Friday, 12 December 2014

Prepare ye the way of the birth story

I've discovered a hand-me-down SAD lamp on my bookshelf. With sunrise smears still in the sky on our 8:45am preschool walk, I'm finding excuses to sit under it. The most practical spot to set it up is on my desk, so it looks like I'll be writing again today. It's Friday, so that suits me just fine. I've set my timer for another five-minute free-write, hosted by Kate Motaung. Details and link-up are here.

Today's prompt is "prepare".

Freeze thaw chinook zone has brought on the ice. I'm stepping as carefully as I was last December, when the culprit was unseasonal freezing rain and the babe on my back was still in my belly. It's time to write that birth story.

Writing about an event I experienced knowing I would write of it is hard. I went in with my eyes open, storing up every detail. I remember too much. This story is also my third. Unlike the first babe, whose coming was spilled out with enthusiasm on every post-natal meet-the-baby visit, I've hardly spoken of this birth at all. I remember too little.

But slowly, it's coming together. Point form, arrows, scribbled, get-it-all-out style. My roughest draft of anything I've ever written. From book and pen to typed out outline, it's all prepared. A labour about a labour, all on its own.

And stop.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Learning and relearning

Somewhere, between the chinook, the blizzard, the temperature crash, and the teething baby, November came to an end, so I'm joining up with Emily to share what I learned. This month, it's mainly been things I knew - or thought I knew - already; but, as I mentioned before, that type of learning is important too.

Here's my list:

'Jouez hautbois' is French for 'play the high woodwinds.' Il est Né le Divin Enfant is one of the songs I learned by ear before I could read the language and never looked at its lyric sheet until well into adulthood. I always thought the line went "jouez aux bois", and wondered what 'play on wood' really meant. Turns out I'd just stuck the syllables together wrong. We're singing it in choir this season, and one of our resident Francophones graciously filled me in. Also on the list of mislearned French lyrics: the Canadian anthem; turns out our history is an epic ('une épopée'), not a poppy. Not that 'poppée' is really French for 'poppy'. That would be 'pavot.' Franglais: the Anglophone's FSL enemy to the bitter end.

Under the cabinet lighting makes all the difference for post-twilight supper prep. My parents have had under the cabinet lighting in their kitchen as long as I can remember. When I discovered their most recent version were simple plug-in ones from IKEA, I made note. Eventually, I picked up two for my own kitchen, and a couple weeks ago, my husband and I finally got around to installing one, just in time for the pre-supper sunset zone. It's been wonderful. I can see what I'm doing without blaring the overhead kitchen light or warming the microwave to disturbing levels with the over-the-stove one (our microwave is right over the range with a fan/light on the bottom - practical but energy hungry). Plus it's the perfect supporting role for the otherwise candle-lit dinners we have almost every night from November through January. Hopefully, we'll get the next one up and running before the solstice. Sometimes I get a sou-chef, and he could use some light too.

The self-help format drives me batty. After several recommendations, I borrowed Greg McKown's Essentialism from the library. The author made some wonderfully strong points, backed up by excellent examples...and then continued reiterating those points with ever more examples, interspersed with promises of how his method would change the world without ever actually getting to it. Around page 50, I deduced that it was not essential for me to read any further. This has been my reaction to any self-help book I've ever tried to read: the full first half looks like one big long advertisement for how important the subject matter is and how doomed I'll be if I don't follow the advice the author is going to get around to once he's sure he's got my attention. Isn't that what the front half of the book jacket is for? Ugh. Attention officially lost. If McKeown ever turns his method into a memoir (or, better yet, a novel!), maybe I'll learn to be an essentialist that way.

I'm very much anti-hustle. I love my hustle friends, but just watching them go makes me exhausted. The thought of keeping up has me pulling the covers over my head. Thank you Sarah for putting it so succinctly (and Emily for this and other great links). It can be good to live small.

That's it for this round. May my education (and, when needed, re-education) continue.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Winter greens and other comic treasures

A chinook blew through last week, smearing the sky with fog and taking the luster off the snow. Add several rounds by the sanding truck, and my little world was a dull monochrome. I pulled out my phone, opened my fridge, and snapped some colour from my crisper.

It was a soup day - not recipe soup, but "use up the abundance before it falls into corruption" soup. Carpe tuber, root, and rhizome soup, held together with tomatoes and veggie bouillon, with lentils for protein and whatever greens were on hand for roughage and colour. Our grocery box service tries its best to stay local, so the greens I had on hand were of the late harvest variety: still crisp and full-flavoured, but their structure had gone from supermarket perfection to something delightfully Seussian.

The swiss chard came bunched close like a romaine heart, and pulled apart to reveal these fat, yellow-trunked angular pines. All we need is a miniature CindyLou Who to string them up with bingle balls and whofoo fluff.

The baby bok choy wasn't bunched at all; it came in loose spangles with round leaves like so much overgrown clover. If it wasn't for the flavour, I'd have pegged it for an entirely different plant. I chopped up both unusual renditions and tossed them in. The soup pot didn't object to the difference.

My little crisper drawer adventure reminds me of the Inglorious Fruits and Vegetable Campaign from France's Intermarché. I wonder if our short growing season is cut even shorter by a market that doesn't allow local produce that doesn't look like it did at the height of summer. I wonder where along the line it became kosher to throw out perfectly good produce because it didn't measure up to some artificial definition of vegetal beauty. Waste argument aside, we're missing out on a lot of fun. Imperfect vegetables look hilarious. The fact that they taste fine is just a bonus.

I'm not big on foodtography. I'd rather just get eating. But misshapen fruits and wonky vegetables have me grabbing for a camera, whatever the light. Carrots with limbs, leeks with centres that squiggle, burlesque berries, and warty potatoes are more likely to be documented than their plain jane cousins. Washing up grocery store niceties is generally pretty boring, but backyard garden fare comes with potential for play: who will find the ugliest potato? I think I hit the jackpot this time.

We'll see what the next end-of-season lottery brings.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mysteries, Children's Books, and Unfinished Business

Another month of reading has gone by, and Twitterature shares a spot with my church calendar once again. I hadn't realized how many months worth of fifteenths were noteworthy until I began my little pilgrimage from pixels back to paper. November's 15 marks the beginning of advent, so I've been pecking out my reviews in the midst of the yearly hunt for the advent wreath. The Christmas decorations were put away last year in a newborn haze, so remembering what got put where proved a bit more adventurous than usual.

My literary adventures, on the other hand, were a little more whimsical: I continued my mystery kick from October. I decided that I'm grown up enough to read children's books to myself if I fancy them - no need to keep pretending I only brought them home for the children. All that and two books started and stalled and put away for later. Here's this month's reading list:

Hardscrabble Road, by Jane Haddam
I've always said how I like that Haddam's Demarkian novels don't have to be read in order. Most of each novel is its own discreet mystery with just enough of the detective's personal life to add some light-hearted window-dressing. Hardscrabble Road proved me wrong; something happened in the book prior to throw our hero's love life in peril and I couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. Fortunately, I had said novel on my shelf, so I just skimmed enough to get the gist of what had happened. I didn't want to reread the whole thing - I still remember whodunit. Unfortunately, the conflict appears to have been resolved in the next novel, Glass Houses, which I've also read recently enough to remember the mystery but not window dressing. Sigh. The mystery itself was still great fun - if Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame to rant about Parisian architecture, Haddam wrote Hardscrabble Road to poke fun at political pundits, and asks hard questions about polarized politics and homelessness in winter cities. Very much worth the read, even if I still don't know what's up with Gregor and Bennis.

