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!