Sunshine and blue skies

off into the world

Okay, it actually is not sunshine and blue skies outside my window this morning, but it will be later today, I think. Lots of things flitting through my mind this week, which is only appropriate for a blog called “the mind does wander.” I’ve got a list going in my head at all times of things to accomplish, goals to wish and strive for, little tasks to tackle, and of course Big Goals that keep getting added to every list in hopes that one day they will be achieved. (Write novel. Pay off debt. Get up earlier. Have date nights every week. Or at least every six months.)

This week’s goals include celebrating our “baby’s” fifth birthday, and I am feeling a little weird about that. It seems to launch us into a whole different realm of parenting. We go from being parents of very young children, preschoolers even, to being parents of school-age children. Since kindergarten is a full-time affair here, that is huge. It means both of our girls will be gone off to school in September, leaving at 8 a.m. and back home at 3:40 p.m. It means I am no longer in the baby-toddler-preschooler-mom’s club. So how do I feel about that?

I am feeling a bit ambiguous, to be sure. It means letting go of all that is wrapped up in that pre-school period, including my role as a part-time worker and full-time parent. Of course parenthood is always full-time, but the time I have spent at home with the girls the majority of days is pretty much over, and this brings with it a sense of sadness. Already I have moved into the role of more work and less time at home, as Dan has been more the full-time parent this year. I feel that this summer is the end of a certain period in our lives that will never come again in quite the same way, but I suppose that can be true of every moment in our lives.

With that in mind, I am focusing on truly being present in every moment this summer, on looking ahead to the future and what it holds but also just soaking in the joy that is right now. Here are a few things on my wish list for the coming months:

1. Grow more of our own food. Gardening is earlier this year than it has been in years, so we are making the best of that. The greens in the cold frame are cropping very nicely and we are all enjoying the freshness every day. Ava and I actually got most of the garden planted the other day, including my first attempt at growing tomatoes from seed. So far, so good, and I already have visions of the gorgeous tomato sauce made with our own roma tomatoes and red island garlic.

2. Get out camping more. Now that we have resolved that a camping trailer is not in the cards this year, we will enjoy our lovely new tent instead. Destinations? Wish list includes Cape Breton, Fundy National Park, Graves Island, and as always, the Annapolis Valley. The girls’ legs are longer this year which means we can do more hiking trails without having to resort to carrying tired (and heavy) little ones.

3. Spend as much time outdoors as possible. We all love geocaching, so that is definitely on the summer bucket list. It is such a great family-friendly activity that seems to work for all ages. It gets us outside, discovering many gorgeous spots off the beaten track, and the girls always feel like they are on a treasure hunt. Plus, with many hundreds of caches in every province, we can do it anywhere and everywhere we have our GPS.

4. Take holidays. Forget about work completely and absolutely. Sometimes I think we feel somewhere deep inside (or maybe not so deep) that our workplace will fall apart without us, that chaos will ensue  the minute we leave, and that all sorts of crapola will build up there to haunt us when we return to work. It may be disconcerting to admit, but even without you everything just continues on just fine. There are lots of competent people holding things together just as well as me.

5. Hang out. Be a kid. Go to playgrounds every week. Eat ice cream.

6. Take better care of our bodies. We all have bikes now, so I really want to get out biking the trails as a family. I was never a physically active kid (sports??? Ewwwwwww!) but I want to provide the example of being active to my girls. I am even attempting to take up running, and in some sick and twisted way I like it. Of course I am only running about five minutes, then walking, then running. But still, the only thing that could have motivated me to run in the past was if some horrible purple monster were chasing me. And that never happened, thankfully.

7. Have fun.

8. Be loving.

9. Read lots of fluffy books.

Happy Birthday, baby!

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Getting back in the groove

Everyone loses their blogging mojo (would you call that blo-go?), or at least I hope so. I have not typed a word in this space for a couple of weeks, and since I find myself with at least six things to do now that my daughter is asleep I am going to just use photos to get back in the blogging groove. After all, every post does not have to be thought-provoking or clever. I just hope to hit the occasional note of cleverness. In the meantime, let’s have a little feast for the eyes.

These are the colours to be found in our little world this evening…ImageImageImageImageImage

How to be quiet

The sea can be quiet.

Silence is an interesting thing. It can speak volumes, like when someone is glowering silent disapproval all over someone else’s third spilled glass of milk that day. Or, if you wake up early enough in the morning, before everyone else is up and chatting, silence can just be gloriously, miraculously restful.

