Sunday, January 14, 2018

For Later

Hello, again. I am a writer, which serves as both an adjective and verb. I write. I fill journal pages, write messages, little poems and stories. I write here in this space, although for the first time since this blog's inception, I took a break these last weeks. I kept writing. I am a writer, adjective. I am described as one who writes to make sense of her surroundings and inner workings. A writer type of person.

I took in the Christmas holidays and their ensuing celebrations these last few weeks as a writer sometimes does: I observed. I became hungry and greedily lapped up stories like a hungry retriever chomps up a strip of roast beef left in its dish. I read and absorbed language. I lived. I became surprised, thrilled and moved. I collected, story hoarder that I am.

I like this space because it serves as a very useful time capsule. I commit to pictures and words the things I don't want to forget but don't trust myself to fully remember later on. I want to remember this season for the way it washed over me and, for the first time, I let it. I didn't fight the current, if you'll permit the metaphor. I didn't try to direct the flow, conquer the inevitable or stand stubbornly in the way of what was bound to happen with or without me. Christmas was peaceful, shared with family visiting from all over, happily seated around long, opened up tables adorned with warm holidays meals.

This winter, I am remembering that these children are not my children, as Khalil Gibran wrote. They are with me, but they belong not to me. "Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams." There is a powerful force field that surrounds four growing sisters and I dare not interrupt such power. I am learning to bow to it. Abby asked to walk to the library unaccompanied, to check out books she chooses on her own, and so now she does this. She beams with pride when she returns. Hailey has very clear ideas about what she wants to do, wear and draw and so I happily hand her a box of coloured pencils and step back. I know better than to mistake Robin's quiet nature for acquiescence or disinterest. She sees in colours to which my own eyes are not attuned. Summer's fire burns so bright, I am weary of dampening her flames with guidance and boundaries. The myths of parenting a youngest child are often true, it seems.

The learning never stops. Nothing stays the same. Just when I begin to feel steady on my feet, the ship changes course again and I learn to navigate under a new set of conditions. That's not wholly true: I am not navigating the whole ship, alone (although the whiny voice in my head laments that I always do). I am learning in what ways I am on my own, one drop in a bucket, answerable only to myself. Other times call for me to push my sleeves up and insert myself into the chaotic fracas of life, helping those who need it, guiding those too young to fully understand, asking for what I desire, too, and remembering to stop before I sacrifice too much of myself.

Roasted root vegetables, a la Abby

This winter I am trying to remember what I already know. This involves removing several distractions so I can hear the still, small voice. That voice knows enough, at least enough of what the day requires. I am taking on a bit more work, still getting out to run in the bitter cold, doing quiet yoga because it feels like medicine (and not just doing it because I know I should), eating more plants, making travel plans, reading books in bed, inviting daughters to help me in the kitchen, trying not to strategize my next day's agenda while I'm cuddling with Rich, and remembering to listen more, talk less. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017


This year, I have visited three places to which I had never been before: Niagara Falls (twice!), Boston and Hawaii. Each time I travel, I develop a greater context; I use these new perspectives to frame timeless questions about myself and the big human family to which I belong. I love expanding my mind's borders and including more experiences to bring back to my corner of the world. I relinquish a lot of control and, in doing so, practice open-mindedness. Then I come home.

This December, I feel a lot like coming home. The world can be a big, beautiful place with lots to do and see. Indeed, I count myself fortunate to have the world laid out before me without major blockades to what I can access. 'Oh, the places we'll go' and 'we can do anything', right? I want my world to be small right now. I crave intimacy, the familiar, and comfort. I left Facebook behind in Hawaii and saw I didn't really miss it, so I took it off my phone and laptop. I check in once in a while. I am missing out on some life updates and pictures and reminders that I have come to rely upon for a sense of community. It will be there when I return. For now, I am closing the blinds to the big outside world and focusing on what is here. Stoking those home fires.