Hearts of Sand, by Jane Haddam
This Demarkian novel had none of the troubles of Hardscrabble Road; just old money, a dead debutant, and a thirty year old grudge. For a murder mystery, it was light-hearted and fun.

Katie and the Mona Lisa, by James Mayhew
After waiting over a month for one of my children to ask me to read them this book, I sat down and read it to myself over breakfast. I had been expecting an educational children's story about art history - what I got was a delightfully imaginative romp in and out of famous works from the Italian Renaissance as Katie tries to help Mona Lisa get back her smile. The art was beautifully rendered and there were great little facts worked in the fantasy. I'll have to look up some more of Katie's adventures in the future.

Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney
I picked up this lovely picture book at the library for its dedication to St. Nicholas, patron of children, maidens, and sailors. Miss Rumphius is a bit of all three, as she follows her life's intentions to travel the world, live by the sea, and make the world more beautiful. I loved the water colour illustrations, the realism, and the simple truth that making the world more beautiful doesn't have to be a grande gesture for it to count. I may put this book on my own Christmas list, just to add some beauty to my house.

The Rosie Effect, by Graeme C. Simsion
I pulled this little novel off the library's hits to go shelf thinking it was The Rosie Project. I got several pages in before I thought to double check the book jacket. Turns out this would be the sequel of the book I thought I was grabbing. As it was, I was sorely tempted to keep reading anyways. Those opening pages had me cracking up big time. I look forward to returning to it once I've read the original.

Acedia & Me, by Kathleen Norris
This lovely tome is a work worth reading slow, and reading often. As it was, I only got partway through before I needed to return it to the library. Norris' grand extension on  The Quotidian Mysteries is part memoir and part meditation, exploring the importance of routine and repetition in a healthy life and the insidious whispered lie that nothing's worth the bother. Wonderfully relevant for anyone who struggles to make their own schedule and stick with it.

And that's it for this time around. Do check by Modern Mrs. Darcy to see what other writers have been reading. It's always great fun.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Everywhere still

It's Friday again, and I'm joining with Kate and her band of brave writers for another five minutes of unedited words on a single prompt. This week's word is "still".

"I'm going to go for a walk in the woods," I told my husband on the first retreat where we brought a wee baby. "I'm going to go by myself, and it's going to be AWESOME."

It was. The paths by the lake were silent with deep November snow, the water's edge frozen, the tree bows heavy and muffled fir. It was easy to be still.

Taking that stillness home, however, can be tricky. To remember that the Spirit felt so clearly in woods in the Northern Saskatchewan wilderness is everywhere present, and filling all things. Even my suburban sidewalk. Even my cluttered living room, my even more cluttered playroom, my head full of children's noise and posts worried over and opinions half-formed with a false urgency of needing to finish them lest anyone ask - there's room for stillness here too. Ready to fall over it all like snow, and bring that hush. Everywhere still.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Low Noon

November 5, 11:30 am

I'm often startled by sunny days in November. Year after year, I remember their brevity, and forget their brightness. I remember that shadows lengthen through the autumn, but forget that, by winter, they never really leave.  Perhaps I've absorbed too many stories of high and shadowless noons to stop waiting for the sun to climb directly overhead from October through March. Expectation clashes with reality, time after time, despite all the evidence that ought to have corrected it long ago. A story is a powerful thing. I should read more works by northern writers.

I've been thinking on what inconsistencies lie in my own personal story. What parts of my subconscious narrative say "always been and will ever be so" when "this way for a time" is closer to the truth - and vise versa. Such constancy and novelty are less likely to be exposed by the cycle of seasons, yet every so often somethings brings the difference up short - be it a turn of events or turn of phrase, I'm surprised by the unsurprising. Changes I knew were coming seem sudden; I had absorbed the facts but not adjusted the plot.

I'm still adjusting, accepting that life I have is just a lovely as the one I thought I did. Learning to enjoy the long twisting shadows at noon, even if part of me thinks they shouldn't be there. All amidst the bittersweet tugs of past and future, there's beauty in the present.

Here's to the ever-changing stories, and continuing adventures.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Yarn-bombs & Supersuits: what I learned in October

Another month has gone by, and life's education continues. I'm joining, once again, with Emily from Chatting at the Sky to share what I've been learning, both the serious and the silly. This month, it was mainly silly:

Downtown Edmonton has been yarn-bombed. Sometime between my last two city-centre(ish) walks, the community of Oliver has been peppered with knitting: trees, lampposts, sign polls, and bike-racks are all bedecked in the warm, fuzzy, and colourful. Other than cardboard tags marked "commuknitty", I don't know much else about it. My first google search only came up with instagram and twitter hits (I don't have accounts with either so that didn't help me much). This morning, the first page worth was about some yarn store that closed in San Antonio. I guess the internet has moved on. The only other place I've seen anything like it is Warwick, Queenland's Jumpers and Jazz Festival (and by seen, I mean the fabulous pictures on this blog). I don't mind the mystery; it pares nicely with the kitsch. If I ever run out of people to knit for, I might just jumper our front yard tree.

I own too many dark-coloured tops to tend to a snuffly-nosed baby. October was a month of teething and head-colds for my youngest girl. I spent many a night nursing and many days alternatively stalking my rug rat with a kleenex and moaning over the latest smear on my sweater. I was commiserating about such wardrobe malfunctions with another sick-babed mom at choir practice when another lady joked I should switch my blacks for cream - or maybe olive? I'm thinking my best bet would be a shiny, satin cover-all in desert camo; that would cover the snot spectrum and the coffee stains. Thankfully my two-toothed wonder is back to her happy clear-nosed self. For now.

Do-it-yourself costumes can be fun, provided you aim for "close enough".  My eldest daughter is precise, particular, and extremely detail-oriented, so offering to make her a super suit for Halloween felt pretty brave, and more than a little scary. The Incredibles may be just a fabulous now as it was in 2004, but I was pretty sure we weren't going to find Violet on the costume rack at Superstore ten years later (I just did the math on that one too. Allow me a moment to feel old.). So I pitched the idea of taking whatever red and black clothing we had around, adding a mask,  and making a logo to pin on her shirt. I warned her that we wouldn't be able to get it exactly like the movie, but as long as we used the right colours and had the Incredibles' "i", people would get the idea. She took it beautifully - well, she still felt the need to explain that the gloves were red instead of black and her headband was the wrong colour, but she kept the tone upbeat and ended all criticisms with "but that's okay!" Progress. Progress is good. And my no-sew simple solution stretched easily to include a Dash costume when my son decided to join in the super. 

Healey Willan wrote a Christmas Cantata, and it's magnificent. I've known "The Mystery of Bethlehem" existed since I first pulled it out of my choir folder in September, but it's only been in the last couple rehearsals that we've sang it in its entirety, with a piano reduction to give us an idea of the organ and handbell accompaniment we won't get to experience until the dress rehearsal. I'm excited. And if there's a decent recording of Willan's complete works, I want it for Christmas.    

It's okay to tweak your own recipes. The coming of autumn weather had me searching my archives to make crabapple butter and borscht. And then I didn't exactly follow my own instructions. It felt slightly disloyal to my past selves, but this year's substitutions brought both seasonal goodies up a notch. I've since updated the recipes posts to reflect my self-improvement, but still have the originals if your preferences or pantry contents differ from mine.

That's it for this round. Happy November!