I am not good at quiet. In my work, I chat non-stop, which is kind of funny considering I work in a library. It is a one-person branch in a small community, though, and people don’t come there to study in silence. They come to chitchat about the weather and their children and most of all, books. I love that, because getting paid to talk about books is just about the closest thing to heaven I can imagine from a professional perspective.

Still, I do crave silence sometimes, and with two little girls in the house silence is not an everyday (or every week) occurrence. We seem to get louder all the time, raising our voices to be heard over the din of raucous giggling, yelling, singing, crying masses. Okay, it is not masses, it is only two but sometimes they feel like more.

So this past week when I was hit with a whopping case of flu, complete with silence-inducing laryngitis, it got me thinking about ways to be quiet. I suppose that is the easiest way to shut me up, to strike me with laryngitis. So everything I said has had to be whispered, while at the same time the sore throat meant I was extremely frugal with what I had to say at all. If it was not important, I just saved my breath. I waited for people to come to me, rather than trying to yell over the din.

Hmmmmmm. I might have something there.

Could this be a new way of communicating effectively? Because frankly, I am tired of raising my voice.

Anyhow, the other side of the coin is that it was just nice to feel like I didn’t HAVE to talk. I could sit silently. We are, in these days of extreme connectivity, apt to fill silences as quickly as they arise, when really some empty spaces would be good for all of us. Being quiet means you can hear the wind blow, or the birds sing, or the soft breathing of a sleeping child across the hall. It also means you can be completely present in that moment, rather than clicking away on your smartphone or cranking up your earbuds.

Last fall, as part of a mindfulness-based stress management course, I had to take part in a one-day silent retreat. That meant for the full day, there was no talking, no eye contact with the other participants, just silence. Let’s just say right up front that I have never, ever in my life been silent for an entire day, and I was intimidated. Even while eating lunch at a table with others, no talk, no eye contact. We spent the day doing relaxation exercises, meditating, yoga, writing in a journal, or just sitting in a peaceful spot staring at the sea. There was a little boathouse down by the water with a hanging swing chair, and I remember sitting there, idly swinging and thinking “I want to do this every week.”

Which leads me to try to find ways of being silent in my everyday life and in the life of my family. Getting up early seems to be the best way for me, while staying up later seems to work best for Dan. Carving out even a half-hour of time to be alone and quiet makes such a difference to my day. Sometimes I do some yoga or stretches. Other days I make a cup of tea and just sit down at my little desk with a notebook. Some mornings I sit and watch the birds outside the window. It sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is, but it is amazing what a difference it makes. Last year I had just been finding that stress was hijacking my day right from the second I became conscious in the morning. The moment I heard a child wake up, I would leap out of bed with my mind already on overdrive, thinking of all the things I had to do, my heart rate already pounding and that cranky feeling already well-established for the day. THAT is not healthy.

We are trying to help our children find a little quiet as well, which is not easy. But the most simple way to do it is to allow a bit of time at the end of the day for them to read in bed on their own. Just giving them that silent 20 minutes to sit in bed alone with a book helps them unwind and quiet their minds enough to really relax for sleep. Of course Ava can’t read yet but we encourage her to just look at books, which she loves to do. What is really important is that our children learn ways to quiet themselves.

We are always saying “Take a deep breath.” This is a catchall phrase that is sometimes an attempt to divert someone from a tantrum or from smacking their sibling across the head with a Groovy Girl. But it is also a way of diffusing a kid who is getting so wound up that her eyes are actually unfocused and her heart is pounding. It is healthy for children to learn ways to self-soothe, and just taking five deep breaths with the eyes closed is a simple technique they can use anywhere. Heck, it’s a simple technique we should all use.

Needless to say, going on silent retreat is not an option for everyone, and laryngitis isn’t an easily-acquirable solution either, but a little quiet time is good for everyone in the family. It helps us to ground ourselves in the world, to just “be” without constantly having to “do.” That is a huge challenge especially for busy parents, but if we can provide that example to our children it will also help them to handle stress and busy-ness with greater calm.

So take a deep breath. And for heaven’s sake, be QUIET.

 

 

The river

At the shore.

There is a river where I grew up. It runs past the farm where my dad’s family has lived for several generations, and it has always played such a role in our lives. As kids, we were up and down that dirt lane to the shore practically every day of the summer. We camped there in one of those big, smelly dark canvas tents that always seemed to attract the most enormous daddy-long-legs spiders ever seen. There are photographs in existence of a toddler me, round-bellied in a bikini, running up the beach after my big brother, and now there are also photographs of my own daughters, round-bellied toddlers, on the same red sand shore.