This is less a declaration and more an intuited nod to the season. It is quiet, slow, dark. I feel the same. I made a harried effort to finish Christmas shopping by the end of December again this year, so I can focus on enjoying this month. It is a special time. I have learned to stop defining that special magic by any religious doctrine and embrace the spiritual pull to be still this month, picking and choosing from a number of traditions based on what feels best, to me. Quiet, introspective and a little introverted. At home with my family. So we can hear and see the miracles, tiny and big, that are all around us.

The big world keeps turning, further from the sun than it is any other time of year. Though I am not walking on any new beaches, the waves will keep lapping up the shoreline. The news keeps reporting on tragedies and triumphs, whether I consume the stories or not. There is a lot of doing that needs to be done, so for now I prepare. In quiet reflection, holding little hands, I am home. There is a lot I do not know, and a lot of places I have not been, but when I look to the guiding words of the wise men and women that have come before me, I know home is where it starts.

"A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life," - The Dalai Lama

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Maui, for 10 years of marriage

A few years ago, we talked about doing something big, monumental, to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. We let our imaginations run wild as we brainstormed: Historical tours in France and Germany! Hiking through Spain! Tea in England! When Rich's concussion looked like it was going to be long-lasting, we had to adjust course a little bit. We chose a week on Maui in Hawaii, to relax, run away, and the option to get out and do some adventuring, if he felt up to it. It sometimes seems like our whole lives are on hold as we wait for him to feel better, like all our plans revolve around his symptoms. You know what? Forced relaxation did us both heaps of good.

Plans were set in place years in advance: We started saving, and asking our parents to step in and babysit while we were away. We knew we wouldn't be able to enjoy ourselves unless the girls were in good, loving hands. It was so nice to have this trip to anticipate; the build up and excitement made it so special. We are now home from our escape away, and though these pictures and words will not do Maui justice, please believe me when I say that island is as close to paradise I've ever seen.

I loved how the island's whole vibe entered around nature: beaches, soaring green mountains, sunsets and sunrise rituals, trade winds and warm, sunny weather year-round. We spent our week doing exactly what we wanted to do, and our favourite memories came from activities that didn't cost a thing. We hiked up Waihe'e ridge one day, a four-mile hike that climbed 1500 feet into the clouds! It was tough at times, but the views of waterfalls, lush green forest and plants were like a scene from a movie. We hiked another day to Twin Falls, through flash-flooded trails and into ice-cold fresh water, but we were proud and thrilled to go beyond the safe/easy hikes to see extraordinary scenery. 

Each day I saw the sun rise and set, and we hardly ever were aware of the time. We put our phones away, and took great delight in asking the question, "So, what should we do today?" Some days we stayed close to our home base and lounged by the pool or beach for an entire day, reading, napping, drinking chocolate milkshakes, whatever we chose! We saw a lot of retired couples, or honeymoon couples, but noticed most of the people our age brought their kids. Our girls would have loved it there, and maybe if we'e lucky we'll all go there as a family one day. Doing something on our own, just us two, felt oddly against the grain, and extra indulgent.

I felt a thirst to learn as much as I could about Maui: the language, the trees names, the local wildlife (there are no snakes, how great is that?), the types of birds and the layout of the island. Our best learning experience was getting up close with a 75-year-old gigantic sea turtle while we were snorkelling on our own, one morning. We hovered in the water, watching him nibble at the coral, and when he surfaced for air, he ascended right in front of us, nonplussed by our presence. In fact, I think he even waved a fin at me, high-five style. Dude. 

We bought new sunscreen after learning that regular sunblock has been damaging the coral reefs over time. We could see evidence of bleached and dead coral when we snorkelled, and the array of colourful fish dependent on the reef for their habitat became hopeful beacons for a healthier reef in the future. I was so impressed by the efforts made to reduce environmental impacts all over Maui: the hotel recycled drain water to water the grounds, the island has wind turbines and solar panels everywhere for alternate energy, plastic shopping bags are outlawed, there were signs explaining responsible hiking practices to reduce harm, and there was a strong emphasis on eating locally-produced food as opposed to food shipped over from the mainland. 

