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.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Freedom

The May long weekend holds such promise and propulsion. We put into action the plans we have made and carefully considered through the colder months: we plant the garden, open the pool, and begin our bucket list of summer adventures. This year, friends are visiting from BC, so we have taken full advantage of playing tourist. We have been to Parliament Hill, the Experimental Farm, tulip Festival, the hospital (oops!), and Mer Bleu. We also took a little jaunt to Montreal to visit the Botanical Gardens, Insectarium and Old Montreal. The wild winds blow in warm, beckoning us forth. We always answer the call.

Botanical gardens

Botanical gardens
To be home with my girls, unconfined by any real schedule, is a gift I am trying to appreciate more often. When we wake up and the sun is shining, we have a plethora of possibilities in front of us. All we have to do is ask, "what do we most want to do today?" and then we do that. It is wonderful, this freedom. The people and circumstances that lead to this freedom deserve my gratitude. 

Insectarium

Insectarium

Experimental farm

This kid is two days old!

Old Montreal Basilica square
Notre Dame Basilica


I have more thoughts to share, but it is Sunday, the sky is blue, the wind is light and there are a gaggle of girls asking me to blow bubbles. You know where I'll be.




Sunday, May 15, 2016

Small Miracles

There's something I find awe-inspiring about watching plants bloom in Spring. Especially the hardy perennials, whose soft, green buds must push through the hard, seemingly dead wood of the remaining winter's branches. Every year, every day I notice, it gets me all over again. The tiny miracle of it all as sounds me.


I stop to show my girls the tulips that bloom along the route of our morning walk, and we watch our own garden's daily changes. This takes but a few moments from our day. A moment to stop and notice the web a spider built between branches of our blueberry bush. A moment to see that our rhubarb plant now has four sprouting stems. Seconds to stop and see, and share together. These moments are what I try to remember, when I settle my accounts at day's end.



I add up my expenses and my acquisitions. I tally up my day's memories and moments with the intent of seeing what matters. Or, at least, what I think matters. I'm very skilled at keeping tabs on my missteps and faults, which turn into guilt, which doesn't make matters better, hardly ever. So I ask myself what moments in the day hold the most value to me, what makes me feel rich. The time we noticed the first ladybug of the season because it flew into Hailey's hair. The time Summer brought me a book and I put down everything else to sit with her in my lap and read it, smelling her shampoo-scented hair right under my nose. 


 Those moments are small, and require little, and rarely interrupt anything important, but they are so qualitatively important. A day spent rushing, crossing off listed to-dos, overwhelmed or distracted may result in my getting a lot done, or helping other people, but they don't compare to the days I can happily drift off to sleep counting the moments that I connected with my girls, and with the beauty we have around us. Showing them the magnificent glory of the miracles all around us makes me feel so wealthy.


I get to spend my days with the little miracles that grew in me and I get to ask myself what I want to do that day. I get to plan and then adjust sail, bending to the temperaments and health of each little lady I get to mother. Sometimes, this is frustrating, because conditions change like a storm at sea and all of a sudden we find ourselves dealing with a toddler tantrum tempest at a most inconvenient moment. Sometimes I recognize that I am needed in a way that conflicts with what I want to do. This feeling is frustrating, but it is fleeting. Right around the corner is another real gem of a moment that will sustain my heart through the hard stuff.


I hope I will always notice. I hope being a mother will always enable me to ease up and take the long view while simultaneously seeing what tiny beautiful things lie before me. I hope my girls see these tiny things, too, and think about them when they are dreaming. I hope when things become really dark and difficult and challenging, (because of course they will), that a thin thread of hope is spun before them via a beautiful sunrise, or vibrant bloom, or some other small miracle they have learned to notice.



Monday, May 9, 2016

Cleaning Up From Mother's Day

Motherhood is incremental. We have nine months each time to anticipate, plan and ready ourselves best we can. This is the only time we get to assess and prepare before shit gets real. Really real.
One babies became heartbreak for lost babies, which became fear and excitement planning for two babies at once, before one surprise baby so soon after, before the first kid started school, before three knew how to talk, then they all had tantrums, and I had tantrums, and we didn't have a house to live in, and then we did, then there were long days and longer nights.



I am cleaning up from our Mother's Day celebrations (which, we all know, means doing a little extra because yesterday was my 'break' so things just didn't get done). I am having a hard time clearing the homemade cards and Elmer's glue gifts off the table and into their future spots. I want to leave them here, on the dining room table. I want to look down from another cup of spilled milk and notice that they wrote, "I love my mom because she reads to me" when I am about to explode over spilled milk because while they weren't careful or sitting still like I had asked, it's not their fault I'm short on patience, it's mine. And I love them. And I want these cards and pictures to be taped up everywhere so I can see them and remember their love when I am too frustrated to look into their faces and see it there.