As I grew, I spent hours on the beach, creating elaborate periwinkle farms, sandcastles, villages out of shells and driftwood and seaweed. We swam, of course, and boated, dug for clams, and walked for miles up the river at low tide. My husband says its not a river, it is an “inlet” because it is, as all things are here, tidal. Anyhow, it was the only kind of river I ever knew existed. I was fascinated by the tales of the great sailing ships sailing up the river at high tide, dropping the huge stones they had as ballast as they got further upriver and needed to lighten the load.

When I got a bit older and needed time to mull over my increasingly complicated pre-teen and teenaged life, I would walk up through the woods to a spot on the river bank where I could just sit, surrounded by the soothing bayberry bushes and non-judgmental spruces, and contemplate. A lot of serious thought went on there.

When the season ended, and the road got filled in with snow, we mostly stayed away. Some winters it got so well-frozen that we skated on the river, which was glorious. Springtime saw us hurtling down the muddy road, waiting for the day the ice would finally go and I could SEE the water once more, smell it and hear it. The sound of the wind soughing in the trees, the lapping waves, the songbirds and the gulls.

The old spruce trees.

This year is no different, really, even though I am an adult with littles of my own. We all go barrelling down the still-dirt lane together, the girls chit-chatting non-stop with their grandparents the whole way. I feel the same old surge of joy when I see the river sparkling as we round the bend in the woods. The smell of the salt river after the ice goes out is so clean, so fresh, it is unlike anything else in the world. It gives us all so much pleasure.

Summertime is busy here now. Where we used to pitch a tent, cottages have sprung up in a little village. But it is the most wonderful village, made up entirely of our rather large family. You see, my grandparents had eleven children, and most of them and some of the grandchildren have built cottages along the edge of the old home farm along the river. Every weekend is like a big family reunion, and I can’t help but think of how much joy our predecessors would feel to know how it all goes on that lovely piece of family land.

It is difficult to describe such a deep connection to a plot of land. In this era, people move far and often, and few families still live in the same area as their ancestors did. I was always endlessly fascinated by the acres of woods that have now grown over the old farm. Walking through the thick stands of spruce, you could find a long-abandoned wagon wheel, or a path that crossed over a bubbling brook. An old shack stood, half-fallen down but still accompanied by the most glorious lilac bushes I have ever seen. A depression in the ground was the only other evidence of the house that once stood there, its cellar and the sweet lilacs all that are left of that long-ago loved home. Certainly if ghosts walk anywhere, they did in those woods. I thought it was magical.

There is a song by Natalie Merchant that always summed up perfectly how I felt about the river, and I think I will let her say it for me again.

Where I Go

by Natalie Merchant

Find a place
On the riverbank
Where the green rushes grow
See the wind
In the willow tree
In the branches hanging low

Well, I go to the river
To soothe my mind
To ponder over
The crazy days of my life
Watch the river flow
Ease my mind and soul
Where I go

Well I will go to the river
From time to time
Wander over
These crazy days in my mind
Watch the river flow
Where the willow branches grow
By the cool rolling waters
Moving gracefully and slow

O, child it’s lovely
Let the river take it all away
The mad pace and the hurry
The troubles and the worries
Just let the river take them all away
Flow away

Colour

ImageIt is Easter, and a snowstorm outside has once again blanketed us in snow. It won’t last, but it still gives me the urge to just SEE colour other than white. So here is a blast of colour from last summer, one of the calendula that keep popping up in our garden every year, reseeding itself and growing bigger and more beautiful than anything has a right to. The photo is by Dan.

We decided to build a little Etsy shop as yet another creative outlet for us. It pushes us to continue to find the beauty in every day, so we can capture it on “film” or at least digitally. We have called it The Old Russet House.

It is a wee bit hard to believe, but I planted our cold frame the day before yesterday, with rocket, radishes, spinach, carrots and broccoli greens. The cold frame is buried now, but underneath the snow the thermometer says it is five degrees celsius. Maybe, just maybe, those seeds will muster enough strength to sprout. I crave green.

To have no limits

Flying

Children can do absolutely anything. They can be ballerinas and space scientists, at the same time. They can excel at any sport, any style of dance, any subject at school. They can turn cartwheels and create mind-bending art and win any competition in the world in any skill. They are superheroes.

It is forever amazing to us grownups that our girls seem to see no barriers to success, no restrictions on what they can achieve, and no one who can do more than they can. OH, how I wish that invincible confidence could last forever! Already I see a difference in our older child, as the pressures of school and classmates start to take a toll on invincibility.

JUMP!

