Tuesday, October 28, 2014


What do I always do when I find things beginning to whirl away from me, uncontrollably? I return to what I can control: the atmosphere of my home, the food we eat, the time I set aside for myself and the way I think. The way I feel tries really hard to obstruct the way I think. It is much more indulgent to let myself feel things and react accordingly. That must be what it is like to live like a caricature of an impassioned Italian couple, who can fight animatedly before embracing passionately, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, unapologetic. But, it's not me. 

I sometimes wonder if I am too repetitive in this space, always waxing about the need to simplify, setting priorities, eating nourishing food, trying to be patient. I'm sure if I poured through my journals, it would border on concerning. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy," could easily be  written, "All yelling and no patience make me a guilty mama." But that refrain keeps repeating itself, a pattern woven through my daily thoughts, intentions and reflective writings. So each day, I pick up the pieces of the one before and start again at this set of goals I may never reach. Eat well, cuddle lots, be patient, do yoga, do what's right, show love always. 

As much as it may be repetitive for you to read, remember: I do this for me. These are my records, my scrapbooks. These are the pages I will always return to when I feel a wave of nostalgia, or to reference what I did and thought the last time I found myself dealing with trouble. I love looking back at time with just Abby, or Hailey and Robin as cherubic babies, or the harried weeks after Summer was born. Each new reading gives me new clues, more clarity as I ask myself the questions, "What should I do now?" and "How did I get here?"

Deep thoughts for a rainy Tuesday afternoon. 

I am trying. Always, I am trying. To be more patient when Summer breaks a plate I really loved. (So long, Beatrix Potter). To stop myself from yelling when there is so much noise around me I can hardly think and no one is listening. To stop reading articles on Jian Ghomeshi when my time would be better used doing yoga or preparing supper ahead of time. To sit and read books over and over with Summer, because she loves it. To lead Hailey and Robin through basic yoga postures named after animals when they clearly need to get some energy out. To let Abby read her own bedtime story aloud, even though it takes longer, because her beaming pride at the story's end is electric. To bite my tongue and accept rich as he is, because he is amazing, and I don't always need to be right. 

We are preparing for Halloween, excitedly. Tomorrow is pumpkin carving and painting. We've done a trial run of the costumes and face paint at a children's Halloween party over the weekend. We still have to get candy to hand out and draw straws to see which one of us stays home to give it out while the other takes the kids out. Abby has been talking over all the scary things she saw last year to build up her courage of what she might encounter this year. 

Rich and I are excited, too. For the first year in many, we get to go out after the more wholesome trick-or-treating fun to a party at a friend's place. Stay tuned for our very Rich-and-Sarah costumes. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fighting Fear

Hi. Hugs. Long, lingering ones with extra squeezes. At least that's how I've been greeting people this week. Though a week has passed, this particular time span is measured differently, to me. 

Last Tuesday was my birthday and we celebrated with a family meal of chip truck poutine and chocolate peanut butter ice cream cake. It was serene and fun and so, so filled of love. I looked back over the next few days and thought if that had been the last we saw of anyone who had been there, it would have been a great send-off. Because the next few days were a lot of looking back, thinking what if, reevaluating.  

The shooting in Ottawa last week was jarring. My reactions have been all over the map. Immediately, we shut out TV and Internet, checked to make sure Rich was OK, and then made work out of staying calm and cultivating love. That was work for me, but the deliberate choice to keep fear out was my saving grace. Setting that intention helped me over the next few days to handle the overwhelming barrage of news reports. I needed, at times, to take it in, see it, read it, understand what my husband's colleagues went through. I watched and read in private and cried. But when it was go time, when the girls woke up and looked to me, I tried to show calmness, cuddles and patience. I thought that was he best antidote to fear.

The little girls have been missing their daddy's presence, but we've kept busy and stuck to routines as best as we could. Abby, my big girl, has been a shrewd observer. She has picked up on my tension, and has asked a lot of questions I have tried my best to answer without feeding her fears. She has been acting out, testing limits, having breakdowns and showing all kinds of signs that she is off-kilter. I sympathize. I've been short too, yelling at the end of the day, shushing little voices that all talk to me at once. We're all a little off, and any noble efforts to be calm and steady are fallible. Abby sees the fault lines and zeroes in. I hope we can be a family again soon, and begin to put our pieces back together as our city does the same.