It is hard. It is incremental. I can look back on having one baby, three babies, three and a new baby and think romantically, "Ah, but it was easier then when Summer couldn't throw and hit, wasn't it?" Now is hard. Now is long days on my own, with kids that don't nap and don't have quiet time for more than 45 minutes and still come down every 10 to ask for help, or water, or to tattle on a sister. Now means I don't sit and write story pitches or conduct phone interviews or write freelance pieces in the afternoon because there aren't any free afternoons. "Wasn't it easier when Summer napped and Hailey and Robin played nicely in their room for an hour or more?" Because if I am not a working writer, I am someone who answers to Mom! Mama! Mommy! Mo-ohm!, and that isn't even my real name, (as Rebecca Woolf writes).


Am I complaining? Am I venting? Who can tell, tonight. All we know is where we've been and what's in front of us. Your mama life is hard for you too, I bet, no matter how it looks. People tell me it must be so "busy" with four little girls (which I interpret them to mean as, "bat shit crazy" by the perplexed look that accompanies the comment) and yes, it is, sometimes. One day they will all be teenagers with much bigger challenges put to me and I will look back on this time and wax poetic, "Wasn't it so much simpler when all it took was a cuddle and a jelly bean to fix their sorrows?" Wasn't it so much easier when I had time to carve out a little spot on the grid for myself that existed independently of everyone else?


Hindsight is 20/20 and we all re-write our own histories in our minds. Eventually, I'll tuck my mother's day cards away in the orange box I have in my closet reserved for these beautiful sentiments from my girls. I sometimes hide myself in that closet and maybe I'll notice it out of the corner of my eye and feel drawn to open it, see their crayon-coloured prose and stick-figure drawings of us playing together, happy. Hoping that's what they remember years from now, and not the frequency with which I ran upstairs to my closet hoping to steal a few moments before anyone found me.




Thursday, May 5, 2016

Daily

There are things we do every day, but not every season. 
When spring arrives, we make time for after dinner bike rides to burn off residual energy and watch the girls fly down the street. Abby told me she likes riding her bike because she feels grown up and free, and I can remember feeling the same way at her age. Wanting so badly to be older, grasping at any scrap of independence handed my way.


Every day we go for a walk. Sometimes long, sometimes short, but enough to observe the seasonal patterns. This is the time of year the male birds put out their best calls, and the geese fly in formation to their fave breakfast spots across town. The trees are beginning to bud, some into beautiful floral displays. We smell the cow manure compost drift in on breezes from the nearby farms, readying the land for planting. 



Every morning we water our sprouting plants, and check the weather to decide how many layers are necessary. Every evening, I do yoga. I never regret the new space created in my body after a day of contracting and contorting. I am moving away from a more restorative winter practice and into a more vigorous spring practice, balanced with poses that stretch my running-weary hips and legs. 

A foggy morning
Every day, I catch myself looking for signs that the warm weather is here to stay. How my outdoor perennials are coming up, the number of mornings we go out without mittens, barbecuing dinner in warm afternoon sun. I know summer is a given, but spring can be fickle and I crave predictability (perhaps I should work on that...) in an otherwise unpredictable season.

Raspberry bush
Every week I check the grocery store for more local produce. Hydroponic tomatoes are in, cellar apples are still out and sweeter from the winter storage, cucumbers and leafy greens are starting and asparagus should be soon, too.


Every morning before we go to school, but after we've eaten breakfast and dressed, I like to hide away in my bedroom for a stolen moment or two and read something inspirational to start the day. Today, I share with you this poem from a modern master of communion with nature, Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.



God bless preschool teachers and the adorable crafts they lead 



One of our go-to healthy snacks are protein balls. I eat one on the way out the door in the morning to ward off the hangries. I pack them in Abby's lunch so she will have energy to learn. I bring them on playdates because they look like cookies and mamas usually appreciate that I am tricking their kids into eating healthy (mine too!). 

Chocolate Protein Balls
Combine in food processor: 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 scoop protein powder (we use that green powder you see from Manitoba Harvest), 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, 1/3 cup raisins, 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1/4 cup flax seed, 1/4- 1/2 cup tahini, 1/4 cup honey. 
I sometimes add pumpkin seeds, and sometimes oats. Blend well. Sometimes I take this out of the blender bowl and if it's not quite the right texture to hold a ball shape, I'll add more tahini or honey and stir with a spoon. 
Roll into balls, put on a parchment-lined baking sheet in freezer for one hour. Store in fridge or freezer so they hold their shape. 

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

Create

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.


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