We ate so well. I tried mahi mahi and loved it, we ate local pork and had pineapple with nearly every meal. We found cute surf shack burger joints, highway pie restaurants, and outdoor cafes tucked away from busier areas. We happily embraced the state's latest food trend: smoothie bowls. After climbing the mountain, we gorged on bowls filled with macadamia nut milk, blueberries, kale, protein powder, almond butter, bananas, berries and granola, doubtful it would satiate our ravenous appetites, but we were full for hours.

We were so in tune with each other. It was such a gift to know that magic is still there. Our ability to know and read each other better than anyone else reinforced how lucky we are to be married. We also took stock of how hard it is to be married. It is hard to have someone hold a mirror to all your weaknesses and faults, requiring you to be better, to try harder. That is also the gift, though, how much we have learned about the ways we can love each other, and love the other people in our lives, to the best of our abilities. I have learned to coast through lots of areas in my life with minimal effort, but marriage can never be one of them. I have definitely found you get out of it what you put in. There is so, so much more to learn, and that is encouragement enough as we celebrate our first 10 years and move onto the next. We're better together. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

Time capsule

Ferris Bueller was right: Life can move pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. I haven't sat to write here in awhile because life does move fast. And sometimes slow. My days and hours and minutes are all used up with demands, responsibilities, work, mothering, marriage-ing, eating and sleeping, so sometimes recreational writing takes a hit. But I want to remember these days. I want this time capsule to keep filling with memories and moments that, I know, will amount to some of the best years of my life; The years with young girls who still think I am the moon and the stars.

Each Friday afternoon, an hour and a half before the school day ends, I pick up one girl and we go on a little adventure. Nothing too grand or costly, just something memorable, wherein we have a chance to talk and be together, just us two. Abby's first kindergarten teacher told me she did this with her kids and I'm so glad I remembered it. I hear what is on their mind during unhurried conversations, no competition from other voices. I see their faces and really stop to look at them in these freeze frame moments, feeling what it is to be grateful for them just as they are. These Friday afternoons are such a blessing.

I am writing. I come home from dropping the girls off at school, make a cup of tea and get to work. I research and write and review and submit and try to keep up with the steady influx of paid work. It feels very fulfilling and my mornings go by so quickly. I eat lunch with my boyfriend, I mean husband, and then I either return to my work, cross house fix-it/maintenance stuff off my list, get dinner started, or run errands. Then it's back to school to get the girls, come home for tea and funny poems, dinner, bath, bed, make lunches, yoga or work a shift at my part-time job and collapse happily exhausted.

I am remembering where my motherhood journey started, way up North. Up there, I saw some pretty severe parental neglect, some really cool hippy families living off the land, some slower-paced lifestyles and some stark tragedies that taught me the value of time with family. Amidst those memories, it seems silly for me to be worrying today about whether I am doing enough, being enough, raising good enough daughters and achieving good enough personal accomplishments. I am. Security, comfort, love, and nurturing are enough. Everything beyond that is gravy. Nearly nine years in and it serves me very well to remember what my motherhood is truly about.

Our seasonal changes have taken shape as leaves pile, harvested good sit in the pantry, the furnace is turned on and the baking increases. The baking, oh it is key. The sourdough and muffins and biscuits and cookies. Our days may be structured differently with the girls in school, Rich home recovering and me working, but the baking keeps us all fed with my own take on soul food. Leave the oven door open a bit to warm the kitchen, and let the smell of fresh baked sourdough fill the house better than any fall scented candle.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Autumn Convinces Me

I play this game where I imagine packing up and moving my family somewhere completely different, to start fresh, better our lives in one way or another. You play it too, I'm sure. Sometimes it's Vancouver Island, where we become a surfer family vibing fireside with guitars, sometimes it's a Nova Scotia homestead where we live off our own produce and raised meats. It's usually a coastal locale, where our lives are tied to tides and briny air, but sometimes my imagination is taken hold by international adventures, too. This game takes on a fervent urgency in the late months of spring when I feel I live in the most wet, cold, dreary climate conceivable. 

