Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The winds that make you want to dance alone

By the numbers, August is a busy month in the garden. All eight heads of garlic have been harvested, dried, trimmed, and put in the kitchen pantry for use. I have made and frozen two batches of pesto. I have picked, peeled and canned eight jars of tomatoes. I have made three jars of homemade ketchup. I sold a baby walker on kijiji and spent almost all of my profit at the farmer's market on even more produce that I have been busy preserving or baking and freezing. This is the time the year where the ants work, work, work to prepare for the coming winter and deprivation from fresh, locally-grown produce. 


Homemade ketchup
Having a small edible garden and literally reaping the fruits of my labour is so rewarding. I remind myself of this when I am ears-deep in tomatoes I need to process this very instant or risk them  spoiling. I have so many ideas of what to do differently next year, what to try, what not to repeat. Gardening is such a metaphor for so many situations, isn't it? Right now, that metaphor is, "don't bite off more than you can chew." While it would be great to add in even more tomato plants next year, or try my hand at beets and carrots, I have to remember August, and how busy it all becomes!

Carlton tomatoes

I have been in the kitchen a lot while the girls colour, make forts, play out front, and do whatever it is little girls like to do in the waning weeks of summer vacation. I relish in this quiet time stirring, boiling and chopping. It is the most real-life application of meditation when I leave the radio off. Focus on the task at hand. Repeat each motion. It has also been fulfilling and sparking my creative forces, coming alive through new recipe adaptations, finding new uses for my fried lavender, and arranging the vase of sunflowers. I feel more moved to write, spontaneously, and that is such an electric feeling. 

I'll leave you with a poem I've just read and been re-reading this last week by American poet Mark Nepo. I hope you'll like it. It's called, Breaking Surface, and is very carpe diem.

Let no one keep you from your journey.
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won't let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can't be done.
Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.
You are the one explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Cottage Time-out

I think the reason so many of us identify with memorable trips to a cottage, is because no matter what walk of life, a sojourn to the wilderness is accessible to nearly everyone. Whether a fancy mountain cabin or a nearly dilapidated shack, a solid shelter tucked into the woods, with access to waterfront, has transformative powers. Children easily transform their surroundings to pretend they are pirates, explorers, you name it. Adults too, even though we have mostly moved on from child's play, are transformed by a slower pace, a sloughing of redundant technology and busy-ness.

Our family was lucky enough to be invited to a cottage on a pristine lake in the mountains of Quebec. The air was crisp, never humid. The water so clean, we could drink it. The sound of the trees as the wind rushed through at night time was the best lullaby any of us had ever heard. 

I set my intention before the trip and each morning again to be a little more quiet, a little more still. Listen. Hear. Put away my reactive voice and try to gauge first whether anything needed to be said at all. This, if you know me, is incredibly difficult and counter-intuitive. Doesn't everyone want to hear all the wonderful thoughts I have in my head on the topic being discussed? My ego may have trouble understanding a negative response, but deep in my quiet, true self, I knew this trip would be a great chance to practice some quiet. 

Going mute is not my thing, nor is it even that noble of an endeavour if I'm pursuing it for my own self-interest. Practically, it is nearly impossible not to speak as a mother with four young girls. "Don't eat that mysterious berry!" and so forth. So, I set my goal a little lower. I am trying not to complain. At all. So far, the longest I have gone is six hours, (not counting sleep) but I am trying to work towards a month. I start over every time, anew.

Abby learned to kayak, solo. A natural!

In trying to not complain, I am required to evaluate what I say before it comes out. It's a strategic pause to ask myself, "but, is that a complaint?" In most cases, it is, and I zip it. This waiting, this required beat before speaking, is really hard for me, but it is also the seat of a spiritual practice I have been working towards a long time. Think before I speak. Nobody benefits from hearing my complaints, they rarely change the situation for the better, and they hardly make me feel better. So, they're out.  

Going to the cottage with my family was exactly what we all needed. Equal part measurements of adventure, new experiences, days on the lake, big meals, quiet time and deep sleeps. The girls loved nature walks, testing their balance on the paddle boards, sleeping side-by-side in four beds squished together and letting grandparents shower them with attention. I, for one, engaged my practice of non-complaining over a nice dinner date with Rich, many kayak and paddle board explorings, shared meal preparations, quiet morning yoga, and some of the deepest sleeps I have had in years. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


If June is summer's starting line, where energy and enthusiasm build until a sudden blast through the gate, full steam ahead, then August is the pinnacle. August is for the long-distance fans, who build momentum and know they must sustain it though hot, heavy days, sibling squabbles, long car rides and lower energy reserves. Summer encompasses all of these things. August is hot, sweaty, sticky, sunny and sometimes I feel like I'm dragging each foot to get to the next day. I have noticed, each year, that I go through a bout of real exhaustion and lethargy mid-August that lasts about a week. 