Monday, 27 October 2014

When Anne predicts the weather

"But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen when she felt it was almost indecent to intrude on the woods...for their glory terrestrial had departed and their glory celestial of spirit and purity and whiteness had not yet come upon them."
 - L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars  

My daughter and I are now reading the fourth novel in the Anne series - fourth in Anne's chronology, that is - and the above quote was nestled in the first paragraph of last night's chapter. The space between branch dressings is smaller and earlier in this part of the country; it ended at some point just before this morn. Coincidence? Most definitely. But having that lovely thought in my head helped sooth the stress that comes from trying to locate the mittens and wondering who's boots will still fit from last year. That first snow cover always catches me unawares. This year, though, the trees were mainly ready for the change. 

Stay warm, friends.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

What I've been reading

The first half of October has slipped away. I don't remember how, but I believe tryptophan might be partially to blame. Thanksgiving hangover or not, it's Twitterature time, a collection of (mostly) short and sweet reviews hosted by Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

Here's what I've been reading: 

Shadows of the Workhouse, by Jennifer Worth
The second volume of Worth's memoirs wasn't what I was expecting. Rather than continuing to provide a broad swath of Dockland living, like her first book, Shadows of the Workhouse delves deep into the lives of a select few: three children who grew up in the infamous workhouse system and lived to tell their tales, a widely eccentric nun/nurse/midwife of upper-class extraction and Dockland devotion who might have a weakness for kleptomania, and a lonely old soldier whom Worth befriends near the end of his days. There is very little directly about midwifery, but plenty of background on the Lower East Ender's fear of institutionalized kindness and the difference between keeping a body alive and feeding a soul. 

Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery
I read this novel in a hodge-podge fashion: mostly aloud to my daughter, but with some chapters missed when choir practice trumped bedtime and Daddy or Grandpa played narrator in my absence. I read those chapters on my own - not always before my next out-loud stint - and eventually read through to the end just because I couldn't put it down. It's still that good. This epoch of Anne's life gets me all nostalgic - moving away for higher education was also my first fledge into adult independence, keeping house (or rather, apartment) with friends, and fumbling through the difference between what love is vs. what I imagined it to be. Always worth a re-read, or even a partial one immediately upon finishing (I still read the rest aloud to my girlie. She liked it too).

Flowering Judas, by Jane Haddam
I've long been a fan of Haddam's Gregor Demarkian mysteries, but it had been a while since I'd indulged. This particular book was dedicated to one of her friends "because it contains, within it, everything he hates in murder mysteries", and she wanted to see if he'd buy it anyways. I enjoyed guessing which parts were his pet peeves - the bumbling police chief? The victim's controlling neurotic mother? The trailer park addict who squeezed in one F-bomb for every five words she spoke? It's a fun ride, despite - or because - of them all. 

The Art of the Personal Letter, by Margaret Shepherd with Sharon Hogan
I picked up this little how-to from the staff-picks display at the library. I thought I'd skim the section of "what tools to use" (it's hard to get excited about hand-writing when you're left-handed) and glean much from second half, "what words to say". In the end, the opposite proved true: Shepherd and Hogan's exploration of pens & paper, font & colour gave great insight in how the scene we set for our writing influences what we say and how it's received - thoughts which are as applicable to emails and blog posts as to the dreaded Christmas letter. The "what to say" was less approachable - it was more a list of what not to talk about when writing one of a prescriptive list of letters (letters of congratulations, condolences, love letters, break-up letters, fundraising letters, &c.). Oddly enough, the assumption that I'd be writing a letter on a business trip, or to a child away at summer camp, seemed more dated than discussions about paper weight and fountain pens. I didn't quite finish it. Nevertheless, Shepherd's point drove home - she's inspired me to give snail-mail another go.

That's it for this month. Hope you had a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Playing with Pumpkins, or Actual Photography

It's been yet another volatile season. Or maybe that's just the new normal. We've had two glorious hazes of Indian summer, each preceded by a bitter frost, which is how we came to be the proud owners of three very green pumpkins in mid-September.

I first mistook these beauties for massive acorn squash, but thankfully my in-laws were still around to explain the origin of the gift. My father-in-law now serves as a priest to a small country parish full of big-hearted farmers. Come harvest time, their trunk overflows with farm garden produce. They take their grandkids out to Liturgy and return them with carrots and potatoes. This year, the Sunday of the Cross was heralded with delicious cucumbers, huge beets, beans, the most massive rutabaga known to man, and three green pumpkins.

A fourth came via our produce box in the appropriate month of October, and came quite orange in comparison. Being that said pumpkins were in the company of young children, the colour difference was mentioned quite a lot. Our farm pumpkins figured it was about time they sharpened up and changed their tune. That change was glorious too.

I've never watched a squash in metamorphosis before. By the time I pick them up from the pumpkin patch (or from one of the large cardboard boxes plunked outside of every grocery store), they're usually full-on orange, with nary a hint of their former hue. It seems a pumpkin ripens, not with the blush of a tawny apple, but like the speckle of a browning banana: carrot freckles multiplying 'til only dots of forest remain. Unlike a banana, the last green hold-outs congregate in the creases before retreating to the stem, a slow-motion star-burst in reverse. Time-lapse photography of ripening pumpkins must look like backwards fireworks. I wonder if anyone's published a set.

I tried to capture one particular gourd at star-streak stage and missed it by a day. Maybe I'll catch the last green hold-out in action. My son has named it "Slowpoke". His sister approves. He also wants to roast pumpkin seeds, preferably before tomorrow.

Watching nature exploding in my living room, this self-proclaimed hopeless photographer is also changing her tune. I've long told myself that photography is something I simply don't do, but I'm beginning to think that, like cooking, it may be a skill I could learn to enjoy, provided I put in some practice. I've read that the first step of learning photography is learning to see - to go out to the byways with open eyes and empty hands to find what there is to capture. My hands are rarely empty, but my eyes are always full of sights I wish I could save and share. Little bits of beauty snag my vision and leave me reaching for my smartphone. It's not a Nikon, but it takes a decent picture for a gadget I can carry in my pocket.

So I'm moving on to taking those pictures, or at least trying to, and shushing that silly old voice that said I'll never be any good. I have no plans for a hanging a shingle, or even starting an account on Instagram, but I'll be stopping to snap the roses. Maybe I'll share some of them here; who knows who else might find them lovely.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

No longer new

It's a curious weekend. My husband is away on a choir retreat, and my son has gone to his grandparents' for a sleepover. It's just us girls. Last night, there was hair-braiding and Anne of the Island for the big girl, bath and snuggles for the little girl, and marzipan-covered cake and orange chocolate port for Mommy. Plus three episodes of Downton Abbey; the youngest little miss has an overly keen sense of how little slumber happens at a girls' slumber party, so we stayed up late with the early 20th century. Today, it's baths for the big girl and sleep-ins all around. And a belated five-minute post with a seven-minute preamble.

This Friday's word was "new".

The baby isn't where I left her. She's moved herself across the floor. Sliding in slow, deliberate semi-circles, pushing and pulling whatever's solid on the way by. Squealing with delight at rearranging the light-weight but large items, such as pine chairs and plastic stools. She leaves a trail of mis-placed furniture and emptied shelves in her wake.

She's not so new. It's been just over nine months. I haven't done the math, but I think my late-comer has now been out longer than she was in. She's certainly been out and cooing for longer than we knew she was around before. And yet she's moving in a way the other two did not. She's still managing to be new to me who is not so new to motherhood. Each baby's her own person after all. We'll see how else she keeps me guessing.

And stop.

