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. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

In the Garden

This is the exciting time of year to have an edible garden, because everything is starting to grow! The first foods to be harvested are ready now, and the next round are all green and taking shape before our eyes. Whether you are four or 30 in this house, it's all the same kind of fascinating, every year.

Blueberries ripening
Our front garden has been giving us rhubarb, chives and lavender for a few weeks now, doing very well after last fall's application of compost. Our berries, on the other hand, have become appealing to rodents. A grey squirrel beats me to the berry bush every morning. He (she?) took most of our strawberries last month, and now just as our blueberries are ripening, they disappear before we can taste them ourselves. A fence isn't really a viable solution; it's just a small plot out front. Maybe gaudy-looking chicken wire around specific bushes?

From the top: spinach, rhubarb, chives and basil
The cuisine this time of year is correspondingly scintillating. We are making a lot of green sauces with our parsley, chives, basil and spinach. I have a near fetish-level love of basil.

Garlic bulbs
I harvested my first garlic bulbs, waiting patiently for its leaves to dry and brown about halfway down. These are a bit small for my liking, so I'll leave the other plants in a few more weeks. These are hanging from the ceiling in the basement for a couple weeks to dry. I can't wait to eat our homegrown garlic. With basil...mmm

We don't have many flowers, having a primarily purpose-fulfilling edible garden, but we are enjoying the cycle as it nears its end of blooms. In May, we enjoyed our tulips, in June our peonies, and now our hydrangeas, hostas and lavender are on display in their full glory. I am drying more lavender stalks this year to use through winter (I love the smell and will force my girls to love it, too.) The lavender and chives are from my Grama's backyard garden, the blueberries were a mother's day gift last year, the raspberries came from my mom's backyard, and the rest are heirloom seeds and bulbs we ordered and planted.

Hydrangea and lavender
In the years we have lived in this house, I have put a lot of time (and some money, in the beginning) to our garden, and I find it so rewarding. The dollars and hours may not add up to a harvest that balances out, but the practice has been so good for us all. We grow the food we eat, we notice what helps and hurt each plant, we feed it nutritious soil and fertilizer, we learn patience as they grow, and we harvest responsibly, (not too much or it won't replenish!). Then we eat or preserve our bounty, highly nutritious, straight-from-the-dirt rewards for our hard work.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Parc Omega

A visit to Parc Omega in Montebello, Quebec has been on my summer bucket list for a few years now. The idea is, you drive through a North American animal safari, feeding some animals from your car, seeing others from afar. I thought my kids my freak the eff out, but aside from a few caribou drool strings, everyone loved it! Each girl took her turn hand-feeding a large animal an apple or carrot, then giggling merrily as we rolled the window back up. 

The chance to get so up close with these animals local to our landscape was so worthwhile. I could hear the girls observe traits and behaviours they had only seen on Wild Kratts (a PBS show about animals). They learned to be gentle and quiet, and to approach new animals with a healthy balance of curiosity and trepidation. 

Black bear in the wildflowers

Stay hydrated, mama bison
Each girl has her favourite by day's end, though it kept changing as we discussed what we'd seen and learned. My favourite had to be this mama bison, all covered in fur, standing in the heat, nursing her calf. Solidarity, sister.

Oh! Hello, goat!

There was a farm behind the wildlife preserve, where we could walk freely among the livestock. It was very hands on, and though I was a bit nervous when Hailey approached a peacock mid-mating dance, she stood back a respectable distance and came home enraptured with the memory of its beautiful plumage.  

Aunt Holly perfects the goat selfie

Deer antlers so velvety smooth

Little lamb
I admit, bringing four girls on any kind of outing involves a baseline of anxiety as I strive to strike a balance between vigilant supervision, good behaviour enforcement and carefree enjoyment. My sister came along (we were celebrating her birthday), so that helped. Ice cream cones eaten in a teepee helped too. And when all else failed, cuddling cute barn kitties solves everything for everyone ever.

Fallen caterpillar

Friday, July 8, 2016

Be the Light

Today is not one for washing over the bad, or pressing forward blindly with the hopes it will all go away. It won't go away. It isn't my country, but I see how the back-and-forth racism and anti-police sentiment is fuelled on both sides by valid arguments that need to be heard, understood and then changed. Changed. I feel a little like it isn't my country, so what can I do? How can I help? Elie Wiesel had something to say about that. "When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant."

My contribution is to be light. I know that sounds flighty. When things get tough in my house, in my relationships, in times of bigger conflicts, in my world, I want to be the light. So my girls and those around me can feel a little more safe, a little more hopeful, a little more encouraged. 

Our television and radio are turned off, not because we shut ourselves in from the realities of the racial divide and killings in the U.S., but because we are choosing to bake cookies, call friends, go for a swim with neighbours, colour pictures and foster the light. It is our best defence and our strongest weapon, that light and the love it creates. I have quoted this line of Mary Oliver's before, but I find it poignant and helpful today. "That light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it's done right, is a kind of holiness." 

