Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Mindful

In Zen, a popular saying goes something like, "Before enlightenment, wash dishes. After enlightenment, wash dishes." The difference between the two is not in the act but in the approach. Before enlightenment, you practice washing dishes mindfully. With focus, with presence, with joy and with wonder at the small miracles of warm water, soap suds, clean dish surfaces. After enlightenment, it is said the art of mindfully washing dishes is no longer a practice, it's just the way. As for me,  I like practicing. For the first time, I am enjoying practicing something I may never master. 


I may never bake the perfect loaf of sourdough bread, but I have been practicing! It took almost a week to let the starter ferment. Each day I fed it and stirred it, taking note of the nice, sour odour that gives the bread its name. I mindfully kneaded the dough, once it was ready, shaped the baguettes and let them rise in their own time. It was pretty delicious, and I was really pleased to return to a habit I once kept in my time up North.


Mindfulness is supposed to mean being aware of reactions, of sensations and conditions in the present. Often life at home with toddlers means I am more or less coasting on survival mode than I am taking it all in. Thankfully, there is the magic of photography, and the time I am granted during quiet nap times to sit and study pictures. I notice Robin's posing ham face, showing off the ponytails she has been asking me to do in her hair every morning for the last few weeks. Her hair so thin and blond, baby-like in its wispy quality. Her face that looks so much like her twin sister, but with subtleties I can detect in a moment's glance.


Abby and I worked at a craft that require patience and mindfulness, a winter sun catcher. It called for three freezing stages, securing a middle layer of natural winter treasures. (Pinecones, evergreen clippings, winter berries, a twig with tiny hardened buds that Abby had found and a sliced lemon.) When it was ready and the sun was high, we went out in the cold (it's been -25 lately) to hang our sun catcher from a branch on our evergreen in the front yard. As long as the weather is cold, our art will remain intact. 

I've been reading a lot about mindfulness, and finding little nuggets that really resonate with me at this stage of my life, at home with young children. I realize, more and more, that my efforts are producing fruits. My smiles feel genuine and happen with more frequency. My girls see me slow down when I am frustrated, and in turn, they practice doing the same. Maybe not with the same control and frequency I try to, but I can cut them some slack. They've only been alive a few years.  I catch myself feeling gratitude and wonder at the tiny little miracles happening around me.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Out of Our Hands

We walked into the woods, a temperate Saturday morning that could not be wasted. By foot and by sled, we trudged deeper in, looking for a good spot to stop.


We brought bird seed with us in the sled, because there is a special place we know where chickadees will come and eat out of our hands, as though we are cartoon Disney princesses come to life. Hailey and Robin weren't really into holding seeds in their hands for more than a fleeting moment, because they became cold. Abby had one land on her hand, surprise her, and then she was frightened and dropped her seeds and didn't want to try again. Summer played a game where she fell into the snow and waited to see who would come get her. I delightedly held out my hand all morning, giddy each time a bird landed.


The girls were super into it, as was I. We even put some seed on Robin's hat, and those brave birds just flew right onto her head to snack. She thought it was hilarious. I wasn't as nervous about it as I perhaps should have been.


From here on out, winter can kind of suck, if you let it. There are many months of it left, and the newness of snow has worn off. So, we look for ways to keep it interesting. Getting the girls dressed and outside takes a bit more cajoling on my part, but promises of fun and a snack usually do the trick. Still to come: outdoor skating, Winterlude, snow picnics, snowshoeing and more tobogganing. Go winter!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Creativity

A funny thing happened when I dropped everything off my radar: I felt a need to fill it with more important, satisfying things, and fewer pithy, annoying things (like errands, pssht). I began noticing on my walks that instead of enjoying some sacred quiet space, my mind was already more at ease to begin with, and so it began to get creative. Story ideas came to mind, I observed beautiful scenes and spontaneously put poems to them in my head.