I admit, sometimes that confidence is frustrating, like when I suggest they take swimming lessons and Kat informs me, “I don’t need to, Mummy, I already know how to swim.” Which, of course, she doesn’t REALLY but she does paddle and dunk very nicely. I remind myself that you really have to respect that attitude of complete and total belief in yourself and your own abilities. Like today, for example. The girls watched a bit of the world championship figure skating, which they were really loving. During a break, they ran upstairs, put on figure skating “costumes”, came down and started recreating the skaters’ routines on the kitchen floor, sliding around in their socks. Kat’s reenactment of the medal-winning woman’s sit-spin was especially moving. This is fairly typical for us…we watch a dance show, the girls recreate it. They hear a Taylor Swift song, and become rock star girls, dressed in what they think rock star girls wear. Usually jeans and a sparkly shirt. Or they read a fairy tale and become the heroine.

Little Red Riding Hood in genie pants

We have often said that our older daughter hurtles through life at full-speed, fearing nothing and slowing for no one. I admire that so much. I don’t recall being that way even as a child, and certainly it is not my style now. I sometimes wish I could borrow just a bit of her fearlessness. As I get older I have learned to care less about what others might think of me, but through my teens, 20s and early 30s I cared, OH, I cared. When I think of the time wasted in dwelling on others’ perceptions of me, it is frankly exhausting.

So what can we do  to keep that spirit of fearlessness alive in our girls? None of us can control what other people say or do or see, so we can only work on our own family unit. Here are a few things we are trying.

1. Explore different sports and activities to discover strengths and find what they love to do.

It’s not about competition for us. It is about having strong bodies that do amazing things, and having healthy outlets for all that energy. Neither Dan nor I were ever sporty (if there is such a thing as anti-sporty, I was that) in the least, but we try to encourage the girls by being active as a family. I believe that having a strong, healthy body that dances and cartwheels and plays soccer will go a long way to boosting confidence as they get older.

2. Don’t get hung up on the “Oh, you look so pretty/you are a princess today/what a nice frilly outfit you have on” kind of feedback.

We try to focus on ability, and love and respect for each other, and what makes them unique. The girls have selected their own wardrobes since they were old enough to talk, and it is so fun to see what they come up with. There are times when they may look a little bit eccentric, but those are just the times when my heart surges with love for their little individualist souls. Let your freak flag fly!! (Sorry, but I always was a bit of a geek.)

3. Talk to them like people, not just kids.

I think, and I hope, that even with all the whining that goes on at times (“You NEVERRRRRR let me do what I want!”) our children feel respected and valued as members of our family, and just as important people in the world. If they ask me a question, like “Mummy, did I have any clothes on when I came out of your belly? And how DID I get out of there?” then I answer as honestly and sincerely as I can without over-sharing. Since they were babies, we’ve used the mantra “they’re just little people.” Little people with their own specific agendas and opinions.

4. Let them get bored.

The most amazing play comes out of being bored. We limit television to a couple of hours a week, which leaves lots of time for other stuff. Television has its place for sure, but it is mostly an imagination-killer. Who needs to come up with a new game to play when you can pretend to be Dora, or a Disney Princess, or Strawberry Shortcake? I would much rather have them make up a game out of whatever household materials they can scrounge up and what’s in the dress-up trunk. There are no limits in a child’s imagination, but sometimes we place limits on them inadvertently by what kinds of toys we buy or what entertainment we provide. That’s not preachy, I hope. Not meant that way.

Anyhow, this is all to say that children have no limits. What a beautiful quality that is, to believe that all things are possible. If we as adults could learn a little of that, or remember when once we felt that way, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing?

All things are possible.

Our $4 cold frame

This rocks. I feel like a real back-to-the-lander now.

The Educated Woodsman

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Just finished installing our first attempt at a cold frame. We built it with left over wood, miscellaneous hardware, and a window we found covered in dust in a back corner of the basement that we used to call our Blair Witch room (it was just creepy). The only materials I had to buy were the four pieces of wood for the window frame that I paid $4 for at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Summerside. I couldn’t find four pieces that fit in all my other wood.

It is about 30 inches by 44 inches – almost nine square feet of inside space – 18 inches high at the back, about 11 at the front. It’s cold inside and outside the frame today. We’ll see how quickly the soil warms; we are eager to plant and get a jump on the season. I’ll post photos of our progress. With…

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Springing

Image

The line of laundry...and bears.

First speck of green in the yard...the primula.

 

And a wee bit of purple from the columbine.

The true sign of spring...Taz comes out to bask.

So many things to love about today.

I could let the pictures do all the talking, but I am always full of words waiting to get out.

The sun shone all day long, and the girls ran around in their bare feet, giggling and screaming, getting muddy and filling up on warmth after the winter’s end.