Do head over to Kate's place for a list of other brave five-minute writers. This month, some are there every day, for a special challenge of writing freely (and posting boldly) for each of October's 31 Days. Friday's post is found here.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

What I learned in September

Another month has suddenly come to an end, and it's time to share what I learned with Emily again. School's well in, and life has been full this September. Hear's what it taught me:

I feel better when I stand more. I've been reading recently about the ill-effects of extended sitting. Turns out it's right up there with smoking, both in terms of increased disease, decreased life expectancy, and erasing the benefits of an otherwise active healthy lifestyle. Going for a run every morning isn't going to counteract nine hours of sitting any better than it counteracts smoking a pack of cigarettes (read more here). I also learned here that standing for three hours a day is as good for your health as running ten marathons a year. I'm never going to run a marathon, but I can find ways to spend more of each day on my feet and off my seat. So I've been making an effort to do more tasks standing up rather than finding a way to do them sitting down. I've also been trying to spend more time wearing my baby (which is best for my back and arms while standing but brutal for sitting) and less time awkwardly carting her around on my hip on the assumption that we'll both be sitting down in "just a minute". 

I've found I can peel apples, fold laundry, or take a phone call just as easily next to the counter as I can in my favourite armchair. Given that I'm always pursuing rather than avoiding standing-only tasks, I'm also staying on top of chores I usually put off. And while I'm not about to invest in a standing desk or insist on eating dinner over the sink, I can work more movement into my sedentary periods just by using a smaller coffee cup or taking more trips to fetch things rather than juggling everything I could possibly need in one overflowing armful. I've only been at it for a couple weeks, but I'm already noticing the benefits: if I sit less, I have more energy throughout the day and feel less stiff and sore at the end of it. It seems counterintuitive, but taking it easy is harder on my body than being on my feet. Excuse me while I go refill my water glass.

If you put a broken-off bamboo stem in water, it will root itself. 

Rooting bamboo stem, leaves and all
And if your preschooler also breaks the stem off the plant you bought to replace the first one he wrecked, he'll stick that in the water too. Neither denuded rod shows any sign of growing new leaves. We'll see if the rooting leaves grow new bamboo. Someday I'll have to find a productive outlet for my son's pruning habit. Until then, I'll be thankful the rest of my houseplants are out of his reach. 

Extremely belated birthday parties are still fun, and cream bourbon is amazing. After months of failing to plan my 30th birthday party, my husband and I threw ourselves a joint milestone gathering just before his 35th. We'd joked about making it a scotch party, but charging our friends the equivalent of a charity gala ticket just to come to our house for cake and finger foods seemed a bit extravagant. So we settled for a sort-of-kidding "no gifts, unless that gift is scotch" line in the invitation. It worked pretty well: along with some lovely non-liquor-themed presents, we did receive one very fine bottle of the venerable whisky, as well as home-made cider corked in scotch bottles, offers of butter scotch or scotch tape, and a liqueur I'd never heard of: cream bourbon. Turns out it's kind of like irish cream, except so so much better. It's fabulous straight, and even better in coffee. I highly suspect it will be superb with vanilla icecream. I'm toying with the idea of doing a joint milestone celebration every five years. And I may never buy Bailey's again.

Deadlines don't mean much when you keep them to yourself. As of her father's birthday (i.e. yesterday), my youngest daughter is officially nine months old. Which means I missed my private goal of publishing her birth story after a nine-month gestation. It's still in outline mode, like it was right after I missed my goal of publishing the day she turned six months old. Clearly, the thing isn't going to write itself when the only one who knows the deadline is me. So I'm making a public decision to publish her birth story on her first birthday. And write it in October, because writing between Christmas and New Year's just isn't going to happen. Now you know, and that should keep me accountable. 

Do follow on to Chatting at the Sky to see what other bloggers have been learning. I'll be doing the same, after I stand up again ;)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Practical Beauty

I live in a city at the mercy of a river. Water, cutting deep, jagged banks, ravines, cliffs left wild due to the impracticality of building bridges over them. Because of the winding river and steep, steep banks, roads curve, give way to nature, and detour through parkways to accommodate the rugged landscape rather than catering to human whim that likes to get straight from point A to B.

It's taken some getting used to.

I was raised along the same river, but a wider, gentler stretch where beach and bank slope smoothly up. Manicured parks and bridges abound. We have three bridges, a mere five blocks apart. The idea of going twenty blocks out of my way just to get across the water seems so primitive. Where are the thoroughfares? The freeway bridges? Oh, they're there, just past that next cliff. The next bend in the river. Watch out for the gulley.

Most of the year, I fume at the wasted time, the extra mile back-tracked to get to the doctors, the idea of crossing the river twice to get to the conservatory. But when autumn comes, those detours are a treat. Hairpin curves walled with almost vertical bush take me down through ravine to a tree-lined road along the river. Over the freeway to avoid the tracks and the traffic bending through more trees, more brush. Colour spectrum from emerald through jade, gold, amber, topaz, a speckling of garnet. It's worth the extra fifteen minutes in September.

Joining up with Kate for another Five(ish) Minute Friday. Today's word was "because". Do wander over to Heading Home to see what other writers have done with their five minutes.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Twitterature, September 2014

Fall is most certainly upon us. School's well in session, we've had our first snow (that's enough for now, thank you), and my second cull of crabapples bears the sweetness of a hard frost. The month of September is middling, and middling means Twitterature time: sharing short(ish) reviews of what we've been reading along with Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy. Do check out her site to find out what other bloggers have been reading since mid-August, and keep a pen handy to add to your own reading list.

Here's what I read:

Anne of Avonlea, by L.M. Montgomery
Reading the second Anne-book aloud took considerably more time than the original, not because it's any longer, but because my seven year old chose it less often and, on the nights she did choose to read a chapter, interrupted with far more questions. Montgomery adds a lot of new characters in this one (most likely to allow her stand-alone novel to stretch to a sequel), and my girlie had some trouble keeping track of them all. Nevertheless, the desire to find out what happens next kept us going, and we are now happily abiding in the less-charactered world of Anne of the Island. The adventure continues.

Call the Midwife, by Jennifer Worth
The first instalment of Worth's memoirs reads like a novel. It's a fascinating look into the last vestiges of London's East End dock life seen through the day-to-day work of a young district midwife. Between the advent of modern midwifery, the microcosm of local history, and a delicious linguistic analysis of Cockney, it was right up my alley. I can't wait to read the rest.

The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed The Secret Keeper; it is, as acclaimed, an excellent book. But I loved The Forgotten Garden: for its gothic feel, deeper themes, and extra layer of mystery. It calls the reader to contemplate how love can sour into obsession, the wounds that can cripple souls for generations if not addressed, coming to peace without knowing all the answers, and finding deep truths wrought out in fairytales. All that and a cameo from Mrs. Burnett herself to boot. I highly recommend it. Just be sure to clear your schedule first; many hours slipped away unnoticed while I was reading it.

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh
I gobbled Brosh's print debut far too quickly. The book was divided into blog-post-type stories, some new, some old favourites from her fabulous blog, and it was all too easy to read just one more story before I put it down again. It's a compilation of crazy childhood stories, attempts at understanding the thought processes of her less-than-brilliant canines, and introspections on trying to build a life around one's mental illness, all with copious Microsoft Paint illustrations in her zany signature style. Though I'm sorry my all-time favourite post didn't make the cut, I'm glad I gave it a read. Way to go, Allie!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

One last bit of summer

My offspring have been impatiently awaiting the ripeness of peaches. They came to our door last Wednesday in our bi-weekly produce box from an orchard in B.C., lovely of colour, but firm of flesh. I showed the kids how to check if they're ready, and those poor fruits have been frequently squeezed and sniffed ever since.