I usually process things by writing about them, and this week a lot of that has been private. Superfluous thoughts like reminding myself to be graceful and appreciative of help offered from family members. Setting daily intentions. Figuring out if I am scared or worried or angry or whatever else pops up. It has all been a great exercise in keeping things simple. This week, housecleaning is falling by the wayside and I am not interested in committing to much beyond dinner preparation. The efforts to be a good mama, a good role model, and a supportive wife have been more difficult than usual. But that's my defense against the Parliamentary attack this week: making an effort to be my best self in spite of pervasive fear. I have five reasons to make that choice an easy one.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Great Grilled Cheese Party of 2014

We were talking about our last meals, my friends and I, and what we would carefully select. Thanksgiving supper was popular, as was farmer's breakfast (eggs, hash browns, meat and toast). Me? I'd take a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches and some tomato soup. I'm not on death row, thankfully, so on the occasion of celebrating my birth this past weekend, my friends came over for a monumental feast: An event henceforth knows as Grilled Cheese Party 2014.

Gourmet grilled cheese shops and food trucks have been popping up in most major cities, and pinterest is full of recipes that leave me salivating for days afterwards. I am all about making dreams come true, so rather than have a party outside of a food truck on a cold October night while I paid a babysitter, we brought the party into our house. Each invitee was asked to bring prepared ingredients to make six sandwiches. The response to my invitation was immediate and enthusiastic.

I don't think anyone was able to try each type of sandwich, there were so many varieties. My favourite was Kaylee's Swiss-gouda, avocado and Sriracha sauce grilled cheese. My contribution was strawberries, goat cheese, fresh basil and red pepper jelly grilled cheese. There were other delicious concoctions featuring brie, prosciutto, tomatoes, pears, one with homemade macaroni, cream cheese, oh nom nom nom it was a grilled cheese lover's paradise. I couldn't give the leftovers away at the end of the night, everyone was so full. But now, a few days later, I already miss Grilled Cheese Party 2014 and want another one.

So, what do you need to recreate this genius yourself? We had two griddles going at a time. Each held six sandwiches, so while some friends prepared their creations on the counter tops, others were grilling sandwiches before bringing them to the dining table in a swift carousel of dairy goodness. We  had everyone bring their own bread, as some sandwiches required specific types, but we had room temperature butter at the ready by party time. Between 25 (ish) of us, we went through three sticks of butter. Other than that, all you need are plates, flippers, napkins, wine, beer and the best of friends. Lucky me, I had all of those things on-hand!

I smiled so hard it hurt, ate so much grilled cheese I was ready to explode, did the splits after drinking lots of wine, and hugged all of my friends in one epic night. Lucky, lucky me. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Loving the Long Weekend

For four glorious mornings, I woke up slowly, lazily, whenever the first of the kid squawks sounded from down the hall. Thanksgiving long weekend. Alleluia. Can I just say how amazing it is to live in a time and country where a whole national holiday exists that is dedicated solely to gratitude? I can think of no better remedy for any of life's bummers than practicing gratitude. Even in small doses, reframing an issue to include that for which we are grateful can help transform a problem. This weekend, I was most immediately thankful for slow mornings without time lines.

Around our dining table at Thanksgiving dinner, Abby told us she was most thankful for her family. Bless her. I could also see how thrilled she was to be allowed to wear her new "clip clop" shoes for dinner. 

Hailey told us she was thankful for her fork. 

I took some time to really be thankful for Hailey and Robin this weekend. So often, I am preoccupied with settling their quarrels and cleaning their messes that I forget to sit and watch them be little miracles. They are. I forget how they transformed me when they were born, how they gave me patience and renewed hope. It easy for me to cherish time with Summer, my last baby, and to experience all my parenting firsts with Abby, which require my careful thought. Hailey and Robin at two years old play with each other all the time and, consequently, often get forgotten. I admit, I take their health, good behaviour and presence for granted sometimes. When I am up to my eyeballs in tasks, I forget to stop and see them as they are. 

