Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why I Love Dinovember

The dinosaurs have come and they are wreaking havoc throughout our house. The kids wake up every morning and I listen - sure enough, "Mommy, it happened again!"

Those naughty carnivores.

It's no secret that we don't include Santa Claus in our Christmas celebrations. I'd express it differently now but my feelings haven't changed. No elf sits on our shelf in December. The Easter Bunny doesn't stop by in the spring. We don't leave notes for or gifts from the Tooth Fairy; when the coin is found, any questions received only a shrug and a wink. For a variety of reasons, these things just don't have a place in our home.

But Dinovember? I'm in love.



I love it because it makes no sense. It's just plain ridiculous fun, the best kind of fun if you ask me. There's no reason behind it, no logic to it, and no lesson to be learned. It's pure silliness, end of story.



I love it because it isn't tied to anything. It isn't associated with any holiday, and it doesn't arrive with the expectation of gifts or candy. You can't buy a Dinovember backpack or a Dinovember hoodie or a Dinovember anything (book aside). It's entirely random, self-directed, and uncommercialized - grassroots, if you will.



I love it because it doesn't try to control anything. There's no threat of a giftless holiday for misbehaviour. The dinosaurs aren't watching and reporting back to someone else. They offer neither explanation for any of life's mysteries nor reward for its milestones. They don't come with a tidy little moral. Nothing. Nada. They just are.



I love it because it can be as simple or as extravagant as you please. Fill the bathroom sink with water so the dinosaurs can have a midnight swim, or cover the entire bathroom in toilet paper and shaving cream. There aren't any accompanying crafts or recipes or printables, no expectations beyond dino mischief in any form of your choosing. Or non-mischief, for that matter - some nights our dinosaurs have proved to be exceptionally helpful.



I just love it.

Now if you'll pardon me, I have some dinosaurs to wrangle.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

What I Am Into - October 2014




What I Am Into :: October 2014

Well, another month has come and gone and still I've lacked the use of two hands and a brain to do much writing in this space of mine. All I have to offer in its place is another summary of what we've been into these past weeks. And on we go.

The picture above is a good representation of this month: enjoying the rain. We've been getting together with a few friends to hike with our kids each week, and right now that invariably means hiking in the rain. It's good for the legs and good for soul, but boy, do I ever have to talk myself into going each week. The group has become a nice source of accountability for me, as it is much more difficult to back out of a hike when it means I have to admit to other mothers that I'm simply a wimp when it comes to cold and rain. So I put on my brave face and get us all out there and I've never once regretted it. I mean, just look at the smile on baby girl's face! I'm so glad I didn't miss that moment.

On My Nightstand:

I read Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects early this month. I quite enjoyed Dark Places and absolutely adored Gone Girl, but by the time I finished Sharp Objects, I wished I hadn't picked it up in the first place. The writing was disturbing and graphic in ways that added nothing to the plot. To add insult to injury, I had called the ending quite early on in the book. Just disappointing all around.

For my next book, I wanted something that relied more on actual writing skill than mere shock value, so I picked up Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. It was recommended somewhere as being a good option for adults who enjoyed the Harry Potter series, and so far I would agree with that assessment. It is both interesting and enjoyable, but its length and writing style (coupled with my lack of time and sleep) make for a slow read.

I've also started Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and look forward to getting further on in that as well.

On the screen:

Each of my babies has been accompanied by a binge-watch of various TV shows. The boy came paired with Gilmore Girls, while his younger brother arrived along with our glorious introduction to Doctor Who. Baby girl accompanied a brilliantly nostalgic re-watch of the entire Boy Meets World series, and our newest sweet baby has finally given way to Parenthood.

The husband and I had tried to get into Parenthood last year, but never actually got past the pilot episode. During his last stretch of working out of town, though, I quite badly needed a really good distraction and decided to give Parenthood another go. It turns out that it's not an unenjoyable show, it's just not the husband's sort of show. On my own, I love it! I'm currently in the middle of season 4 and it's been the perfect fourth-new-baby-binge-watch pairing.

In My Kitchen:

I thoroughly enjoyed this Greek roasted potatoes recipe, along with some Greek chicken and a Greek salad. It's sounds boringly simple but it was truly one of the highlight meals of my month. Always nice to have a new option on the menu!

The kitchen currently smells like my favourite gingerbread cookies. We baked gingerbread people for All Saints Day today, and tomorrow we'll decorate them for All Souls Day. In a slightly morbid turn of events, the boy cut out a gingerbread head because, as he pointed out, "lots of the saints had their heads cut off." Well, true enough.

In My Memories:

Halloween has always been a bit of an unknown entity in our house. Some years we have avoided it completely, while other years have brought a half-hearted bit of participation. This year I decided, you know what? Forget it. We're going all in. We're going to have fun together and it's going to be great.

And it was. It so was.

We began our evening with my dad's family-famous layered taco dip. He always made this dip for special occasions when I was growing up, so I'm all kinds of nostalgic about it. I swear mine isn't as good as his, but it's more than passable nonetheless. We paired it with Witch's Potion (Coca Cola) and Unfiltered Poison (Sprite), a rare but exciting treat in our house.

As soon as the sun went down, we lit our home-grown carved pumpkins, which we had designed and cut out the night before. The boy drew an appropriately spooky jack o' lantern face, while his younger brother chose the somewhat more difficult route and requested Iron Man.


With dinner taken care of and jack o' lanterns glowing, we moved on to a little family party. We threw marshmallow "flies" into masking tape "spider webs". We turned out the lights and played glow-in-the-dark ring toss. We raced to wrap the kids as toilet paper "mummies", which the boy and I gleefully won while the husband laid down on the floor after making himself sick running in circles around the younger one. We tossed candy into cups. And as a hilarious grand finale, we hung donuts from strings and tried to eat them without the use of our hands. I haven't laughed so hard in a long long time. Just thinking of the four year old twisting around in circles trying to catch that donut in his mouth has me cracking up all over again. Ah, good times.

