Friday, 27 February 2015

What I learned in February

It's been a tumultuous few weeks, with everything from spring-like thaw to deep-freeze blizzard to brilliant sunshine and freezing rain. And yet, the day keeps getting longer, and Lent is underway. The straggle month is coming to end, and I'm wrapping it up by joining Emily to share what it's taught me.

Here's what I've learned in February:

Broken bamboo will eventually grow new shoots. Back in September, I shared about my experience trying to save preschooler-pruned bamboo. Since then, the denuded stems have indeed sprouted new leaves. The taller one started sprouting back in October, but the original victim just finally came back to life this past month. Given the gap in production, I'm going to presume that the taller bamboo reads my blog and the shorter one's an underachiever. I blame their apparent sentience on the lack of pandas.

The names and locations of all the countries in Africa. Every so often, I read an article bemoaning North American ignorance of African geography. As a Canadian, I can sympathize (I won't be running into your friend from Toronto. He's one of 2.5 million people in a city over 3,000 km away). So I took advantage of some late night nursing insomnia to see how many countries I could name and place in my head. I came up with 26 names, but could only confidently place six of them. Not so great. A bit of hunting found me this map quiz to help with the rest. I've now got all 54 down pat, and my memory loved the exercise. I got quite the (thankfully internal) thrill when I met someone from Burkina Faso - a country I hadn't known existed until I found my little quiz and still knew nothing about. I now know that it gets insanely hot there in January, and that they sing "Happy Birthday" in French. Who knew geography could be so fun?

It's okay to limit educational computer games, even when your second-grader claims they're homework. For the majority of our children's lives, we've kept an electronic-game-free home (that map quiz was the first I'd played in years). I don't mind if my kids play the odd game with a friend, but there aren't any games on Mommy or Daddy's phone, and we never offered to let them find any on the computer. It was a comfortably low-tech existence, and done without issuing any bans. Then my daughter came home insisting "Madam said" she had to sign on to Mathletics and RazKids every day, and the battles for boundaries began. After a few weeks of failing to coax her to go back to reading paper books or do her other math homework, I finally put my foot down and put computer games into the same category as TV: something fun to do for a limited amount of time once the real homework and after-school chores were out of the way. Thankfully, her teachers backed me up - the games aren't required, just suggested. So far, the new routine is working for us, and it keeps me from trying to memorize the world before dinner. We'll see how we navigate research projects in the land of Google.

The following, since pretty much forever:
"That's what shame does, though. It whispers to us that everyone is as obsessed with our failings as we are. It insists that there is, in fact, a watchdog group devoted completely to my weight or her wrinkles or his shrinking bank account. Shame tricks us into believing there's a cable channel that runs video footage of us in our underpants twenty-four hours a day, and that all the people we respect have seen it. Shame tells us that we're wrong for having the audacity to be happy when we're so clearly terrible. Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist. 
But I've been watching that footage on a loop for too long. I've been my own watchdog group for decades. I want to do something risky. I want to dare to exist and, more than that, to live audaciously, in all my imperfect, lumpy, scarred glory, because the alternative is letting shame win."
-Shauna Niequist, Bread & Wine, p. 230
It's been said that to be a Christian is to fall and keep getting up again. Shame would have me beating myself up for having fallen while everyone is watching. Better off ignoring the lie and work on getting up. It's Lent, so I'm glad for the reminder.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Quick-Lit: February edition

We've been having another volatile winter hereabouts, both in terms of weather and in health. I found that while days of low-energy or awful weather are great for catching up on reading when you've already got a book, they're not so great for getting to the library or even putting down the phone long enough to decide what to read next. After last month's glut, this round of Quick-Lit is on the lighter side. Seeing as I've left Grandma to the craft table while I sneak off to write a mid-visit blog post, I suppose that's alright. Better luck next month.

Here's what I've been reading:

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Mid-January got me musing about adventuring, specifically how the events that make the best tales for later can be downright miserable to live through. I pulled Bilbo off the shelf so he could agree with me. I only read The Hobbit a few years ago - I caught it too late in my childhood to appreciate the pacing or the tone (13-year-old me scoffed and returned Robert Jordan), and found The Lord of the Rings such a slog that I was hardly aching for more Tolkien. I was in my early twenties for that set of tomes, with a head full of Classics and History, and just wanted to allow myself to watch the movies already. I was pleasantly surprised to find Tolkien's first work to be delightful, witty, and easy on the home-with-small-children brain. This time through was even better than the first. I was sorry to leave Middle Earth behind. Maybe I'll give The Fellowship of the Ring another crack.

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
This novel was a recommend from my chiropractor, a library staff pick, and had an author on my radar from many a rave Quick-Lit review. I came at it with high expectations and still was blown away. Kidd introduced me to an amazing historical figure - a woman from Charleston's upper crust who spoke out for both race and sex equality back when even the Quakers practiced segregated seating and the thought of a woman speaking in public was scandalous - and set to exploring the forty years it took for her to find her freedom and her voice. The novel's voice is split between Sarah Grimké and Handful, the slave Sarah is given as a lady's maid for her eleventh birthday. Handful is entirely fictional, but her view of urban slavery is all too real. An entirely absorbing, moving read.

Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist
I'm only half-way through this one, but I'm going to rave about it anyways. The book's tag line says it all: "a love-letter to life around the table". Niequist's reverence for building relationships by breaking bread strikes a chord for me too, and her style is so engaging and lyrical I never want to leave her words. I'll be picking up her other works in the future - maybe even next month.