We took things slow this weekend, and still managed to get a lot done, together. We painted our master bedroom, baked desserts, buns and side dishes for Thanksgiving dinners, visited the in-laws' cottage, and took many walks in unseasonably warm weather. In fact, the older girls and I found a new trail that circles an inlet, a beaver dam and several climbing trees. I can't wait to return this week, so we can enjoy the autumn season in all its colourful beauty. 

Calling frogs
I made time to finish off an article due today, meet with my cross-country best friend for a late night tea, go for a run, hike with Rich (by ourselves!), watch SNL and listen to some new podcasts while I painted and taped our bedroom. There was an excellent balance of Me Time, Family Time and Outdoor Time. For those things, I feel immense gratitude.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On the Road

I was taken this week with the idea that I am on a really important spiritual journey. I have always dreamed about the day when my kids were independent enough for me to leave for a bit, so I could make a pilgrimage to India and really get to work investigating the contents of my soul. Me, some light linen clothing, an ashram of some sort, and a search for enlightenment. My years of yoga practice and amateur meditation work would be my path to becoming an official student of whatever quasi-Zen, spiritual, mystic following to which I devote myself.

And maybe I will. Future Sarah might just pack up and do that one day. In the meantime, though, I am coming to understand that I am by no means biding my time until I can truly seek, pray, practice and learn. Indeed, it is probably much simpler a task to live devoted to spiritual enlightenment when one has no other responsibilities. I don't imagine many of those serene-smiling monks go home at the end of the day to cook dinner, clean bathrooms, raise four unruly little girls and make time for their marriage. 

Nope, it's all here in the nitty gritty. My spiritual practice is in the choice to yell at Robin out of my own frustration that it cost $400 to fix the dryer, or to speak to her with calmness when reminding her not to push Summer. I am on a serious spiritual quest each time I wake up and prepare to spend a day nurturing these four little beings under my charge. There is much to practice, and I am always learning.

Princess Abby and Princess Mama
I have no idea what kind of ripple effect I may cause as I move through the world around me, so I might as well take the time to smile at the crossing guard lady and say good morning, genuinely. And pat the unruly dog that comes barreling towards me at the park rather than give the owner a dirty look. I might as well make the choice to be engaging and cheerful with the grocery store cashier who obviously wants to chat a bit before processing my purchase. Maybe later, when I'm struggling to make sense of my existence in the heat of rural India, I will have all these experiences of working hard to choose good, grace, kindness and patience upon which to draw.

Applesauce cooling
I may have to wait years, save money, and keep dreaming about a pilgrimage, but as for the journey? I am totally seeking truth right now. I am finding opportunities every day to work at my spiritual practice, to make something of my studies and learn from the great teachers all around me. Remaining calm when faced with some of the gritty, rotten parts of motherhood requires a great well of self-control, and a continually widening perspective of why calmness is important. 

It is easy to lash out, to yell, to sigh dramatically and stomp around. Sometimes, I take the easy way out. Before the guilt creeps in, though, I recognize that I am presented, again, with another chance to try and work on being patient. I've heard from those who have gone before me that patience is really a lifelong lesson to be learned, so I may as well get down to work. I am constantly presented with choices that lead me through a web, one that becomes more simple the further in I venture. Do what's right. Don't yell. Choose love. Be gracious. Simple, simple adages that are always works in progress.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Butterfly Morning

My little Robin, from her earliest days, has been a quiet poet. She would wake up before Hailey, as a baby, be happily lifted from her crib into my arms, and look out the window for a long while at the sun rising over the mountains. As she has grown, she has continued to show me that she is always watching, taking in her surroundings with a keen eye. I see what catches her attention; it is the beautiful things. A flower blowing in the breeze, a colourful earring dangling from someone's ear, a canopy of trees overhead. 