A bouquet garni to season to ketchup as it simmers
Summer is my hands-down clear favourite, where I soak up everything my city and backyard have to offer, venturing on day trips to beaches and trails, or road trip to the coast for ocean adventures. My decision to pack up and move is back-benched in light of this renewed vigour, courtesy of the sun. Autumn is a special time, though, and I don't think I could ever live anywhere without an autumn. I hear geese honking before I see their V-shaped flock fly overhead and am, for a moment, tempted to flee to southern climates alongside them, knowing the long, cold winter will arrive and stay. But the bounty of harvest time (my own and the farmers), the return to routine after a cacophony of summer melee, the foliage colour changes and waning daylight hours lend themselves to an air of change that, to me, is important.

We harvested about 40 pounds of tomatoes this year, and counting
I am in the kitchen a lot more, feeling pulled to harvest the tomatoes before they are unusable, bringing in the herbs to preserve for colder days. I am cooking things for later: this week, this month or the long winter ahead, stirring and chopping with the kitchen windows open as long as possible. It isn't often I find myself with free time between new work projects, fall house cleaning/putting away, making our own daily meals and being with the girls, but when I do, I am at the counter. There are sweet potatoes to puree and make into biscuits, soups to simmer, cool and freeze for later, zucchini bread and muffins to bake for school lunches. I don't have to do any of this, of course, but I feel pulled to. These are priorities I re-set each autumn, and in deliberately choosing what to do with my time, I feel better about the direction my life is taking, regardless of what locale my family and I are living.

Oh, hello little buddy
Autumn hikes, trail runs and park visits leave us ready to come home with cheeks rosier from crisp air, wanting to sip something hot, eat something warm from the oven. We go out, we cool down, we come inside, we eat nourishing, warm foods, and we go to bed happy. We have pared down the number of activities we do as a family this year, opting to keep things simple, routine, leaving more room for visits with friends, fall cooking and eating. These things feel like they matter more, at least in this season of life. I crave those comforts more than I crave working more contracts for more money, more than training the girls in various skills at extracurricular lessons and classes, more than binge-watching a show, taking on more responsibilities, or making plans to move away.

Day hike in Gatineau
Comparison, they say, is the thief of joy. As much fun as it is to escape into a fantasy where we live somewhere different (better?), this is where we live, where our people are, where we live out the seasons and take from them what they have to offer us. We have long, cold winters. We have hot, vibrant summers. And oh, we have the most beautiful autumns, surrounded by beautiful native maple, oak and birch trees. Autumn wins me back, convinces me everything's going to be alright. As long as we have a warm home to return to, nourishing food to eat now and later, and good people around us, we'll be alright.

May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them
Song for Autumn
By Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don't you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don't you think
the trees themselves, specially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come-- six, a dozen-- to sleep
inside their bodies? And don't you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadow. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


There are things I instinctively try to stop my girls from doing before even realizing what I'm saying. I tell Summer to stop arguing when she clarifies that I gave her two braids, not two ponytails. Why shouldn't she correct me, annoying and unrelenting as it is? I tell Abby to stop dawdling already and come down for breakfast, without asking what she's doing. One way is faster than the other. I tell Hailey not to play with the pile of burrs she collected in the woods, but why not let her learn for herself and help her remove them after? When Robin starts in on the crying again after some perceived injustice from her sisters, why do I tell her to stop it? Stop feeling hurt? Or stop showing it?

Bike wash

As anyone engaged in any sort of relationship with me can attest, I believe word choices matter. I can argue semantics till the cows come home (and sometimes do, right Rich?). I hold myself and everyone around me to a high standard in choosing words that best reflect what they are trying to say. I don't like "always" or "never" statements unless those terms are accurate. When I am not distracted, busy or otherwise engaged, I do a pretty decent job of choosing words correctly when talking to my girls. I make sure to give them a wide variety of descriptors, hoping they will pick them up and add them to their own vocabulary arsenals.