That's all I've got for this round. Time to make coffee. For those in my neck of the woods, enjoy your Family Day!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Bucket list lite

I have another happy house I haven't mentioned yet. This one's of the drive-by variety, nestled among trees and shrubs overlooking the Groat Road ravine. When I lived in Edmonton's South side, that stately sentinel caught my eye with every trip up over the river. Now that I live on the North side, it greets me on my way home. I've never dared to take a picture - between hairpins turns and lack of shoulder, safety wins over beauty, but not without a sigh.

For years, I've dreamed of seeing its street side. Was it really as big as it looked from below the bluff? I wanted to walk that neighbourhood and track it down, even if the cliff view proved to be its better vantage. I began to take note of where it sat, to use the bridges as borders to narrow my search. One of these days, I'd tell my husband on yet another sighting, one of these days I'm going to find that back door.

In the end, it found me.

I wasn't out happy-house-hunting, or even fancy-house-watching. I was looking for free parking, and running late for a meet up outside the MEC. My eyes, scouring for gaps between "no parking" and "resident parking only", were at the perfect height to recognize the stickwork just beyond the foreground, that familiar white under gray-green.

I couldn't park there, but I came back later. I left the van idling while I snapped a few pictures and revelled in the completion of my little private quest. I felt awkward standing on that residential corner, squelching the urge to call out to any and all passersby that I was not, in fact, casing the joint, but indulging in a small act of local tourism. It's no Buckingham Palace, but I've seen it, just the same.

There are more glamourous items on my bucket list. I have places to go and sites to see that require far more funds and foresight than my little urban expedition. There are skills I'd love to master once schedule and brain-space allow. It's a list of dreams for a hazy tomorrow, one that, in the thick of dripping eaves and diaper changes, can seem so very far away. So I keep a running sub-list of more attainable goals, one comprised of festivals and restaurants, trails and light-rail-transit. I might not be mastering the cello or speaking Yupik, but I am learning to knit. The local museum isn't the Louvre, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a visit. And this old house is not a castle, but it was still sweet to find.

Life is for living, no matter the season. And our small joys are joys all the same.


Monday, 2 February 2015

Live-giving littles

In honour of the half-way point of the her hardest season, Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy is sharing a list of what's saving her this winter - rather than what's killing her - and inviting her readers to do the same. Following her lead from last Monday's post, my list consists mainly of little things: I often find that when one last tiny thing goes wrong, it can mean the difference between coping and crashing. Today, I'm acknowledging some of the small joys that tip the scales in the other direction. 

Here's what's making a difference for me this season:

Candles. Candlelight has redeemed my evenings every winter for years now. It keeps the seemingly endless darkness at bay. This year, I also found a way for candles to help me fight the staleness that comes with keeping out the cold. I started placing a fresh-scented tea light on my bathroom sill, and lighting it whenever I wish I could just open the window without kicking the furnace into overdrive. It's not ideal, but neither is doing your business in a frigid draft. My current scent of choice is cotton.

Fruit.  Peaches and cherries are long gone, but the citrus is around in troves. I've made a point of stocking up on oranges and grapefruit - and eating them myself too, even if the littles have opted for a less time-consuming snack. I'm still surprised how refreshed I feel after that first tangy mouthful. Yes, says Rachel's immune system, this is exactly what we needed. The vitamins and sugars are well worth the peeling and inevitable stickies.

Prayer. I'm a hopeless perfectionist when it comes to visiting my prayer corner. I want the house to be quiet, the children to be napping or otherwise totally occupied (preferably downstairs with a long movie), and no other chores to be pressing for at least fifteen minutes. Which is just another way of saying I hardly ever get there. I'm trying to change that. Be it a two-minute sneak away while they're happily playing, or just a "Lord have mercy" muttered over the sink, it helps keeps me centred - especially when the combination of colds and flus and sheer can't-keep-warm exhaustion keep us from church for weeks on end.

Dressing well. Three decades of living in a snow-blown climate has taught me to be honest about my cold tolerance. Much as I'd like to think of myself as a tough prairie veteran, I'm miserable when underdressed, even at -15C. So I wear leggings under my jeans from November through March, and don my toque, scarf, and gloves even for 10 minute outings. My choice of new coat was a knee-length down-fill with a faux-fir collar.  I usually wear it zipped all the way up, with the hood up to boot. There's no messing around with a prairie winter.

...and not just for the weather. I'm blessed with mother and sister who could each double as my personal stylist. I usually ask them for clothes for Christmas, and am always pleased with what seasonal lovelies they pick out for me. Instead of saving those flattering scarves and sweaters special occasions, this winter I'm aiming for everyday wear. That way I can stay warm and feel ready to face the public instead of wishing I could take my stretched-out tee and sweatpants self back to bed. This is proving true even on days when the only "public" I engage are my husband and offspring. And when the time comes where huddling under the blankets is the best way to beat the winter blues, staying pajama-d will feel like an indulgence rather than everyday blah.

Fake daylight. As I mentioned in my last post, it's not full spectrum, but that lamp still helps fight off all that is cloudy and dim.

And if all else fails...

Grocery store tulips. It's spring somewhere, and Safeway's greenhouse knows it. Come late January, $5-7 bunches start showing up in corner displays at all the grocery stores. If my African violets aren't blooming or the skies have been white for too long, orange, pink, yellow blooms tend to fall into my grocery cart. For as long as it lasts, that pop of colour at the table can make all the difference. And when they fade, that new coat of mine is still a bright cherry red; it makes me grin every time I catch my shoulder out of the corner of my eye.

In a world of white and grey, I'll take my vibrant wherever I can get it. Spring will get here eventually.

In meantime, pop over here to find out how others are managing the last half of the cold and dark.