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.

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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

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.

Love, love, love, love

Valentine's garland

Whole-hearted cocoa shortbreads

Feel the love! I have always been pretty ambivalent about Valentine’s Day, but in my increasing years I am relieved to say that it is just another day to show, and get, some love.

Remember during the dating years, the extreme pressure to perform well on the Valentine-o-meter? My expectations were always ridiculously unachievable for all but the perfect, Cary Grant-esque, only-in-the-movies man. Of course those expectations were rarely if ever met. Due to a very unfortunate connection, I came to despise roses, so heaven help the man who ever bought me those. Chocolates were good, dinners out with wine were crucial, but part of me actually bought into the jewellery stores’ mega-advertising blitz that indicated without doubt that diamonds, or at least semi-precious stones and some gold, were the only TRUE way to show love. Oh, how little I knew.

And broken-hearted ones…

Today I sneak out to buy a few little treats for my loved ones, I bake a bunch of heart-shaped treats and I hunker down with my girls to make home-made Valentines for all. It is an excuse to hang hearts everywhere, a blitz of colour in the greyish days of February.

Now I know how a gentleman truly shows love. Sure, he remembers to hand over a homemade Valentine’s card, and maybe a nice hot cup of tea in bed early in the morning. But there are other things. He might always come to the rescue to squash an earwig every single time he is needed. He gets up every single time in the middle of the night to get the baby up and changed, and then brings her over for mama to feed. He uncomplainingly endures the vagaries of household hormonal upheaval with a grim sense that the tides WILL shift again and cheeriness will return. He embraces the girly world he lives in (even the cats are female) with gusto, while also making sure the little girls love gender-neutral stuff like Lego and geocaching. He scrapes the windshield on a freezing-cold winter day, so that when I go out, I just hop in and head to work.

Romantic love seems like the pinnacle at a certain point in life, which of course makes many single people feel like complete and total losers on Valentine’s day. Oh, I know, I have been there and I have the memories of bitterness to prove it. But you come to realize there is a whole world of love that comes along with having family, of any configuration, parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, friends, whatever. Our daughters give us more love than I ever imagined possible. Every night Kat says to me at  bedtime, “Mama, I love you even more than you love me.” I say “Not possible!” Then I go into Ava’s room and she says “Mama, I love you all the way up to the sun and around the moon and back again.”

Wow, how lucky am I?

By the way, the garland is a fun and simple idea I got from Pinterest…just poke holes in the heart suit of playing cards and string them on a ribbon. Voilà…Valentine’s garland, free.

Oh, yes, and the cocoa shortbread recipe is in an old post…https://theminddoeswander.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/holly-days/ 

multi-grain biscuits and quince jelly

Why we don’t have a DS

We don’t play video games. I am not going to get up on my high horse here because that would be wrong and even hypocritical, and possibly anti-social as most of my good friends and practically everyone else has and plays all sorts of video games. But, I was thinking hard this week about what to blog about. I thought the “new year’s resolutions” theme, the “best of 2011,” and “what’s coming in 2012” were already DONE.

Dan and I were chitchatting about our six-year-old daughter’s post-Christmas statement that she was now practically the only kid in her class who does not have a handheld video game of some sort. She is in Grade 1. Seriously, I am sorry if this offends anyone, but I think that is just crazy-weird. Why on earth would a child in Grade 1 need a DS or their own iPod touch, for heaven’s sake? Shouldn’t they be playing with blocks or outside in the yard or using their imaginations or reading a book or ANYTHING but staring at a little tiny screen for hours at a time? Once I started writing about this, it was diplomatically suggested that no matter what I say about video games, I am going to come off as being self-righteous. Honestly, not my intention, and I truly believe that as long as everything is done in balance, it can’t be all bad.

We don’t deprive our children from modern technology, but we do restrict it and they seem pretty filled with joy anyhow. That being said, wouldn’t you rather go for a wander in the woods than sit in front of a screen?

Kat in the woods December 31, 2011

I took a silent vow when we had children that I would never judge other parents, and I stick to that vow as much as I humanly can. I can talk only about our own choices. So, back to that one choice… we don’t play video games. Some games, like the dancing ones, sound like a lot of fun, and I am quite sure the exercise and sport ones provide wonderful opportunities for physical activity. And yes, there seems to be some argument that hand-eye coordination and motor skills can be improved through video gaming. Many games are quite educational.