Last Monday, I found the skin broken on one peach and an overly fuzzy dot on another, so I washed them up and set to slicing. I grabbed this little egg cup to catch the bad spots, thinking the two that I'd originally noticed was all that was wrong. Unfortunately, I'd underestimated my son's hand-strength: there were deep dents along both peaches, just the diameter of four-year-old finger tips.

My egg cup overflowed with the bruises beneath them, but stood up beautifully to the task. Sometimes, even garbage can be lovely. And the peach-flesh beneath was lovelier still.

Enjoy your last fruits, in whatever state you find them.

Friday, 5 September 2014

"Whisper not"

It's been a while since I last wrote for Five Minute Fridays. Things have changed - the unedited word warrior link-up has moved to a new home, hosted by Kate Motaung, and it's still brave and lovely. This week link-up starts here, and this week's word is just delicious: "whisper".

Here's what five minutes wrought me this week:

There's snow in the forecast for Tuesday. A whisper of winter.

I believed it this morning, with a chill in the air permeating the house. I reached up past the usual school morning tea selection to a small brown bag marked "Czar Nicholas" - Russian Caravan Tea. I shuffled about in last Christmas's moccassins, lately repaired but long since worn. Spread last autumn's jewel-toned crabapple butter on my toast, rich with autumn spices.

This afternoon, it's not whisper, but a rumour, as Ella sang. The sun's burnt off my wintry nostalgia, cast off my slippers. I've thrown a sundress over leggings, hot from the walk to the school bus. The breeze blows off this year's crop of soon-to-be-buttered apples; the cycle's about to begin again, but not yet.

Not quite yet. Whisper not.

NB: It appears I misheard the lyric that inspired this little piece. Oh well. Ella still sounds gorgeous singing here.

Monday, 1 September 2014

What I learned over summer vacation

There are tell-tale triads of yellow leaves peaking through the green foliage outside my window. It's September 1st - the beginning of the Church Year, the school year, and the cooling of my little corner of the globe. It's time to say goodbye to summer (while leaving indian summer some strong hints that's she's more than welcome to come on by), and link up with Emily to look back on what I learned. It's been a full and fun vacation, and I'm sad to see it go.

Here's what I learned over July and August:

My son needs to be reintroduced to the pool every summer - before swimming lessons start. I have a tendency to forget that my son can be shy. When he's in his element, he's buoyant - jumping impulsively from task to activity with joyous enthusiasm. Put him in a new situation, or a crowded space, however, and the shy steps forward and puts the whirlwind on pause. He'll sit and observe - sometimes for a good half hour - before tentatively joining in. So most of July's swim lessons involved thirty minutes spent trying to coax him into action, followed by a second thirty minutes explaining why he couldn't go in the pool now because his lesson was over. Staging my own lesson on a cool afternoon (when an outdoor pool becomes a quiet - if chilly - oasis) gave him enough time and space to get comfortable in the shallow pool, but the deep end's required life-jacket just wasn't happening this summer. At the end of the two weeks, he'd only participated in two of the nine days of lessons, but still learned 75% of what was required for his report card. Next year, we'll have a pool day or three before lessons start, and have try to have his lesson come after his sister's instead of before. And I'll try not to be too disappointed if my "chat or read while the kids are occupied" vision doesn't come to pass.

Deep Woods Off will take permanent marker off of walls. But all that liberal spraying won't keep the bugs at bay.  As glad as I am to have that trick in my arsenal should I forget to put away the sharpies, I'm not sure I want to know what's in that stuff - or use it on my skin in the future.

A resolute prairie girl can show some love to the mountains. As most of my family still lives in my old hometown, almost all our family vacations have taken us east across the prairie to my parents' place. After years of saying how silly it is that we never go, we finally took our little family in the opposite direction and drove out to the Rockies. My daughter was amazed to discover that the scenery from "Rocky Mountain Express" was real and ooohed and aaahed enough on the drive in to Canmore to make up for her brother's insistence that he didn't see any mountains. 'Mountain' is kind of hard to define for a four year old - especially when it's cloudy. Between the view from the hotel, our short hike up to Grassi Lakes, and the clearer skies back out to Calgary, I think he got the idea. And when we did drive out east to Grandma & Grandpa's, no one complained the prairies were boring by comparison. We'll be back again.

Gin is actually elaborately flavoured vodka. Make vodka, throw in some botanicals, and let it sit. Filter it clear, and you've got gin. Store it in a barrel, and it'll get the colour and flavour it used to have long before it became the Queen Mum's favourite drink. While we were out visiting, my Dad took my husband and I for a tour of Saskatoon's new micro-distillery. It was educational and dangerously delicious. I highly recommend the oaked gin, the rum, and the saskatoon berry liqueur. Our liquor cabinet is fearfully and wondrously stocked. I look forward to their first run of rye.

Coconut yogurt popsicles are just as good a summer snack as I'd hoped. I may never make juice pops again. Yum.

Getting to know one's neighbours is worth the awkward. Last winter, I discovered that our neighbour down the street goes to my son's preschool. We've run into them frequently since over drop-offs and pick-ups, but I hadn't gotten up the nerve to take them up on the repeated invitation to "come over any time". The thought of knocking on their door uninvited sounded daunting - I didn't want to interrupt or impose but I didn't have a way to call ahead. Fortunately, our neighbours on the other side showed me how it's done: walk your child over like it's Halloween, and invite their child out to play. If no one comes to the door, or the answer is "no, sorry",  you say "oh well, maybe another time" and walk back home. Or, in our case, walk the other direction and try a different door. It turns out that while both sets of neighbours are sometimes as busy as I feared, other days they're lonely or overwhelmed with the task of taking care of small children while their families are far, far away. A playmate to occupy a child or a bit of adult conversation is as welcome to them as it is to me. If we moms don't have time to chat, the kids can roam from house to yard to house while we all get on with our daily tasks in our respective houses, knowing we can find each other in minutes should the need arise. I felt my walls expand outward - the safe and known world just got a little bigger. I hope my neighbours feel the same.

That's it for this round. September, here we come!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Twitterature, August 2014

August is in full swing and my world is decked with flowers for Dormition. Sunflowers and hollyhocks wink out behind fences all along my round trip to drop off my oldest littles at their respective daycamps. And calendars collide again to bring Twitterature on a feast day. Fortunately, it's also been a good month for reading: on the road for family vacation, at swimming lessons, and between my daycamp chauffeur duties, there's been many a moment spent betwixt the pages. Feels like summer to me.

Here's what I read:

Darcy's Story, by Janet Aylmer
This well-thought and delightful little novel tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy's point of view. It's well-written and very respectful of Austen's style, pacing, and content, while filling in the blanks of what was going on behind Darcy's stern reserve. As a person who tends towards introversion and struggles to express deep emotions, I appreciated Aylmer's exploration of Darcy's private impressions of Elizabeth and importance of context when assessing a new acquaintance's social behaviour. 'Outgoing' and 'withdrawn' are adjectives relative to Darcy's baseline, and in Aylmer's version, a reader doesn't have to wait 'til the conclusion to find that out.

Map of Bones, by James Rollins
This action-packed page-turner was an excellent vacation read, for if I'd had more on my to-do list it would have waited until I finished the book. History, mythology, and alchemy combine with secret societies, covert military ops, and cutting-edge science. James Bond meets the DaVinci Code, but with better research and more violence. Pity about the violence part - it changed a book I'd recommend to anyone who likes a good riddle to one I'd tag with a trigger warning. Personally, I would have found the villain vile enough without his penchant for misogyny and mutilation. Feel free to skip a few pages.

Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro
This collection of short stories ranged from poignant to eery to just plain bizarre. Munro has a way of writing a tale than lingers; so much is left unresolved - or simply unsaid - that the characters stick with a reader long afterwards. I read through them slowly, with enough musing space between each instalment that I maxed out my library renewal privileges before I got to the title piece. I braved the fine and kept the book 'til the end anyways, and I'm so glad I did. "Too Much Happiness" is based on the life of the 19th century Russian mathematician and novelist Sofia Kovalevskaya, a fascinating woman I knew nothing about (do follow that link - she's amazing).

That's it for this month. We'll see what back-to-school madness does to my current literary habits.

With the feast!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Unexpected blooms

We spent the bulk of Friday at the pool. Thursday morning's lessons were canceled due to thundershowers, so we headed back after lunch for our own little make-up lesson on Friday afternoon. My eldest, last year's sinker turned swim addict, was to work on her back glide and otherwise be encouraging and patient. My youngest swim student had yet to enter the water, despite four mornings of lessons, so the real focus of the outing was to remove his fear-factor and get him in the pool. Which is how I found myself spending over an hour simultaneously baby-wearing and squat-running in a foot of water through endless rounds of three-person "What time is it Mr. Shark." My quads have yet to forgive me, but never mind them. Mr. Tentative walked, ran, splashed, and dunked with little to no encouragement, and had to be coaxed out of the pool when his lips went purple. I'll call it a success.

It wasn't until half-way through Saturday that I realized I'd jumped past my own fear as unconsciously as my son had, swept past remembrance in the frenzy of fun. This was the second time I'd taken my children to the pool on my own, without a friend, teacher, or relative waiting to assist. The first time was nearly four years before, and involved so much frustration, whining, and panic that I'd decided I'd never do it again. And yet, here we were - with one kid more in tow, unexpectedly blooming.

It's Sunday afternoon, and I'd wandered out to our mixed herb pot to collect some fresh poultry seasoning. It's the first time I've ever owned an oregano plant, so I'd assumed the petal-thin pale green ends were its flowers. Not so. Today, I found purple blossoms nestled within those "petals" - an unexpected bloom. And so, that leads to this unexpected post - as life leads to new life, flowers upon flowers, and brick walls crumbled into passable hurdles. We just needed to grow. 

Linking up late with Lisa-Jo's Five-Minute-Fridays, writing (mostly) unedited on the prompt "bloom".

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Twitterature, July 2014

Summer used to be my season of reading: a time to devour whatever literary treats met my eyes without all those pesky school requirements. My neck aches at the thought of my usual July posture. Not so these days. Between starting the baby on solids, reminding my two older children how to play together (and that it's okay to play separately too - really), and shifting the air conditioner between bedrooms to manage the post-solstice heat-wave, I haven't found a whole lot of time to binge-read. Unlike the summers of my youth, I haven't been stretching out with a new book every other afternoon, but I've been reading a bit every day at breakfast, lingering over coffee without the worry of getting anyoune off to school, and making the most of the odd nurse-and-nap day with Little Miss Doesn't-like-the-heat. Also, unlike last month, I really enjoyed everything I picked up, and even read some of it outside. I'll call that a win.

Here's what I read this month:

The Housemaid's Daughter, by Barbara Mutch
This book reminded me a lot of The Poisonwood Bible, but with less bitterness and more hope. It focussed on a single character caught between the world of white and black during the codification of South Africa's Apartheid. Good thoughts on the power of music, both to educate the mind and soothe the soul, and how relationship, more than blood, is what really makes a family. 

The Program, by Suzanne Young
This novel is a slightly distopian thriller where an outbreak of teen suicide is countered by forced entry into the Program, a regimen of drugs and therapy that strips sufferers of depression from all "infected" memories. Approachable and thought-provoking, it explores the fallacy of therapy without trust and the difference between forgetfulness and closure. I'm looking forward to the sequel. 

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton
I've been meaning to pick up something by Kate Morton for quite some time, and I'm so glad I finally managed it. This novel was a wonderful page-turner, with a complex plot, and a mystery that kept me guessing right up to the final pages. I'll be reading more of Morton's work in the future.

That's all for this time around. If your reading list is lacking, do check out the rest of the linked-up reviews over at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

Monday, 7 July 2014

When in doubt, quote Anne

"I'd like to add some beauty to life," said Anne dreamily. "I don't exactly want to make people know more...though I know that is the noblest ambition...but I'd love to make them have a pleasanter time because of have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn't been born." 
"I think you're fulfilling that ambition every day," said Gilbert admiringly. 
And he was right. Anne was one of those children of light by birthright. After she passed through a life with a smile or a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report. 
-L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

There are times when a soul feels small. It took three days to clean the playroom and, in the meantime, the laundry suffered greatly. Who am I to change the world? But Anne reminds me that I can - a smile, a kind word, a held door, a side-walk chalk rainbow. All fleeting perhaps, but different than if I hadn't acted at all.

A small change, but a better world all the same.

Monday, 30 June 2014

What I learned in June

Back in May, I tried my hand at sharing what I learned that month, linking up with many a similar musing via Emily at Chatting at the Sky. It was such a nice way to wrap up the month that I thought I'd give it a go again. Then I actually popped over to her site and learned that she's taking a break. I suppose I can link-up later if she decides to go through with her "What I learned this Summer" idea. Note to self: check out link-up is happening first, then write post. (Update: she did! So I'm linking up from the past here. July's learning will have to roll into an August post because we're still on vacation.)

Since I've written it out anyways, here's what (else) I learned this June:

Booking a hotel room in your own home town is still a treat, even if baby tags along. Over the last couple years, my husband and I have made two kid-free trips out to a lovely B-&-B just under two hours away, first for a night and then two. We were overdue for another minibreak, but leaving a nursing infant overnight with her grandparents is bit much to ask, so we settled for a belated anniversary celebration in town instead. We dropped off all three kiddos off at their grandparents' in the late afternoon, drove ten minutes to check in at our jacuzzi suite, got settled, and headed downstairs for supper in the hotel's dining room before picking up the babe for the rest of our stay. I wasn't sure if such a stunt would really feel like enough of a vacation to take it out of the holiday fund, but turned out to be a wonderful little break from every day life, just down the street from home. It was lovely to be able to get gussied up for a restaurant date without children underfoot, to exist in a space I wouldn't have to clean, and to let my eyes wander the room without running into the housework, yardwork, and home maintenance projects that forever clutter our to-do lists at home. We probably would have made more use of the jacuzzi without our third wheel, and there's no telling a 5 month old that vacation means no midnight feedings, but it was delightful all the same. I drive by that hotel all the time, and now the sight of it alone makes me smile.

A structured summer can feel secure, not confining. A lot of my brain space this month was spent organizing our summer vacation. July and August will be my longest stint yet of mothering all three children all day long, so I wanted a few cards up my sleeve to keep us all (at least somewhat) sane. While I usually look forward to summer as a time to laze around, a full two months of sleeping 'til noon, reading, and snacking sounds like a recipe for afternoons spent in a grumpy fog, a pile-up of chores, and plenty of low-blood-sugar-enhanced bickering to boot. Our summer isn't set to be packed, but I'm looking forward to our weeks of swimming lessons with cousins, road trips to the mountains as well as the prairies, visits with friends and family, and a week of day-camps, just to give us all a break from each other. There'll still be lazy days, I'm sure, and hopefully some playdates and late-minute adventures, but the scaffolding's in place and it feels good to have a plan.

