiny chocolate chip cookies for us all. The little girls donned their aprons, and helped me knead the dough for some bread loaves. In the afternoon, we ventured outside to slide all over our front yard while I chipped away at the ice. Then it was back inside to watch Horton Hears A Who, pop popcorn and do a bit of writing and colouring.

February is a time of giving in, at least for us. There is usually a cold going around (knock on wood, we're in the clear so far), a snow day or two, biting cold, and a handful of celebrations to prepare for. Once in a while, we indulge. It's an art, the practice of cozy. There is a certain dress (flannel jammies, slippers or moccasins, unkempt hair), an aroma (candles burning, baking in the oven, a wood fire), a sound (folk music, winds blowing) a pace (everything slow and deliberate) that lead to a vibe that is all about being cozy. Hibernating. Being together. 

It begins to feel like winter has been so long, by February. We got a late start to the cold weather this year, but I am already over the limitations it brings. I hope our groundhog was right; we want early spring! I received my seed catalogue this week, and am already making plans for the gardens. I'm thinking more tomato varieties, more potatoes, basil, parsley, another blueberry bush, some bee-friendly perennial flowers and another raised bed.

We have eaten all of our canned tomatoes and applesauce from last year, but have a bit more frozen parsley and strawberries. When those run out, we're back to relying on what's affordable and local at the store (mostly root vegetables, greenhouse-grown greens and cold storage apples) until fresh produce begins to grow again. I think this, too, makes winter seem so long. The absence of prolific fresh produce means we are eating more slowly-digested comfort foods.  

Thankfully, February's quiet and hibernating mean my writing usually explodes. I have a million new ideas and I have to focus on one thing at a time or risk muddling them all up. So my pen is busy, and I am happy with that!

Sunday, January 31, 2016


When Abby celebrated her first birthday, I anticipated with great alarm that birthdays would keep coming. It had felt like so much happened that first year, I could hardly fathom that these annual celebrations would happen at a seemingly increased speed. But they do. It felt like far less than a year ago we celebrated her sixth birthday and now here we are, a whole 12 months later, and I am just as surprised as I projected. 

Seven is different. Seven feels like a road marker, a diverted path. Whereas she was a baby, a little girl, learning her ABCs and how to run and climb, now she is doing a lot of her growth internally. Managing newer, bigger emotions. Watching the world around her grow a little bigger as she learns more about it. Answering questions that don't have a clear answer. 

I am letting go, a little bit. I have to. She is becoming so much more herself and I know if I stand in the way, it will be to her detriment. So I let her make mistakes and learn the hard way, though it is often difficult to watch. She is so, so smart. She is learning to navigate the difference between her feelings, instincts and reactions. She is placing herself in her family, school and community. She is a wonderful big sister.

She celebrated her birthday with a Paw-Patrol themed party, (complete with her very own police dog). She did all the party planning, prepared the 'loop' bag with homemade cookies, baked her own cupcakes and organized activities. She shared many of her gifts and had to be convinced to save some special things for herself!

She was loved by people near and far, and was genuinely appreciative of phone calls, cards and gifts from people who really love her. I think she was surprised, actually, by how many people got in touch with her and offered gifts. That she was surprised and touched makes me feel so proud of her. Not an ounce of entitlement or selfishness. 

Today is a slow day, cleaning up from celebrations, preparing for the week ahead. I am so in love with my girl. I wish she knew how much I learn from being her mama.

Friday, January 29, 2016


We are getting outside nearly every day to walk Abby to school, take solar to the park, and give ourselves some fresh air and movement. The cold air kissing our cheeks and filling our lungs is a kind of elixir against suffering from over-hibernated winter blahs. Sitting begets sitting. Sleeping longer than usual makes us feel groggy for most of the day. So we toboggan, walk, climb snow mountains, skate and explore. One of the wonders of winter, I've found, is the simple but profound comfort of coming inside our home after being outside.

Outside is an outing; most of are days are spent in our man-made cozy den. In winter we burn more candles, light more fires, cook more creamy comfort foods, watch more television, sit for afternoon tea and make more art. 

I don't always like the idea of watching so many movies or sitting down to do yet another craft. If I'm being honest with myself, though, it feels so good to give in and obey to our wants this time of year. Hot chocolate, another hour of colouring, one more episode on Netflix, why not? Indulge in our cozy home filled with tons of activities. There is always something to do, if we just explore with a little bit of creativity and magic. See? Scissors, printer paper and glitter glue become snowflakes. (I didn't say impressive crafts)

I don't know about you, but this time of year also makes me want to go shopping. Maybe because I'm inside more, looking around, making little redesigns to rooms, so I feel more like adding to our collections. Heating costs, fun surprises like broken gas fireplaces and life mean that I don't have the luxury of a 'household decor' budget, so inspired by my thrift store shopping in Nova Scotia, I went to our closest Value Village and scored some treasures for us all to enjoy inside. 

For $15, we got 10 books (Little Golden, Berenstein Bears and classic fairy tales) and four sweet little mugs for the girls to drink their afternoon tea. After quiet time (which is a real misnomer for what occurs between 1pm and 2:30pm), I light a candle in a little jam jar, put it on the kids' table, and we all wait patiently for the tea to steep. I serve them rooibos chai with milk and honey, I don't need to pump these creatures with caffeine, ah thank you. On the side, a small plate of animal crackers, or some other baking, if we're lucky. No matter how the day is going, this little ritual gives me just enough pause to rest my frazzled mind, breathe, sit and enjoy how sweet these little girls are. 