When we want to be physically active (sometimes it happens), we go outside and do real-life activities. We paddle, we bike, the girls run around the yard in circles. In winter we ski, snowshoe, toboggan, go to the pool or skating. We compromise on screen time by putting on one of the girls’ yoga DVDs (http://yogakids.com/ ). The girls feel like they have had “TV time” but they get some exercise and learn techniques to relax and calm themselves in a healthy way.

Last paddle of the year, October 2011

Getting dirty is a developmentally-appropriate activity for kids, and we encourage it. I have always thought that if the girls are still clean at the end of the day, they have not had enough fun. Climbing trees (safe trees!), playing with things in nature, like sand, sticks, rocks and water, and just being out in the woods or on the shore is the most satisfying way to spend an afternoon. Sometimes I think we spend too much time entertaining our children, putting them in organized activities and planning their days. Left to their own devices for a while, they come up with amazing, complicated scenarios for play, or something like what you see in this photo…

Poster for the girls' art exhibit

Role-play is huge in our house. Dolly daycare, school, dress-up, Miss Fix-it-all, ballet recitals, Playmobil-a-thons, we do it all. We have a huge stash of dress-up clothes thanks to our talented friend Christine, who made or found everything from cowgirl to genie to chef to little red riding hood and everything in between. Nary a princess in sight. Okay, maybe the occasional princess.

We do Just Dance, except we just put some 1990s dance music on the stereo and dance around the living room. For some reason the girls think Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch is the BEST. We read tons of books, and have since they were born. Having books around and seeing the adults in the family reading provides a strong base in those little minds for future literacy skills. Arts and crafts, also big and by the way GREAT for hand-eye coordination and motor skills.

Early art

There are times when our children want to play on the computer, and once or twice a week, we let them. We put some kids apps on the iPod, simple things like colouring or Highlights puzzles, or we let them play the games on sites like PBS kids or the Knowledge Network. So they feel like they are doing a bit of what other kids are doing, and we know what they are up to. I know that soon enough, they will be wired in as almost everyone is now, but in the meantime I want them to be as free of all that as possible. Free to be kids, free to use their imaginations, free to have fun and learn from the world around them, not from a screen.

Holly days

Stuff I LOVE about this year’s holiday season:

  • Lazy days of staying in our pajamas half the day and just playing.
  • The snow that arrived Christmas Eve, just in time for snowmen-building.
  • Discovering different holiday books to read, like Jan Brett’s classics The Wild Christmas Reindeer and The Christmas Trolls. Weird and wonderful.
  • The tree I made out of old books in the library.
  • Impromptu dance recitals in the living room, with ballet as well as Egyptian, Chinese, Irish and Scottish numbers complete with costume changes. Our four-year-old and six-year-old did this, not us. Although Dan did do one lovely pirouette.
  • The 20 lb local turkey whose delicious leftovers will now fill our freezer with convenient pot pies because we are all turkeyed out.
  • The upcycled wool owls that I made for our girls.

    Kooky striped owl

  • Discovering that we all love air hockey. Who knew?
  • All the gifts made by our own hands, small ones and big ones.
  • Digging out all the board games and puzzles and spending time unplugged from screen time of any kind.
  • Good reads: right now I am deep into Kazuo Ishiguro’s haunting Never let me go, as well as Patrick Taylor’s An Irish country Christmas (for holiday levity), with a little of Suzanne Desrochers’ Bride of New France thrown in for Canadian content and fascinating history.

    SO many books, so little time

  • Fabulous new treat, cocoa shortbread cookies from the Saltscapes Traditional Holiday Fare cookbook. So easy, so sinful.

Cocoa Shortbreads

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups softened butter ( oh YEAH)

1 1/3 cups sifted icing sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift flour, cocoa, and salt. In a large bowl cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add icing sugar, beating until smooth. Add vanilla. Gradually add flour mixture, stirring well. Chill for at least one hour. But not any longer or else it turns rock hard as it did for me. Divide dough and roll out, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, OR just form into a log and slice like icebox cookies, much easier.

Bake at 350 Celsius for 10-12 minutes.  Makes about 3 dozen which should last about a DAY.

Winter comes every time

Last winter

Winter and I have a relationship that is just a little bit strained.

When I see the first snowfall, I do feel a certain sense of reckless joy, perhaps a remnant of childhood that has not yet been beaten down by adult practicalities. I see the flakes falling down from a leaden grey sky, and I still feel intense anticipation. Snowmen, snowball fights, skating, sledding and of course the pinnacle of a kid’s winter joy, Christmas.