I am one to believe that everyone is an artist, capable of beautiful expression. How it manifests is different, but you know the feeling: you get excited, your mind starts leaping to new ideas, new solutions and new possibilities. I have always been told I am an artist, since I was quite young; it is not difficult for me to tap into that part of myself. This awareness made me begin to call myself a writer in elementary school, and I have pursued this. I write to identify beauty, to connect with people, to process difficulties and to give unity through written voice. I feel like it is important, as both a part of how I identify myself, and in honouring my role in the world. I write.


Lately, I have been channeling a new wave of creativity that has really made me feel alive. I am writing things of which I am really proud. I am creating solutions and achieving new personal levels of growth. I am not sure from where this all stems, but I am going for it. It is a truly rock star feeling, even if only to my reflection in the bathroom mirror at day's end. 

I learned my mentor is releasing a book she has been writing about tapping into creativity this September, and I am truly stoked. In the meantime, I will keep delving into my worn copy of The Artist's Way and other works that inspire me.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Begin Again

I was reading some of the posts I wrote this time last year, and noticed a theme. So, I looked back to the year before and the year before and I see it again. This time of year, the January and February posts, are a lot of pep talks to myself. Spelling out my goals, reminding myself of some simple truths,  and identifying where I can stand to focus more attention. It must be the time of year, I figure. Winter's cold days and dark nights calling me to turn inward, to not lose sight of where I'm going. 



Twins, much? 
I've been feeling like that lately. For a few weeks, something felt off. I read a parenting book when I felt exasperated in late December, and it left me feeling like I was completely ruining my kids (which is ironic, given the title), so I threw it against the wall and promised never again to look in a book for an answer better found in my heart. I started listing so many new goals for myself in the new year, big daunting ones like "no more anger," and "be even-keeled with the kids" that I began feeling like a failure most days. I needed to remind myself that aiming to be more patient and to slow my reactions aren't goals I will ever achieve with perfection, this year or any. They are just things to practice.


In looking back over the last few Januaries and Februaries I am reminded of the simple place I started. When Hailey and Robin were born, I cleared out everything that wasn't necessary to our daily survival. Slowly, over the years, I built from there. I added in family outings, craft mornings, baking bread with my little girls, little activities that became part of our normal. Somewhere along the line, though, I regarded those things as necessary. I felt like a failure if I spent another morning of -30 weather watching a movie with the girls instead of doing something more "interactive." Kids watch too much TV, right?

 

But, who cares? If the bread doesn't get baked, we can pull out a loaf of store-bought stuff from the freezer. If we don't paint pictures tomorrow morning, we'll play blocks or watch a movie or whatever else we want! As I do this time each year, I need to remind myself that there's no one watching me. No one really cares how good a mom I am, in terms of enriching activities and a homemade lifestyle. What's important is making my girls feel understood, important, and loved. If I don't act like the best version of myself today, I will ask forgiveness, wipe the slate clean and try again tomorrow. I will keep working towards goals I may never achieve. That does not make me a failure. The journey towards that place is what's important.



So, I begin again. Trying to remember a few things I will probably need to be reminded of this time next year, again.
One thing at a time.
Smile, breathe, and go slow.
My love is bigger than anger.
Be the calm in a storm.
Wait to react.
Show them you're listening.
Make time to sit quietly and process.
Show appreciation, and stop to feel it.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Outside, January Edition


 We came, we saw, we conquered (the toboggan hill).


A sunny morning of -15, a selection of sleds gifted at Christmas yet unridden, a hill beside the house promising a warm retreat afterwards. 


Summer delighted in scooching down the hill on her bum, at her own speed. Robin liked to ride flat on her belly, lay down her head and pretend to sleep all the way down. Hailey preferred to go tandem. Abby didn't want to stop, but didn't complain either when it time came to retire for hot chocolate. Skylar kept eating snow and then got shivers and had to go home early (wimp!).


Thanks for the sweet tobogganing morning, nature. Time to go toss our hats, mitts, jackets and pants in the dryer.