We have a busy weekend ahead, celebrating Abby's seventh birthday. Her excitement is contagious. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016


In the five minutes that I have sat down to begin writing this, during the girls' afternoon "quiet time," I have been summoned upstairs three times. One hit her head doing precisely what I had just cautioned her not to do. One jammed her toy exactly where I had warned her it would get stuck. One needed help in the bathroom not two minutes after being asked if she had to go. Sometimes I want to yell, "is anyone even listening to me?" but I don't really want to know the answer.

It is in these kinds of moments I feel and notice tangible changes since I began meditating daily in October. I had meditated irregularly before then, but last fall I made a commitment to myself to stick it out and see if they hype is warranted. It is! 

There is a pause between the thing happening and the reaction where I can quickly discern the best way to respond. I yell a lot less. I consider what I want to do in this situation. I swear under my breath and hope they don't hear. I take a deep breath and fix what needs fixing with whatever empathy I can muster. They are learning, I remember. They are learning from me, I am aware.

I can't say exactly what is happening, in scientific, measurable terms. A lot of the time when I sit to meditate I either fall asleep, or I catch my train of thought drifting to 'to-do' items every four seconds.  I sit for ten minutes, rarely more. I catch my wandering mind, or my sleeping posture crumpling down and start again. I don't reprimand myself. Just start over. I don't give up. I don't doubt that I'm getting anywhere with it, because I know I am. Creating a space between an action and my reaction is big, for me. I know I will never master this, so I don't try to. I just practice finding that space and exhaling before saying or doing something unintentional. 

I can say with confidence that bringing meditation into my days has made a difference in the way I approach just about everything. I don't often reflect on this, so it feels good to recognize. I am focusing less on what I am not doing (it's a long, long list), because guilt doesn't help motivate me to do better next time. Guilt makes me feel defeated. Gratitude, and remembering that I am practicing, that keeps me moving onward. I am trying, even when it's hard. Because (as Glennon Doyle wrote), I can do hard things. 

Days aren't meant to be taken stock of, evaluated on some rubric with a grade given at the end. I admit, I often felt this way. I was hard on myself, which led me to doubt myself. I'd cuddle up with guilt at night and let hot tears wet my pillow. That is not how to be a good person. I shouldn't do that to myself. So, I try not to. 

Instead, I am trying to take those pauses when I feel them and act deliberately. This effort is always worth it, and makes me feel proud and intentional. I have noticed it gives my girls more comfort, not wondering if they're gong to set off the Mama bomb. (Regretfully, their comfort with me has also meant they are more comfortable lashing out, testing boundaries, and acting coo-coo bananas to see if I really mean to be more mindful). 

I call upon my mantras: this too shall pass, serenity now, I can do hard things, they only need love, the days are long but the years are short. I get myself where I want to be, so that when things in my life aren't the way I'd want them to be, I can get through it with dignity and with intended responses. Like writing this blog post: I had to go up another three times (bathroom help, Summer crying about a hurt finger and referee a disagreement) but I did it the way I wanted to, not the way I instinctually would have responded. Progress. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Nova Scotia

This post is brought to you by a loving partner who knows me the best, and recognizes my need to go on adventures. He saw in my eyes a pleading hope, last September, and granted me my wish of flying on points to Nova Scotia in the middle of winter to greet a special new baby and see my friend. With his blessing, I was off to the sea...

I have spent five days bouncing a baby, reading magazines, walking through new places along the Bay of Fundy with my dear friend Johanna. The time in a family's life right after a new baby comes home is very special. Everyone is getting to know the baby, and adjusting to having an extra person in the house. It is a time for slowing down, taking care that everyone's needs are met, and little else. I understood as soon as I walked in to Johanna's (beautiful!) home that I was entering a very sacred space.

We know each other very, very well and have been friends through a lot of big changes. The biggest changes, really. I am very comfortable around her and her family and, thankfully, they with me, so as soon as I arrived, the work of helping out began. We did cups of tea, warm meals, reading magazines, taking pictures, watching so many episodes of Full House, yoga, good talks, little adventures around town, and much cuddling of sweet baby Wesley.

I came during winter and was greeted by a maritime storm. I learned how east coasters do blizzards, and I took notes. I am absolutely taking home the idea of storm chips: a special bag of chips you buy and set aside for eating during the next storm, when it's time to hunker down and get cozy. When the weather allowed, we took little trips to the sea, into Wolfville's farmers market and main street shops, out on country drives and to token east coast shopping at Wheaton's and Frenchy's. I thoroughly enjoyed eating local fish and chips with the good, homemade tartar sauce, and Johanna's homemade chowder.

The storm meant we missed out on visits with a few of our Yukon friends who have been transplanted nearby, but thus is the fickle fortune of mother nature. We also missed our friend Carol-Ann so much, after she had to cancel her surprise visit from Newfoundland. She is other third member of our trifecta, and though we Skyped one night while making dinner, nothing can beat an in-person visit. Ideas for future adventures together are in the works! (But, poor Rich, lets let him get over this one first)

I missed my family and am happy to return home to them, to my own nest. Having the chance to welcome Wesley to the world, to connect with my friend in her new east coast home, and to write another page in our book of adventures together is very, very special in our continuing history.

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