Then the snow honeymoon ends, and I remember what it is like to drive to work in winter weather, the roads that wind across the open, snow-driven fields of Prince Edward Island. The drifts that I am not quite sure the car will go through, and the absolute white-outs of blowing snow that blur the edge of the road. I whine and complain a fair bit when I attempt outdoor fun and festivities in cold weather. What can I say? I just don’t like to be cold.

When we thought the snow would never leave...

Now that I have children of my own, I marvel at their fortitude in the face of winter chill. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember when I, too, embraced the season.

As children growing up in P.E.I., my brother and I spent many hours outside in the snow every day. We would tie our skates together, sling them over our shoulders and walk a mile or so across the fields to the pond. Along with other kids on the road we would clear the snow off the ice and lace up our skates. That feeling of flying across the ice, the blue sky above and the air so crisp and cold it burned the inside of our nostrils. We would drag our toboggans and crazy carpets out to the hills and go coasting for hours, until all of our layers of clothes and wool socks were soaked.

My grandmother was an avid cross-country skiier. I loved to go out on the skis with her, schlussing along the trails though the pine woods behind her house. It was profoundly quiet, except for that sound of the skis and the song of the birds. There was the smell of the pines mixed with juicy fruit gum that she always chewed. Sometimes we would take inner tubes out with us and slide down the hill back in the woods, barreling down at terrifying speeds, my grandmother right out there with us.

I think of those days of winter glory often. My grandmother’s days of skiing came to an end years ago, when Alzheimer’s disease took her memory and her abilities away. Does she remember those bright cold days when she looks out her window? I dearly wish that.

So, I feel like I must honour those memories. I drag my freezing cold self out into the snowbank, I strap on the snowshoes and set off across the fields. I want my daughters to experience the winter as I did, with miles of untouched snow calling their names, with hot chocolates and deep, dreamless exhausted sleep that can only be brought on by hours of freezing fresh air and exercise.

I love winter. Really.

Playtime I-Spy

I am always fascinated with the complex worlds that kids create when left to their own devices for a bit…

But what really strikes me about this little world is how inclusive it is. Luke Skywalker, pet shops, princesses, pirates, animals, stuffies, dolls, Buzz and Zurg, everyone is friends. I love it. 

Dan suggested maybe she was setting up an I Spy photo shoot… can you zoom in on the picture and find a zebra, a silver cup, a red helmet, a yellow seal, a four-leaf clover and a Jedi knight? Just a little Friday diversion…

Grammy’s baking

In my 20s I thought baking and cooking were only for 1950s housewives, and there was no way I would be caught doing such archaic and boring tasks. Now that I am older and somewhat wiser, I recognize the soothing nature of baking: the smells, the warm kitchen, the feel of dough and the satisfaction of seeing something turn out perfectly and disappear within a day.

In my grandmothers’ day, of course, it was a necessity of life. Baking bread for a family of seven must have been daunting enough, but my other grammy baked for 13, which is, to me, almost unimaginable. How many loaves of bread each week? The mind boggles. All I know is that growing up, I spent a lot of time at both grammy’s houses and there was always something delicious to eat. Grammy Campbell knew many recipes by heart, and would just pour and mix and knead up a batch of biscuits in minutes, no recipe required. Of course her batches were huge, after years of baking biscuits for her husband and 11 growing children. My cousins and I would go out picking blueberries in the fields around the family farm, and what didn’t get eaten was brought in to Grammy. She would help us whip up a gorgeous blueberry cake that tasted like no other, light and fluffy and dotted generously with royal blue berries.

I have started planning our holiday baking, browsing through my recipe books and deciding which were the greatest hits and misses from last year. I have a few recipes in my handwritten book from both of my grandmothers, and they are still some of my favourites. What I always find funny (and risky) is the lack of detail in their recipes. Often there is no real instruction, like “blend this” or “cream that,” nor is there always a recommended time or temperature to cook. They just assume we are all sensible enough to figure it all out.

Grammy Acorn’s Gumdrop Cake

1 cup margarine

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 large can crushed pineapple with juice

3 cups of flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking power

1 tsp vanilla

bag of gumdrops (not the baking kind)

1 lb. sultana raisins

Take out the black gumdrops and give them to someone who likes them. Flour the candies and fruit. Mix all ingredients. Bake at 300-350 degrees F until firm on top.

Grammy Campbell’s Rolled-out Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup margarine

1 cup of brown sugar

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon soda dissolved in 3 tablespoons hot water

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix all ingredients together. Chill and roll out. Bake in a hot oven.

Do you have any special recipes from family that you would like to share? I would love to get some new ideas.