Space. The final frontier.

Space really is the final frontier for me in some ways. Not outer space but the space in which we live. These tiny house people make me feel strangely envious, as I imagine how simple their lives must be with so little stuff, such easy cleaning, such um, extreme coziness. Of course that “small footprint living” only works when you have no children, and when it is early enough in your partnership that you still crave being really closely together every minute.

Anyhow, it has been certainly a small-er house scenario for us. We went from having 2400 square feet with 12 rooms to 1000 square feet and six rooms. What I have learned from that exercise is we all have a whole lot of stuff we really don’t need, and getting rid of it is a constant battle, to the point where “decluttering” is an industry. Pretty sure decluttering was not an issue for our grandparents. We just love stuff, buying new stuff to replace the old and finding places to put it all.

This is not an option for us anymore. We got rid of an absolutely astonishing amount of goods before we moved across the country, and frankly there is none of it that I miss. It is kind of freeing to have less space, because sometimes we literally have no place to put something, so we just don’t buy it. It does make decisions easier.

Living in a big century house made me into a voracious reader of house porn like Canadian House & Home or Country Living magazines. I have dumped that habit, replaced by a love of online pages like Apartment Therapy . Great articles on stylish and mindful small-space living, organisation, DIY and useful stuff like toy rotation systems. (!!) The other plus of course is that I read it online and it takes up no shelf space.

IMG_9116Speaking of shelf space, books are one thing we can hardly cut back on, but we do try. Book space is a priority for us, but we have become choosier about what we buy and what we actually keep. A charity book sale I organise twice a year keeps us under control as I make sure we shift out a couple of boxes to donate each time around.

I am just as much of a thrifter as ever, but what I buy has changed. Last year I scooped a grandfather clock for $10, only to get it home and realise I bought it for our old house. It did not fit in at all with our all-white condo. Plus it had a truly hideous jerry-rigged red clock face. To make the best of it, I ripped out the clock and now the whole thing is a tower bookshelf. Score! Now I just need to paint it white.

As much as we buy, we must get rid of, so it means we have stuff constantly moving in and out. If things don’t “fit” with our lifestyle now, out they go. Oddly enough a painting of antique wooden potato mashers fits much better in a big country kitchen than in a modern condo-sized one. Here it just looks weird.

Sometimes when we visit friends, I look around and observe their stuff compared to ours. I can’t help it, everybody does it so don’t pretend you wouldn’t. It is kind of fascinating. Some friends have a big house but are quite minimalist, with actual empty space in their home. I’ll call it “room to breathe.” Others have so much stuff, every gadget, game, toy, movie, appliance and recreational aid I can possibly imagine. I look at it and I feel a little envious, sure, but I also feel better about what we own. I feel like if I had all that extra baggage, it would stress me out. Sure, maybe our kids would love all that stuff. But they also really love what they have. We have ENOUGH.

Such a big word, enough.

Sure, I would take an RV. A second bathroom is definitely in our future but I will never go back to having three to clean. I won’t say no to a dishwasher. (two years and counting without that) An unlimited book budget would be lovely, but we kind of have that already with the library. A wee bit more room and we could squeeze in another cat and maybe even a dog. (Husband screams “Noooooooooo!”) But honestly, we have enough.

It is enough for us.

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Do you feel buried in stuff? How do you know when you have enough?

Not another annoying list

RIMG0583It has been ages since I have written here, and if you ask me why I don’t even think I have an answer. It has been a long three years, to be honest. And ironically it is also three years since I let my mind wander here. It is three years since I left my island (metaphorically and literally) and landed in this landlocked wind-swept prairie place. If I really wanted to bore everyone I would make a grand list of crap I have learned in these years. But let us not go there.

I started this blog in 2011, when blogging was still a Big Thang and I was an avid follower of some really good ones. I had a 6 year old and a 4 year old and needed a creative outlet where I could spill my guts and sometimes even interact with other adults in a virtual-reality-kinda-way. I wanted to be funny and crafty and crunchy-granola-mama like the other bloggers I read who eventually went on to get book deals and make a living just by living and blogging about it.