It's not a concrete solution. I am short on those, in this instance. I feel fear and worry creep in, uninvited, but manifested nonetheless. My answer to those feelings is to give them a place to exist and rest, respectfully, but I put my foot down when it comes to ambivalence leading to apathy. The answer to my own fear and worry is not to ignore or run. It is to be better, be light, act lovingly. This world is not, as Elie Wiesel said, limited to the experiences within and outside of borders. It's our world. 

I don't want mamas with black children to fear for those precious lives when they send them out into the world. I don't want wives like myself to feel fear when they send their police officer spouses out into the world, either. I don't want one group of people in this world to feel they are superior to another group, or fear when they pull a car over that the black driver will be violent so they go ahead and shoot first. I live in a social construct that gives white privilege, and that is not justified or fair. When we know better, we do better. 

So, for me, doing better starts in me. In my own propensity to act out violently, I instead stop and react calmly. When I see a kid being picked on and I say something to stop it (including within my family). In my own choice to see someone as a fellow child of God, and not as their clothes or colour or circumstances. It is in reacting to sad, terrible news like that on today's networks with a choice to be a light, and foster intolerance for ignorance or hatred. Love is stronger.  


Monday, July 4, 2016

Remember to Breathe

For posterity's sake, here is what the last week of summer has looked like for us: two birthday parties, a baptism, the secret pond, the splash pad, Canada Day, welcoming a new baby to our extended family, the pool and keeping up with my running. (Yes, I became an auntie! I am thrilled!) It's been busy, one activity to the next, then setting up for the next one, packing enough snacks and filling water bottles (it's been hot!) and remembering to catch my breath. My breath. The days have been moving so quickly by that taking a minute to stop, breathe slowly and rest has been the only quiet I experience. But when I collapse into my bed at day's end, I am so, so happy.

Aunt Holly is 22!

A few things have fallen by the wayside in all this summer hubbub adventuring and celebrating. My daily yoga has turned into a quick stretch before bed while I brush my teeth. My morning smoothie has been made closer to evening, leaving me off-kilter. I haven't been sleeping as much (too much fun to be had!), I haven't been planning our meals as well and it feels like one day's party just quiets down before the next. This is fun, but now I think we all need some rest in this house. Rest, some good homemade meals, and a quality summer read. 

Abby's summer novel
We are between big summer adventures. We held my Grama's 90th birthday this past weekend, and seeing the number of people who travelled to celebrate her was a testament to how far-reaching her love has been through her life. I am so lucky to have had so much time with her as I've grown (and keep growing). The next couple weeks see us splashing, eating outside and hanging with friends. Then we embark on a grand road trip adventure to the east coast for a week at the beach! 

I'm careful not to commit to more than we can handle, so I can have enough time and space to better assess what we can handle! That's the vibe I like best about summer time: striking a balance between carefully cultivated adventure experiences and letting the adventure spontaneously manifest before us. Tomorrow we are going to leave a big blank space. Maybe that will mean laying by the pool and colouring. Or walking to the park. Or both. Or neither. Tonight I thank my lucky summer night stars that this choice is ours to make freely. We live a pretty wonderful life, together.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Outside my window the leafy tree branches dance in a big, wide, slow sway. Back and forth, in time with the tempo the wind sets. Gusts come in, then retreat. Clouds appear where, only a moment ago, there were none. I know this dance, this preparatory performance. A summer storm is coming. It must come. After a week of humid, hot warm days, our atmosphere can only take so much. Pressure builds until the skies erupt in a torrent of big, fat raindrops, powerful winds and then ... the temperature drops. The grasses are cooled. The trees stop swaying, and it passes, making way for another slew of warm days ahead.

I know this summer theatre well. Predictable, understandable, and completely outside my power, so all there is to do is watch it coming and then succumb. We have been blessed with storybook-beautiful summer weather, charmed by such hot-weather indicators as dragonflies and slow-flying birds. We have been rotating between the pool, the park, our colouring books and the kitchen before falling into our needs delirious with exhaustion.

 Our garden is transitioning from "leave it to grow" to required feeding, diligent watering, transplanting, snipping, and harvesting a few early treats. This is our first year growing garlic, so eating the tasty garlic scapes this week was an inaugural treat. We have been eating our chives, rhubarb, green onions, spinach and sage. We're still waiting on blueberries, raspberries, basil and tomatoes. With 11 plants, our tomato harvest is promising, but anything can happen. We tend to the plants as best we can and hope the harvest gods will smile upon us.

Garlic scapes


Abby finishes school this week and then we hit the ground running into summer vacation: Canada Day, reuniting with our east-coast friends, a baptism, my grama's 90th birthday, visits from our American relatives and promises to go to the secret pond. I know we'll need a respite of lazy pool days and slow mornings after all that, and I look forward to those almost as much as our busy adventures. We have a loose list of summer to-do's: a drive to Nova Scotia, cottage visits, the wildlife preserve, a novel study, the movies, sleepovers and eating ice cream for dinner once or twice. Summertime, and the living is easy.

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