I have been making more efforts to go on adventures with the girls one-on-one. This past weekend, I brought Robin out on a rainy morning for a donut at Timmie's and a tour of the biology department's greenhouse at Carleton U, which was hosting a tropical butterfly exhibit. It was free, not too busy when we arrived, and fulfilled its advertised promises of colourful butterflies landing all around us. I was so happy that I could bring my little Robin to such a beautiful, engaging activity. 

Of all my girls, I knew she would like it the best, so we went just us two. She tried holding an orange quarter with a butterfly perched on top, but she quickly grew nervous and dropped it. She told me she preferred to look and not touch, so that's what we did.  

We acted as though we were the only two there. I hoisted her up in my arms to get a better view, and together we watched colourful butterflies flutter and land all around us. I watched her delicate hand extend to point out a butterfly quietly eating flower nectar, and met her gaze when she looked at me with amazement. It was a moment I hope I never forget.

We didn't talk a lot, and I knew she wouldn't want to. It wasn't a morning to quiz her, or encourage her to work on her speech. We observed, we found beauty, we shared looks of wonder. We turned our heads up to see the busy cloud of fluttering wings darting around the ceiling, captivated by the flashes of colour.

A butterfly was passed onto my hands, so I squatted down to bring it close to her. She stepped back, hesitant in case is flew anywhere near her face, but stood close enough to see its antennae, its legs, its slowly opening and closing wings. For a moment, I saw the essence of childlike wonder erupt over her face, evidenced by her shy smile.

It was only a morning, but without anyone else to detract from our moments together, I felt like I learned so much about my younger twin girl. My hope was that she would feel special, attended to, and worthy of my undivided attention. I think she did, as much as I can gather from her limited speech. What I know for sure is that I have a very deep soul in my Robin, and I am the lucky one for being chosen to mother her beautiful little spirit.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Outside my window … I hear dried leaves flowing down the street.

I am thinking … I have to hammer this post out so I can make time for a quick half hour of yoga before bed. And I hope that row of Pepperidge Farms Monaco cookies I just ate doesn't do funny things to my digestive system whilst I am yoga-ing. 

I am thankful … that I remembered to get cookies while grocery shopping. Otherwise, it such a bummer to come home from getting groceries with no yummy treats for mama.

I am wearing … a vintage T-shirt, my fave jeans

I am creating … a daily writing plan. I am getting serious about my writing, but this means different things on different days. Some days I want to write free-flow style. Other days I want to tackle more meat in my short stories. Sometimes I have deadlines for freelance stories that I need to write, do interviews for or do background research.

I am going … to take Robin on a special mama-Robin date this weekend.

I am wondering … how our applesauce will turn out tomorrow. Trying a new process whereby we keep the peels on, blend them up nice in my super-blender, then cook the mush with cinnamon and lemon juice before we can it.  

I am reading … Dr. Laura’s “In Praise of Stay-At-Home Moms.” I admit I am usually a fan of hers, as polarizing as her views can be. The last few weeks have been long and exhausting, so I opened this old book in search of some encouragement.

I am hoping … that we make the right choices for our family this month. Rich and I are entertaining some new ideas of how to balance our budget and make our earnings go furthest, but that usually involves a bit of risk, a bit of testing new ideas, and those two things frighten me more than they should. (I’m working on that!)

I am learning … that what I am doing every day is good enough, and that all the rest is just the cherry on top.

Around the house … it smells like a mix of campfire and homemade buns.

In the kitchen … I am waging war on fruit flies. They are worse this year than I’ve ever seen.

I am pondering … when to close the pool for the season.

A favorite quote for today: “Just do right.” –Maya Angelou. When I ask myself, “What is the right thing to do?” my heart almost always knows the answer. It’s simple, but it makes me feel a whole lot more honest and genuine about decisions I make.

One of my favorite things … well, other than those cookies, (which don’t exist any more because I ate them), my favourite thing right now is my tinted Burt’s Bees lip gloss. I swear, it takes me from zombie-looking and anemic to radiant and sexy.

A few plans for the week … make applesauce, bake banana bread, get a good distance run in, order in more books at the library, send invoices out and have some more quiet time to myself.

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