New puppy! Not ours.

When I am flippantly dismissing a cry, or diffusing an argument, or bellowing up a stairwell to a daughter who appears to be ignoring me, I am not really thinking about my word choices or the message I am sending. Sometimes I am engaged with something I can't drop, and little girl feelings have to wait. C'est la vie. There may come a day, I am warned by the mamas who have come before me, that these girls may not be so forthcoming to me with their words. Without a doubt, there will be difficult situations in which they may not even know the words to express their troubling feelings. They will struggle with this and if I can help them, I will.

What I don't want is for a tape to play in their inner dialogue that sounds a lot like my flippant remarks, discounting what they think. If I could have used a more accurate word, let them call me on it. If the reason she didn't hear me call was because she was distracted with a book, let me find that by climbing the stairs and being before hollering out accusations. If I forbid Hailey from experiencing something for herself, how will she develop the confidence that comes with learning first-hand? If Robin is crying because she is tired of explaining her unwillingness to part with the princess crown, then leave it to me to articulate the patience she requires.

They may not always care what I have to say, but for now, they do. They crave my approval, guidance, adjudication and sympathy. They may not all grow up to be writers like me, but if I can install in them the benefits of an expansive vocabulary, carefully chosen words for each feeling and situation, then I am willing to overlook their teenage slammed doors.

Pantry staples in glass jars make me happy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Folding In

In most yoga classes, there is a traditional flow sequence that visitors to a new class recognize. The postures, the standing to seated to savasana pattern, the breathing techniques are designed to be familiar after repeated practises. In my many years of practicing, I have learned the ways yoga poses can function as cheap little therapy sessions. Sometimes powerful, difficult poses held long centre me when I am feeling all over the place inside my head. Twists help wring out negative detritus, as well as aid digestion. Standing poses that connect my feet to the floor ground me after being away from home. This week, what I really needed are some good forward folds.

When seated or standing, a forward fold is exactly that: You bend, usually at the hip crease, bringing your chest and head forward. As you can imagine, your eyes usually end up looking at your knees or legs, in close proximity, depending on your flexibility. I usually tire of staring at my kneecaps up close, so I take those poses with my eyes closed. If they are held for a good long while, tightly wound cords begin to unravel. My fast-moving mind starts to slow and still itself. In that stillness, inevitably, dormant feelings are coaxed out of hiding, invited forward by the silence.

There aren't many times in a day when I am still. Probably just when I am deep asleep or staring at a TV show. I don't give myself many chances to shake out all the noise, the constantly-running monologue. So when I do, when there is quiet, there is a permission for those more reserved, hesitant parts of myself to come into the light, to make themselves seen and heard. Quietly, gently, but felt. That's where the magic of a good, long-held forward fold comes in. Introspection, quiet and a slow opening, both metaphoric and literal (forward folds make for great hip and calf stretches). This week, feeling like I had not paid proper attention to how I was feeling for the better part of summer, I took advantage of a quiet evening to check in and listen.

I rolled out my mat, and began, easing into things, lubricating my joints, and stretching out any kinks I noticed. I found my way into a few forward bends, standing and then sitting. I stayed there, and breathed, and listened to the silence. There weren't words, or coherent thought patterns, but there were feelings. I began to feel my eyes well up. Like butter, my ligaments warmed and melted into the mat beneath me. I exhaled with deep sighs. I made my way out of them slowly, transitioning from one pose to the next deliberately slow.

I finished up, brushed my teeth, and set myself up in bed to write. I put pen to page, without stopping, curious to see what words would come out after that bottle was uncorked. I read back my work and gained some clarity, some insight into what was really weighing on me.

I will always be thankful to yoga, for being a practice I can access anywhere, anytime. I am thankful I have learned how to address my pains and aches (both body and heart) without leaving my living room, while giving my body attention and strength work.
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