I am in that boat right now. I am consistently tired, less patient, slow-moving and sleepy by mid-afternoon. Is it the heat, finally getting to me? Is it some snotty universal taunt, asking me, "well how do you like summer now, little miss solstice?" I am between adventures and wondering the best way to persevere through this momentary lapse in zeal.

My steady refrain to whining, bickering and boredom has become, "well, let's go to the woods for a walk," and everyone puts on their sandals, grabs a water bottle and files into the minivan, where they argue some more about which woods we should pick. We get there, begin walking, and are uplifted. I am lightened by the sound of the breeze rushing through tall trees. I let the girls walk at their pace, and scan the forest for unusual sights: teeny tiny frogs, new flowers, or this blue jay feather we found the other day. These discoveries, ("girls! come quick and see this!") make a walk an exploration, a movement meditation, and pause to collect ourselves.

Other times, the slow, heavy weight of another 30-degree day cannot be conquered, so I succumb. Hibiscus iced tea, snack crackers, a movie. A quiet moment to rest. A flip through Mary Oliver for the words to match my feelings. An evening run, in the hopes I will tap into an energy reserve that will awaken in time for tomorrow. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Good food In

When I notice my days have become overwhelming, off-kilter or otherwise yucky-feeling, I usually resolve to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with the basics: good sleep, and good food. When things are going well, I am less mindful of these basics. I am happy to report things have been quite enjoyable this summer, and I am soaking in the rich bounty of good weather and outdoor activities that leave my soul fulfilled. In my haste to suck the marrow from life's bones, however, I have unwittingly forgotten to attend to one of the key tenets to happiness: food.

I love beach days, finding new parks, spending whole days in the pool and having impromptu get-togethers with friends, all in the name of seizing the day (and season). Living so cavalier in the face of any scheduling or routine often means I have foregone meal-planning, or even thinking ahead to the next meal. This is a side-effect of summer enthusiasm that, I admit, requires more attention. I have returned to more solid meal-planning, and remembered how great it is to take full advantage of the local produce being harvested now.

Extremely locally, our yard is beginning to give us the first of our heirloom tomatoes. I delight in bringing handfuls in each morning to ripen on my kitchen windowsill. I have bought my mason jars and am looking forward to canning as many as I can. Our garlic bulbs are hanging to dry in the cellar (okay, basement), the raspberries are our go-to snacks when playing out front, and our basil and chives are giving me many opportunities to be culinarily creative. 

The farm stand I like best is also coming out with the most diverse selection of the season. This week I spent $12 to get enough ingredients for a few days' worth of snacks and side dishes.Though it is an extra stop to my grocery shopping, I vow to return to the stand with greater frequency, because local fruits and veggies just taste so much better, and have so many more nutrients from being freshly-picked, (or so I understand).

Ebbs and flows continue, and I find myself in a peak. I am feeling a jones for colourful, bright local produce as it becomes available and as I find revitalized inspiration in new recipes. Keeping up with my adventures (and my girls) requires good fuel in my tank, or else hot days outside lead to cranky mama, not fun mama. And who wants that? Honestly, a green juice in the morning is often better than caffeine to get me going. So we carry forth in our family's foodie explorations with a renewed commitment to mindful eating, local produce, and happy days in the sun. 


Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Before bed, or in other quiet moments of reflection, I often review the day and evaluate how significantly I connected with each daughter. I recollect whether I was gentle and calm, cuddly and attentive. Did I stop and look her in the eye when she spoke to me? Did I embrace her when she came to me crying, holding her little body into mine while I smelled her hair and kissed the top of her head?

These are the things I wonder and replay. Not to punish myself or cycle through guilt if I fall short,
but to keep focus on what is important. As a parent, I am adept at setting routines, directing behaviour and acting as disciplinarian, as needed. I can organize activities, and I make sure we have a good stock of art supplies and books. When it comes to connecting with them, it doesn't always come naturally to me.

I am time-efficient, very type-A, and can get a lot done in a small measure of time. This is helpful in a busy family, but it means I am not always attuned to opportunities to slow down and be with each girl, and those opportunities sometimes get missed. I easily forget to connect with them, when I become caught up in being busy. If I am not careful, a week can go by where I wonder why the girls seem so needy and whiny. Of course, it is because they want to be seen and heard. 

I don't like this tendency of mine, so I am making a concerted effort to build these connections, in big moments and small. I am aware of the fleeting nature of time (the days may feel long, but these years are short), and I know that there is no practice in my life more valuable than of learning to sit, connect and be with those most important in my life. This effort to be present helps balance me. I am always learning (most especially from these four little teachers). I don't need to work on getting things done around the house, but sitting down to read a book? That, I would like to practise.