When I look back at my posts I realize my whole blog persona was tied up in raising kids in a big old draughty beautiful farmhouse with a big messy garden and amazing neighbours and an ocean five minutes away. I grew vegetables and made jam and upcycled stuff into cool but probably under-appreciated gifts partly because subconsciously I knew we couldn’t afford to buy gifts due to the absolutely stunning amounts of money it took to keep a big draughty farmhouse heated in winter. Still, it was sweet how naive I was. And occasionally a bit twee as well.

Once we got replanted on the prairies, I did try to keep blogging but it hurt to change so much. Living in a housing co-op doesn’t inspire the same way, and I made a stab at a few posts in my ill-fated attempt to monetise the blog at http://livingbrilliant.blogspot.ca  but my heart was never in it and I deserted my post pretty quickly there. So what is different?

It’s a new year. And once again I need an outlet. I am inspired by a blogger whose house-reno site I loved, who now just writes for the sake of writing and it is great gut-spilling real stuff. You can check her out at http://ritaottramstad.com.

So, my original purpose here was “Life, Family, Books.”

Well, all that and a bag of chips is ongoing. Life is very different from when I started. My girls are growing up fast, so fast I blinked and one is almost as tall as me and has bigger feet. We could share shoes but she says my clogs are not worth borrowing. Books are the constant in my life, always have been and always will be. I am still reading British fluff non-stop but I am thrilled to have gotten one of The Bloggess Jenny Lawson’s books for Christmas. Now THERE is a blog overflowing with brutal honesty and lotsa swear words well-said. While my vocabulary certainly has diversified in the past couple of years (thanks, co-workers) I cannot match Jenny’s level of foul-tongued hilarity that hurts.

Anyhow. Just to demonstrate my complete lack of focus, this post was supposed to be about what I learned in 2015. So there you go. I’m back, and my mind does wander as much as it ever did.

 

What is it about school?

Heading off into the world…

There was one moment when I just wanted to grab her hand and pull her back to me.

Unfortunately, that would be quite embarrassing to have the entire busload of kids laughing at the mom who couldn’t let go, so I backed off and moved back up the driveway so she could get on without a desperate mother clinging to her little hand.

What is it about school? Friends have told me and told me, “Oh, once they start school time just starts to fly, and they just move further and further away from you all the time.”

Good God, there is something really sad about that, until you realize in many ways they are just moving further and further away from you from the moment they are born, from the minute they eat their first solid food, the second they take their first steps. Is that sad or is that joyous? I feel a bit of both. It is the ultimate in bittersweet, really. I rejoice in every first in my babies’ lives, and yet I feel a twinge of sadness. Last week I finally hauled all of the baby gear and sweet wee clothes out of every closet and from beneath every bed and got rid of all of it. Other babies are using it all now. This was due in no small part to the fact my youngest child was about to start kindergarten and is clearly far from being a baby anymore. But it still hurt.

It is a letting go like nothing else I have experienced in my life. I am no longer a parent to babies, or toddlers, or even pre-schoolers. I am out of that club. I can offer wise words as someone who has been there, but a new parent would probably think to themselves, “Oh, she is not HERE where I am, so she does not KNOW.”

So here I am with two schoolgirls. I am the lunch maker, the form-signer, the one who tries every afternoon, like a dentist trying to pull teeth, to extract some meagre nugget of information from our children about their day at school. After years of spending most hours of the day with her, it is hard, really hard, to be relegated to this seemingly secondary role. Yikes, could I be taking it personally? Yes, other than sleep time, a teacher now spends more hours a day with my child than I do. Who knew that could be so tough to swallow? Even when the teacher is wonderful and caring, it still burns.

When our kindergartener comes home from school, she is exhausted and exuberant and bursting with all the new experiences. I try to see it all through her eyes, all the glittering freshness of being out in the world on your own for the first time. Every thing we take for granted, it’s pretty darn thrilling to her, bus rides, lunch kits, recess, a whole class full of other children who she just knows will be her best friends.