Raking the flower beds, which never really got properly put to bed for the winter. And, in removing all the dead leaves and vines, I uncover new growth. Green is always so much more brilliant and enchanting when you have not seen it in a while.

Smelling raisin bread baking, cinnamony warmth greeting us at the door. Eating it outside in the sun.

Having finished the second of two really good reads in a row. I don’t remember when last that happened. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I gulped in the course of two days. I wonder if I could be Katniss Everdeen, and I hope my girls will be more like her than like Bella Swan. OH, yes, just finished Winter Bloom by Tara Heavey, also very satisfying.

Thinking of what we are going to grow in our very first cold frame. Some radishes, greens, maybe green onions? Wishing we could get it built and planted NOW.

Feeling glad to be working out of doors!

Feeling the urge to pull out the lawn furniture, the bikes, the sun umbrella, but just managing to rein it in. It is still March in Prince Edward Island, after all, and snow is not quite a thing of the past. But it certainly isn’t here today.

Tomorrow is meant to be even warmer, and we will soak up every minute of it.

Feeling grateful today. Beauty is everywhere, to give our minds a place to rest.

My youngest is using the word “hate” a lot lately, as in “I hate potatoes,” and “I HATE that book!” Today I heard her older sister saying to her, “You know, Ava, you shouldn’t talk so much about hate because then you just hate more and more.”

Wow. The wisdom of seven-year-olds, another reason to love this day.

 

 

 

Simplify…it begins.

Sometimes I look around my house and wonder if we will soon star in our own episode of “Hoarders.” Perhaps I should just ambush my friends with kids to see if their houses look the same when they are not expecting company and have not taken the entire day to tidy and prepare the house for dinner guests.

I have read so much about the role of simplifying in improving our quality of life, and believe me, I am totally onboard with the concept, but I just can’t seem to convince my children that putting their stuff away will make life better.

“But, Mummy, we are still PLAYING with that. We have it all set up the way we want it and you can’t put it away or we have to start all over tomorrow!”

It is really hard to argue with that logic. Plus I don’t want my children to remember me as a mom who cleaned up their toys while they were still playing with them. But really, is this not an environment that it would be tough to play in? There’s barely room to sit. 

Anyhow, this is why I am joining in Simple Mom’s de-cluttering mission this month. The challenge is to tackle a different area of the house every week and blast the clutter with a ray gun. Oh, wait, that is not QUITE true. Actually it is to declutter, clean and organize…does that not sound supremely house-wifey?? I can deal with that. It is also a terrific project to involve the whole family in. (Insert doubtful snort here.)

Scream.

I don’t know if every family has this problem but it seems like the children and their endless array of stuff is taking over our house in increments. They have a playroom, and they each have a bedroom. Yet their bath toys are all over our master bath. And puzzles and games fill every storage cupboard in the living room, while Lego-ville slowly grows into the middle of the floor. And then there is the craft table. I love the kids’ craft table, I really do. BUT..it all spirals out of control so quickly. And art projects just keep happening.

It is so important to have spaces in the house where the eyes can “rest.” For me, that means a space that has everything in its proper place, that has empty space, that looks simple and appealing. A place where you can rest your eyes without your brain spinning off into overload about all the things that you must accomplish at any given moment of the week. We have a few spots that are totally off-limits to clutter-stuff, like the landing in our upstairs hall and our own bedroom. I can sleep better knowing there is no laundry basket full of clothes or elaborate Playmobil scene on the floor waiting to trip me if I happen to stumble out of bed in the dark.

The stuff of childhood is perhaps the toughest to tackle, because of course the girls LOVE every single item they have. But really, do we need any more plastic fast-food toys? Yes, we occasionally have fast food. I admit it.

Scream 2

The baby toys are finally put away or given away. That is when the arrival of a new baby to friends comes in very handy indeed, as we can persuade the girls that the new baby really would love to have some of their toys they have outgrown.

For some reason clothes are also tough. I buy lots of clothes at second-hand shops, and those tend to be the girls’ absolute favourite fashions. They don’t always want to give things up even when they are too small, or even if they never, ever wear a particular item, like a pair of orange velour pants, for example. So I will have to sneak into their dressers for a good purge when they are busy with other things. There is nothing more satisfying than a good purge, even if it must be done on the sly.

So, look out kids’ stuff…we are coming after you. We will de-clutter, clean and organize, and on Friday, I will share the after photographs to prove that it got done, even if just to ourselves. After all, it may not last.

Do you have any tips on corralling children’s toys and gear that you can share? I would LOVE to hear them.