An actual sore thumb sticks out just as much as the proverbial one. Early last week, I sliced the end of my right thumb, right down to the dermis. Thankfully, nothing's gone that won't grow back, but the wound is super sensitive, even through my band-aid/masking tape splint. I've been favouring it ever since, and still manage bonk it several times an hour. Holding it out of harm's way puts it out of my spatial recognition of where a thumb should be, so I'm forever jamming it against edges my hand would usually clear, and my babe is sure it's sticking out purely for her own exploratory banging. Strangely enough, I can still type, knit, and (sort of) text, but holding a glass or mug in my right fist is painful and changing a happy, kicking, flapping baby is a bit like running the gauntlet. I doubt I'll see that old proverb in the same light ever again. 

Happy summer, friends.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Rut release

Five minute Friday on a Saturday again. This week's word: "release".

I spilled 3/4 of a bag of trail mix on Wednesday. 3/4 of a kilogram, tumbling down between my camp chair and little garden table onto the one spot on the lawn where I'd neglected to scoop up the remains of late spring rakings. It took ages to clean up one minute's worth of open-bag distraction - yet, the usual round of "clumsy me/wasted time" mental rambles kept getting interrupted. Rather than berating myself, my self kept admiring how pretty the m & m s were against the dead grass clippings and old snow dust. Such a bright rainbow of happy scattered across the bald spot on the back lawn.

Brain rut, interrupted. The inner nag silenced by beauty.

At the end of every Liturgy we pray: "release me from the slavery of my own reasonings". I've often wondered just how that would play out. I think I know one way now: my reasonings may be on autopilot to berate me, but beauty can intervene.

Joining, as always, with Lisa-Jo. Do follow the link to check out other belated (and prompt) Friday writers.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Twitterature, June 2014

Another month has gone by, filled with sun, rain, and explosive growth. I've been living through eras of blossoms; the epoch of apples has been surpassed by the empire of lilacs, and the dandelion resistance shows no sign of waning. Between the pages, however, I've been travelling through many a season, from a wet Irish winter, to the blaze of New Mexican summer, the damp of subterranean Paris, and over two years worth of cycles in good old P.E.I. 

It's Twitterature time again, and my inner bibliophile is recovering nicely. Here's what I've read this month:

A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy
Despite the title, this was a lovely read for spring. It's such a comfort to settle into Binchy's classic style, with a collection of short stories focussing on each character all weaving into a larger narrative that effects them all. I was sorry to discover that this was her last book. I'll miss her relatable characters and gentle realism. Way to go out on a strong note, Maeve!

The Book of Illusions, by Paul Auster
After a few years of being intrigued by most every book off my brother's Christmas and birthday wish lists, I asked him to pick one out for me. I finally got around to reading it, and I'm glad I did. It's a gritty exploration of self-inflicted penance, surviving grief, and art for art's sake, revolving around a lost silent film star. Don't give it to your grandmother, though; there's a chapter in the middle that's bound to offend her sensibilities.

Because I Have Loved and Hidden It, by Elise Moser
Speaking of offended sensibilities, this month marked my first library-roulette dud. Within the first ten pages, this novel took me from a forbidden bedroom to a detailed description of the contents of a casket to the humidity inside middle-aged undergarments. At this point, I put the book down, for the sake of my stomach. I should have taken the critical acclaim of "daring sensuality on every page" as a warning. TMI for my taste. Do not mix with breakfast.

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
I have devoured this series more times than I can count, and always find something new - or forgotten - to enjoy along the way. This is my first time, however, reading the work that started it all aloud. I have been reading to my seven-year-old a chapter or two a night, and am discovering yet more details I hadn't noticed before. Reading slowly to an inquisitive young listener made me notice the length (short) and number (many) of chapters, the casual xenophobia, the random acts of knitting, the glorious nature descriptions, and the frequency of the fabled "big words." Montgomery is just a guilty of using them in her narration as Anne is in her monologues; I tripped over a four-syllable adjective every other paragraph, thankfully without comment from the peanut gallery. She mostly saved her interruptions to ask whether the chapter subject was happening yet - setting the scene is pretty foreign to the world of picture books. The impatience can't trouble her too much, however, for she's sure to remind me of our reading appointment and always keen to negotiate an extra chapter. We're both looking forward to Anne of Avonlea.

The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
Once again, I've stumbled on a classic on the intent of ploughing through only to find it nigh impossible to put down. Leroux's descriptions are fascinating and vivid, the English translation wonderfully readable (though strangely anonymous - unless the Modern Library Editorial Board made a group project of the work). The plot is twisted, comic, tragic, and ultimately dramatically satisfying. Now I'm really going to have to see the musical - and add exploring the Paris Opera House to my bucket list. 

That's it from this month's book stack. What have you been reading?

Saturday, 7 June 2014

"and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands"

My church camp growing up sat nestled in the Fort Qu'Appelle Valley of Southern Saskatchewan. The dormitory stood on a hill top, with tree lining either side like sentinels. They were either aspens or poplars, whichever one is the classic prairie windbreak, complete with wide, heart-shaped leaves that whispered, rustled, or roared, as the wind moved between them. I stood in the chapel, up on the second floor, surrounded by those trees, their rustling, whispers, and roars coming through the screens that filled half the walls on either side of the iconostas. I listened, and thought back to Christ's words comparing the wind in the trees to the work of God: you can't see it, but you see what it does. Hearing it is the word of God to me, the celebration of his creation.

Those trees are in the church tonight, icon stands and doorways decked in boughs of heart-shaped green. All in celebration of Holy Pentecost, the birth of the Church, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The green is to symbolize the spirit, I doubt the species of tree remains the same around the globe. But I'm thankful for my prairie windbreaks coming indoors for the occasion; they remind me not only of the green life of the Spirit, but the rush of wind that preceded the tongues of fire. The trees are indoors today, just like that roaring wind. 

As Isaiah foretold, the tree of the field clap their hands.

Joining - late again - with Lisa-Jo for Five Minute Friday.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

What I learned in May

At the end of every month, a collection of lovely writers link up with Emily from Chatting at the Sky to share what they learned over the past thirty-odd days, be it frivolous or profound, and invite their readers to do the same. After stopping myself twice from writing a treatise in the comment section on a couple of such posts, I figured I ought to share what I've learned from my own space. We'll see if June proves equally educational.

Here's what I learned this May:

Fuzzibunz are amazing (not that they're paying me to say so).  May marked our first billing cycle without a diaper service, and thus the first trial of the second-hand cloth diapers generously passed on from a friend. I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy they are to clean - and how little odour they retain. I keep the soiled ones stacked on top of the diaper pail, rather than sealing them in, and haven't noticed any smell between daily washings. We'll see if that system remains tenable once summer and solids set in, but I sure haven't missed trying to empty our 3-foot high diaper-pail into our front loader.

I am officially addicted to knitting. I catch myself saying "just one more row, and then I'll go to bed," much as my younger self used to say "just one more chapter." I can handle being between projects, but only if I have the yarn on hand for when I do begin. Like a smoker finding peace in a spare pack of cigarettes, but without the cancer risk.