I smile and I enjoy the moments when she bursts out with some little story about her day. I look into her eyes and I see the baby that she was just a short while ago, the way she used to look at me when she was tiny and her parents were the centre of the universe. And I see that we are still her centre. Her universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Friends

 When I was a kid, I was not popular. I might have been a bit odd, eccentric perhaps and maybe annoyingly brainy. You know those kids. Anyhow, I struggled. I had a wonderful friend who stayed next door with her grandparents for the summer, and we spent every day together, blissfully running restaurants, hotels and doll daycares, or just running wild in the woods and fields. I also had a best friend who was a grade ahead of me, so while we spent many nights having sleepovers and playing with her far-more-exciting Barbie gear, we didn’t get to play together at school.

As I got a bit older and arrived at high school, it was a glorious realization for me that there were other kids who were just a little off the grid of sunshiney perky high school student council cheerleader athlete types. (not that there is anything wrong with those types, I just would never be mistaken for one.) The smartest thing I ever did was join the band, where I found a loyal troupe of people that stuck together in the face of all that high school perkiness.

Still, I would never be the popular kid and there were times even as an adult that I was a bit at a loss in how to make friends. So imagine my surprise at this point in my life when I find myself with many friends, people who I can turn to, talk to, drink cold wine with, who care enough about us to check in regularly, who offer to watch our daughters, who feed us.

There are so many levels of friendship. There are those who have been with us since childhood, who we have watched grow up and turn into the amazing adults they are today. There are others who went through the awkward years of high school with me, or the slightly drunken days of university. They know our whole histories.

When we first became parents, we turned inward, our world shrinking to the size of our own house and that tiny person who had come to rule it. When I suffered from postpartum depression, I withdrew to the point where I could not reach out to anyone for help. It was a lonely time, one that today prompts me to ask new mothers who I barely know if they are doing alright, if they are getting out of the house enough.

 Now I have a group of friends who have been with me during the past six years of growing children. We all had young children, we all needed to get out for a glass of wine and some adult conversation. In some ways I feel like I grew up with these women. I grew into the parent I am today, and I counted on them to make me feel that whatever I was going through or what odd phase my children were dragging us into was just normal. When I was suffering from another bout of depression, I would drag myself out to our book club meetings and actually find myself laughing for the first time in weeks.

 I have learned that to make friends, you have to open yourself up to it, be prepared to make the first move, and to reach out to people when you need help. Too often women are fooled into thinking that everyone around them is doing a better job of parenting than they are. We get intimidated by images of perfect moms who make organic baby food and never yell at their offspring. But if you look more closely, you might see a look in her eye that is just a little bit wild, a little bit unhinged by lack of sleep or depression or just the puke-stained stress of parenting young children. Those are the ones you want to invite for coffee or the always-neutral ground of book club, because they might be just the ones who need a friend the most.

View from the back door

Motion

 

Who Has Seen the Wind?

By Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
 

There is something about the wind in a wheat field…it is irresistible, fluid deliciousness. So happy to say the field out back is in wheat this year, rather than dependable, utilitarian but not very pretty potatoes.

Vacation, anyone?

There is one naîve moment in the day when I get home from work and think “Ah, now I can make a nice cup of tension tamer tea, put my feet up and read a magazine for an hour.”

That does not last. When I get home, there seems to be more work than ever to do, and somehow I just never find the time to flake out on the couch because there is supper to prep, garden to weed, children seeking attention, laundry to sort (since the man of the house can’t tell the difference between anyone’s clothes except his own) and bills to pay. Oh yes, and there is also more work to do, as there are many streams of work going on that don’t necessarily take place in a “workplace.”

Part of me has that old sense of entitlement, that voice that says “HEY! You deserve a break.” But you know what? Sometimes that just does not fly when you’ve got a family. There are times when I tell the girls that I just need a time out. Five minutes later I hear a soft little voice at the door asking “Mama, is your time out over yet? Mama, why do you need quiet time, Mama?” OH, it is tough to turn that little voice away.

So, the only way to really take a break is to BREAK from everything, the house, the yard, the jobs, the sidelines, the blog, the email, everything. We pack up the children and stuff the old car full of gear and take off. And this is what we seek.