Thursday, January 8, 2015

January

"January" 

The days are short, 
The sun a spark, 
Hung thin between 
The dark and dark. 

Fat snowy footsteps 
Track the floor. 
Milk bottles burst 
Outside the door. 

The river is 
A frozen place 
Held still beneath 
The trees of lace. 

The sky is low. 
The wind is gray. 
The radiator 
Purrs all day.

-John Updike


The skies oscillate between blue-grey, white-grey and darkness. The weather report has read '-35 with windchill' for days. I used to think the accompanying feeling for wintertime was melancholy. Everything, it seemed, was dead or dormant; lifeless trees were only animated by whipping, cold winds. Now, I think wintertime brings a kind of peaceful introspection I'll call slumber- gazing.  Everything is sleepy, the landscape calls me home and into the warmth. Even looking out my window brings on a yawn. And in that quiet, my body doesn't fall asleep, but rests as my mind awakens. 


Making goals, new story ideas, inspiration in the kitchen, new art projects to try with the girls on another cold day. And then deeper. Better meditations, more honesty, the mental agility to try new ways of giving my family a more even-keeled mama. Insightful journal entries that show me what I'm made of. Seeing a rare sunbeam hit a tree covered in ice and immediately thinking of a hundred ways to describe its beauty. Better yet, stopping everything I was doing to observe the complex, God-given artwork in front of me, and worshipping the light.


Winter brings me back to the Yukon. To cold days, long nights, and a winter that dictated the course of our years there. The nostalgia is instant. The moment I slip into my Canada Goose jacket, the one handed down to me from a sled-dog musher when she moved South, I feel a sense of adventure. I feel like I am about to push myself to limits I hadn't yet explored, and see what's there. And truly, I did that today. I wore my Yukon jacket, heavy-duty snow pants and beaver mitts, with Summer strapped to my chest, (crying), Hailey and Robin bundled in the stroller in front of me, Abby holding my elbow. Though the effort of the walk to school had me working up a sweat, I pushed myself (and the stroller). I found a new place for me to practice patience, and awaken to the frost surrounding me, exiting my lungs in a cloud hanging over Summer's face. We are tough, I told my girls. 


We are excited for tobogganing, outdoor skating, hikes and bird-feeding when the air warms up, but until then, we hibernate. Just as we know to do when the weather forbids us from much outdoor play. Today, that meant puzzles, manicures, slow-cooker dinner, books, baking, Backyardigans and nap time. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Begin

January, so far, has meant babies. I know of nine people expecting this month, and by tonight's full moon, the count is already at three babies born! I love seeing my best friends have babies; watching them grow as mamas is such a special treat for me. I count my lucky stars whenever I get the chance to cuddle the world's newest people, so I usually sneak in with a hot meal for the new mama and make a beeline for the baby. Yesterday I held a baby who was one day old! He made cute kitten noises, had no idea what to do with his hands, looks just like his daddy and was light as a feather in my arms. 


Tomorrow Abby is back to school, which means we have to put an end to our late nights and sleeping in. Wah-wah. It also means our days will begin with breakfast, get dressed and everyone in snowsuits and onto the sled for the walk to school. This is good because we are out in the fresh air, I get a workout, and the girls can play in the snow when we return home. Getting four girls into snowsuits independently is a work in progress, though, so I am making it my mission to make it through the week not losing it on any kids who tell me they need to pee after they get fully suited up.


I received some sad news today that one of our favourite northern families is going through a rough time. It has hit home with me, and I immediately felt a need to notice and tally all of the little things that gave me pause to feel grateful: feetie pyjamas, toddler kisses, story time, warm suppers, good chats with friends, warm drinks Rich braved a snowstorm to fetch for our movie date night, a good book, fresh bread, earlobe massages (try them! they're great!). If you feel so inclined, I can direct you to a fundraising page for this family, as they can use help to navigate this cancer journey over the next few months: Arms Around the Morin Family. They are good people, and I still model my parenting after them to this day.


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