Post-partum elation is a thing, and it's wearing off now. This was the first pregnancy that I really worried about developing post-partum depression. Both my husband and I experience mild SAD symptoms, so having a baby just after the solstice - when there are twice as many hours of darkness than daylight in our part of the world - on top of Christmas, work deadlines, and the unfinished business of our basement flood, sounded like a recipe for bringing the number of functional adults in our house from two down to zero. Blessedly, none of that came to pass. Thanks to an abundance of help from friends and family alike, a new dishwasher, and an extended work holiday, my husband soldiered on; he was more than somewhat bleary-eyed, but a far cry from the catatonic fate I had feared awaited him. I was tired too, but emotionally buoyant. For months after the birth, the foibles of life with small children and an aging home didn't faze me as much as usual; my highs were very high, but my lows barely dipped below neutral and were fewer and farther between. It was like clinical depression in reverse. It seems ironic that the one birth that went the least according to plan, with the only labour in which "I can't do this" actually crossed my lips, was followed by the calmest fourth trimester, where I truly felt I could this newborn thing - even with two older children underfoot - each and every day. Part of it was certainly thanks to our amazing support, but hormones smoothed the way of learning to mother all three. Now that everyday stumbles have regained their power of irritation, I'm coming to grips with how good my mood had been. I'm back to the normal work of trying to be a decent human being, but thankful for the stint where my hormones acted as a muffler on my negative emotions, rather than a megaphone.

Full sun will burn my skin in less than an hour. Actually, I've re-learned this one every year I've been responsible for my own sunscreen. And yet that first dose of warm sunshine proved irresistible once again. Maybe I should get that full-shade symbol from my seed packets tattooed on my arm.

I am more of an extrovert than I think I am. Due to a combination of factors, I ended up doing about four times more my usual rate of socialization this past month, mostly over the course of the last week and a half. Over that same period, I had a terrible cold and heavy overcast skies (re: SAD trigger), yet my energy never lagged. Actually, most nights I was still so buzzed from gatherings of two or three that I had trouble falling asleep. Usually that only happens if I've spent the entire evening reading, or have had too much caffeine. I'm still blissfully refreshed by going out for coffee alone and am drained by bigger crowds, but visits with small groups recharge my batteries in a way nothing else does. I'm going to have to make more of an effort to get together with friends in the future. It's not as scary as I think.

If you add ice-cold banana mash to coconut oil creamed with sugar, the resulting muffin batter will clump up alarmingly. And if you go ahead and bake it anyways, those last little lumps that wouldn't smooth out will create little pockets of coconut caramel throughout the finished muffins. I love it when mistakes are delicious. Next time I make banana orange cardamom muffins, I'll do it on purpose. I should also mention that I added a tablespoon of vanilla, pulled twice the required bananas from my freezer, used half whole-wheat flour, half white, and coconut palm sugar instead of brown. Results may vary.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

A doozy of a day, as told in a list of gifts

Some things for which I was thankful yesterday, roughly in chronological order:


Seven hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Finding the other half of the broken barrette without turning on a light or waking the baby.

The healing powers of unpasteurized honey.

My water-proof stroller cover.

Flexible plans. Also, smart phones.

Sturdy, warm, and washable baby-wearing gear.

A bus caught in the nick of time.

A forgiven bus fare.

Friends who made time to visit us despite the rain, the questionable locale, and their busy schedule.


A toybox at the office to distract a grumpy preschooler.

Another timely bus.

The fellow bus patrons who jumped up to help my stroller safely to the curb.

My preschooler, whose enthusiasm helped me see past the dropped keys and the locked house to the nearby promise of dryness and doughnuts. 

The enhanced sweet scents of blossoms in the rain.

The couple who paid for our un-budgeted lunch as their daily act of kindness.

My mother-in-law, who brought over my husband's keys so I could get back in the house before the school bus came.

Ready-made freezer meals.

The toybox's handler's foresight to include a prize for the school girl who missed out on our adventure - took the "no fair" right out of her mouth.



An excuse to tackle gorgeous Russian church music and visit with a friend.

Collective memory of several bottles of champagne.

And, sprinkled throughout the day (and most of the decade prior), my husband, who fished out my keys from the crack between house and front stoop, put the kids to bed while I was out for the evening, and has dealt with such foibles, re-worked plans, fudged budgets, and so much more mixed in with the magic of eight years of marriage. 

Happy anniversary, sweetheart. Yes, I am blessed to have you. To our continuing adventure!


Saturday, 24 May 2014


I actually did write my five-minute on Friday this time, but it was too beautiful out to go in and type it out. So I'm linking up with Lisa-Jo on Saturday again, and nursing my first sunburn of the year - I did, in fact, go in to fetch sunscreen, I just didn't get any on myself. That thing about moms and oxygen masks? It counts for skin health too. May my lobster shoulders be enough lesson for the rest of the summer.

This week's prompt is "close."

Life took me to the river several times this week. Up and down the folds of ravines, across bridges bafflingly far apart, winding close to the lifeblood of the land. Such cross-city journeys usually leave me banging my head against my roadmap: steep inclines, brush, and rugged terrain makes the trip from A to B a twenty minute meander via X, F, and J. The detours became a treat, however, rather than a trial, when it meant witnessing a valley come alive. The green crept up daily from forest floor to canopy, the birches leading the fray and the elms lagging behind. The brush seemed richer with every day's trek, the emeralds and limes enhancing from pin pricks to haze to full-on saturation of unfurled life.

I forget about our urban microclimats from my north-west vantage. The river's gifts come a little quicker than the prairie water table's. What a joy to witness the quickening up close.

That it's for this week. Do follow the link above to Lisa-Jo Baker's site to see the five-minute masterpieces from many a brave soul, unedited and unashamed.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Twitterature, May 2014

Last month for Spring Break, I brought out the crazy: I walked all three kids across three neighbourhoods to the nearest library to load up the stroller with books. Despite my doubts, my seven year old did just fine walking that far on her own two feet, and my four year old was content to ride it out in the stroller. My three month old stayed snuggly wrapped against my chest, but only as long as I didn't bend over. Subsequently, all my book choices came from the top shelf of the first wall of general fiction, chosen mainly for their titles and brightly coloured spines. In the Russian roulette of reading choices, I think I won. Next visit I'll start on the back wall, and show some love to authors from another chunk of the alphabet. 

Here's what I've read:

Bone Worship, by Elizabeth Eslami
A mesmerizing tale of an Iranian-American college dropout, piecing together who she is and where she came from by writing out every story her father had ever told her about himself - from growing up in Iran to his adult life in the States - while actively trying to prevent him from arranging her marriage. I loved the weave of the narrative from present to past and back again, and all the glaring inconsistencies that come from half-remembered tales, a cultural divide, and a generation gap. Beautiful, funny, and cleverly written.

When in Doubt, Add Butter, by Beth Harbison
This was pure chic-lit indulgence. A butter-cream sweet story about a private chef juggling her quirky clients, keeping her business afloat, making peace with her past, and finding love in the process (including one scene that will keep you from handing it to your twelve-year-old). Engaging, easy-reading, laugh-out-loud fun.

Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder, by Ken Greenberg
I picked this tome off the librarian's recommend shelf over a year ago, and found everything I love and hate about cities right there in the introduction. Being a marathon of a memoir, it wasn't something I could read through without racking up a fortune in library fines, so I returned it half-read and ordered my own copy from Amazon. Unfortunately, literary brain-death was setting in, so my order shipped and sat on my bookshelf, uncracked, for months on end, while I told everyone who'd listen how wonderful it was. It was still a tough slog, but I'm so glad I finally finished it. It opened my eyes to how cities work - and don't work - the importance of public space, and hope for urban life after suburban sprawl. It made me want to sit in the nearest park, walk my neighbourhood, bike downtown, and send a copy to the mayor. If you've ever wanted to see Jane Jacob's thought in action, pick it up. If you're Western Canadian, however, brace yourself for an onslaught of Torontonian mentionitis. Greenberg spent the majority of his career in the self-proclaimed centre of the universe, and it shows.

That's it for this month. Do check out Modern Mrs. Darcy for this month's array of short(ish) literary reviews here.