In the forest deep…

We are always on the lookout for the greatest playground of all time…actually, we could write a guidebook on playgrounds of eastern Canada, complete with ratings. This one, in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia gets a “10.” Can you believe this is their elementary school?

One of our favourite discoveries. Best playground!

On camping trips, we even sit still on occasion. Although not very often.

Taking it all in.

Sometimes, we just pretend to be pirates. But in exciting new places.

Aaaargh. Ahoy.

Mostly, we just hang out together. No distractions, no work, no chores, just fun and being outdoors all day and all night, too, all of us sleeping in the big tent together, nothing to do but just BE together. It is the best time-out ever.

Glorious green in Fundy National Park.

Beach blanket book bash

Everyone reads in our house. Taz prefers non-fiction.

The fantabulous part of summer reading is the lack of any desire on my part to better my mind in any way whatsoever.

Summer reading is ALL beach reading, glorious, often fluffy, always escapist, this is what I want. Reading on the beach, reading while reclining with a cold drink on the back deck, reading while driving (as a passenger of course) to the next camping destination. Oh, and don’t forget reading at breakfast before anyone else is awake. I have to cram in reading when I can, and for that reason alone, we have reading material in every room of the house. And I do mean every room. That way I can pick something up and fly though a few pages or chapters when I get the chance.

Years ago, pre-kids, pre-career, pre-anything really, my BFF and I would pickle ourselves in baby oil, grab a towel, drinks, snacks and a nice trashy paperback novel each and head to the beach for an afternoon of sunbathing, reading and watching all the other teenagers who were hanging out. OH, the freedom! These days we use SPF 85 sunscreen, carry at least three bags of stuff, and spend the whole time making sure our children don’t jump off the dock and drift away on the tide.

I still get some summer reading in, though, and I am plotting the books for this season. The obvious beach reads are those by authors like Iris Johansen, Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, Susan Wiggs, and those kind of romance-thriller&suspense authors. And believe me, there are few of those in my stack. But I thought I would share some of the maybe lesser-known or long-forgotten books on my list as well as some of my all-time favourite summer reads.

Pageturners for summer reading

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier: Love this. Books set in Cornwall get me every time, but this little volume about a bored noblewoman who falls for a charming pirate (and aren’t they all charming?) is SUCH a guilty pleasure. DuMaurier’s books are all worth picking up.

Casting off by Nicole Dickson: The main character travels to a tiny island off Ireland to write a book about the region’s traditional fisherman knit sweaters, and is embraced by the tight-knit (little knitting pun there) community. Makes me want to go there. Makes me want to knit.

Thinking of you by Jill Mansell: Funny, funny, quirky. British writers are my go-to authors when I am looking for self-deprecating humour, and this is a good one. The romantic male lead is named Finn Penhaligon. Need I say more?

Good in bed by Jennifer Weiner: Cannie Shapiro is a Big Girl. Voluptuous, curvy, real-woman sized. She is a great character, looking for love in all the wrong places, but surprises ensue and her whole life path changes. It will make you cheer.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: Perennial favourite, big, sweeping family epic set in Cornwall. Like I said, Cornwall, I love it. Covers several generations of a family and all of their secrets, scandals, love and wind-blown beaches.

The birth house by Ami McKay: Best. Book. Ever. It is such a good read that I have forced it upon almost anyone who asks in the library. “Oh, looking for a book? Read THIS.” Set in rural Nova Scotia, it is set during the time when midwives were slowly being pushed out by the medicalization of childbirth. A few strong women fought back, and it makes for a great story.

Ones I am planning to read

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo: I hear a LOT about the Scandinavian writers of murder mysteries, but this guy gets the most talk.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James: Okay, so, fabulous mystery writer takes on the world of Jane Austen?? I am so there.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: Heard a lot about this, so I must try it.

Something by Tess Gerritson : Because everyone tells me I should read her.

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny: This series has just gotten better and better, and I cannot wait for this latest Chief Inspector Armand Gamache book to be released in August.

Reading anything good? What is your best summer read? Please share… I still have room on my list for more titles! Now if only I can find the time…