It pays off, nearly instantly. Everyone wants to feel important. Reacting to (another!) completed page from the colouring book with a "that's great" without hardly a glance is an easy response, but I imagine that can be dismissive and hurtful. Taking a quick moment to scan the picture, look in my artist's eyes, and say, "I like how you chose to make the cat black," gets me a smile and a good feeling. Later on, in the quiet, I am amazed to think back at how many opportunities I have in a day to notice the miracle of a growing, learning, developing child right before my very eyes. 

"Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into that action." -Mother Teresa

Solar heater for the win!

Marigolds are blooming!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Summer's Smile

I crossed the doorway from the kitchen to dining room, carrying a platter with a homemade birthday cake, prompting everyone to sing the birthday song. Loud, joyfully, and generously, they did. I walked toward my little(st) girl and locked my eyes on hers. She was beaming. Thrilled. She looked as though she might tear up any second, so overcome with happiness. I have never seen a little girl react to her birthday song so deeply, touched by the love and attention directed at her for one glorious moment.

She blew out her candles as soon as the cake was placed on the table. One, two, then three smoking candles and we erupted into applause for Summer. That is how she celebrated her third birthday: surrounded by those who love her, directing all their joy her way; she, too small in body to take it all in at once, burst into a great grin, expelling some of her pent-up happiness.

A mother always worries that the younger ones don't get quite the same level of attention, fanfare and care as the older ones. There is truth to validate this concern. They aren't signed up for near as many activities, nor given as many new clothes to wear. Their first time doing anything is not as exciting to parents who have seen it all before. With Summer, she has learned to share what little is hers, and to push herself into any social situation in which she finds herself (invited or not). She makes her presence known, and when any extra love or attention come her way, she soaks it up. I try, each day, to show each girl some individual attention and love, but I don't always live up to this expectation, I admit.

To watch my little girl receive her cake, and gifts, and greetings from everyone who visited, my heart was so warmed to see her truly appreciate these gestures. After eating her first bite of cake, she turned to me for a hug, saying in her little voice, "thank you for the cake, mama." She stopped herself mid-freakout to thank a guest for coming, or for the gift she opened and adored. Her gratitude was necessary and then freely given. She shows what it means to have a grateful heart, as one who counts her blessings, finds beauty in the small things, and knows to celebrate love and life before things and activities (the ones I remember to do with her!)

Happy third birthday, my little lady. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

At the Sea

I was ready to raise a glass and toast summertime long before the solstice, before school was out, even before the ground even properly thawed. This last week has been the epitome of summer, and we are all coasting nicely on the high that accompanies an epic beach road trip. 

The girls and I drove, ferried and ran towards the seas of Nova Scotia and Maine. There are so many ways I want to remember this trip: Salt dried and crystallized on my eyelashes. We scoured the beach for the perfect shells to accompany our sand sculpture of a starfish. We made and ate lobster mac 'n cheese, gluttonously going back for seconds and thirds. The feeling of a wave crashing over my shoulder as I stooped down low and kicked my legs to ride it in to shore. Watching my little girls' tiny bodies, in their bathing suits, scamper into tide pools and collapse on each other, laughing euphorically. 

I want to remember the sounds of waves rolling in: the constant, unending reminder of the moon's pull, of my tiny existence in comparison to a vast ocean, of the passage of time, both infinite and as a fleeting moment. I want to cherish the days spent under blue skies and whispy clouds, in front of seashores surrounded by rocky cliffs, red rocks, green hills, sand dunes. I want to remember the pull of sand and water under my feet as I stood where the wave lapped up to the sand, and how my little girl stood beside me feeling the same thing. 

I know that I don't need to make a conscious effort to commit some other memories to my vault, because they touched my soul so deeply, they have become ingrained. I'll file this under, "reasons to know, deep down, that people are good, and love is real, and a kindred spirit is forever." My friend Johanna opened up her already busy Nova Scotia home to us five girls, and showed us what it means to love someone who isn't family. She didn't worry herself with expensive outings, fancy restaurants, or busy days. She knew to impress upon our hearts with days at the beach, good food in our bellies, comfortable beds to sleep in and ice cream every day. Just the way we like it.

Johanna and her family's kindness and love on this trip will be forever remembered with each summer season, compared against as the one we loved the best. Even time I look at the rocks we collected, or remember the movies we watched at night, the wine we sipped, and the pictures we took, I will let my mind wander a little too long on daydreams of our summer trip to the beach.

My dad and stepmom also heard my enthusiastic call for adventure, and jumped onboard. They booked us in to cottages in Maine that our family have been visiting since my Dad was young. We crashed into the surf, buried little girls in sand, chased seagulls, ate seafood, swam all day in the ocean and the pool, and spent real quality time growing together. It's never long enough in Maine, and we were sad to leave the salty sea air behind us. The bag of saltwater taffy we brought home will have to be a sufficient remedy. 

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