With the party portion of our evening over, we decided why not, let's go trick-or-treating after all. The boys ran for their knight costumes while baby girl became the most ridiculously adorable dragon in the history of dragons. We walked around our block and you know, it was the first time I had met nearly all of the people in those homes despite living here for a full year now. Interesting.

What I'm Looking Forward to in November:

Forget November, it's Dinovember! The kids were utterly mystified by this morning's breakfast table, where my beloved family calendar had been ruthlessly defaced and surrounded by dinosaurs armed with crayons. No one stepped up to take the blame for the mess, but those dinosaurs had better stay in their bucket tonight...


Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?


Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Friday, 24 October 2014

At the end of the week

Ah. We made it through another one, didn't we? Another week is winding up and we survived; maybe we even did some things well. Maybe we even did some good along the way.

There were a few challenging moments, though, weren't there? A day when our patience just wasn't where we'd like it to be. A morning that began with an argument instead of a connection. An easy way out that turned out to be decidedly not worth it. Doubt instead of trust. Old habits instead of new. By what we have done and by what we have left undone, we wronged others and ourselves. And there is not one of us whose week can live up to the highlights shared on Facebook or Instagram.

But we woke up each morning and we tried again, and cheers to that, eh? We sought to right our wrongs, and we faced again all the worst parts of ourselves, seeking better. We did what we could. Some of us made lists, some of us made plans, some of us prayed, and some of us just took another brave step and then another.

Whatever we went through and however we got through it, here it is: the weekend, for whatever that may be worth. Oh, it has challenges all its own, to be sure, but I still say it's worth a decent something. A pat on the back and an extra piece of chocolate, at the very least.

I don't know what your week looked like. Mine looked like staying calm through a broken bowl, cleaning up the pumpkin guts spread across the floor, and then losing it over a spilled bucket of soapy water. I yelled about that spilled water and about endless messes and for that matter, what about the mess in that other room that still hadn't been cleaned up? It wasn't good or right or true or necessary, but it happened.

This week I braved the wind and the rain to take the kids hiking with some friends, and the weather decided to be kind to us after all. Three hours later, we were back in the van, eating cheese while I fed the baby before beginning the drive back home. My autumn comfort zone focuses mainly on warm blankets and hot apple cider, but I did this and you know what? Good for me.

This week I sat down to draw with the kids, reproducing our garden-grown pumpkins with orange and green and brown pencil crayons. Oh, I could make that sound so good. Look at us, drawing the pumpkins that we grew in our own garden! Isn't that lovely and perfect? But reality had me ranting about how he didn't even look for the pencils that I asked him to bring, the pencils that were right there in the jar where they always are, and that's not the right paper and we need pencil crayons, not markers, [exasperated sigh]. And then I kvetched some more because they weren't enthusiastic about another project we had planned to do. I mean, why can't they just be the perfect little characters in my self-directed play, where I plan something exciting and they grin cheerfully and everything looks like the picture in my head says it should look? Some days I forget that they're living their own individual plays, all of us intersecting, wandering on and off each other's stage. It can be beautiful when I don't try to control it all.

I handled some challenges gracefully, stumbled my way through others, and utterly failed a few of them. I did poorly and I did well; every week is a bit of both. Easy moments and hard moments, successes and stumbles, I've not had a week that hasn't seen them all. Soon we will head onward into another Monday - but for now, it's the weekend.

Well done, and enjoy.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

What I Am Into - September 2014




What I Am Into :: September 2014

Our fourth sweet baby was born just one short hour before September began, and that rather overshadows anything else that may have happened in the past few weeks. However, as said baby very rarely allows me to have two hands free with which to write, well, anything - not that I'm complaining! - I thought a nice chatty What I Am Into post might do nicely for now.

On My Nightstand:

I may not be able to write much while snuggling a baby, but I can read. Continuing with this summer's love of all things Story, I've found myself drawn primarily to fiction and memoir.

I began the month with Wally Lamb's We Are Water, a random selection from the library shelves. It was engaging and well-written enough, but I finished and felt like all I had done was read about an assortment of dysfunctional individuals, unhealthy relationships, and disturbing situations. There was no sense of satisfaction when I closed the book. On the other hand, it probably wasn't the best post-baby book choice. A little too raw for the moment, perhaps.

Speaking of raw, I continued the month with Glennon Melton's Carry On, Warrior. I wasn't certain whether or not I would finish it, as I quickly realized that it was mainly composed of essays regurgitated from her blog, but there was enough new material that I couldn't bring myself to put it down. Just one more chapter...and one more...and one more. It's hard to find someone who can get so directly to the heart of everything the way Glennon can.

My MIL distractedly handed me Conor Grennan's Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal during a short just-passing-through visit with their new week-old grandson at the airport. It was so much fun to be able to stop by for them to meet the newbie, and I didn't give the book much thought until we got back home. It sat on my desk for a couple of weeks before, having finished Carry On, Warrior and unable to find something else interesting at that particular moment, I picked it up and thought I'd give the first chapter a go. And then I didn't put it back down until I was finished. It was so well-written and engaging, heart-rending and entertaining, just perfect and lovely and inspiring. I loved it.

With that done, I browsed our library's e-book section and chose at random The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It seemed to have good reviews, but oh, it was boring. Dull, dull, dreadfully dull. I couldn't even get past the third chapter before I gave up and returned it.

Still, nothing beats e-book rentals for those late-night what-am-I-going-to-read-next attacks, so I browsed my wishlist and remembered I've been meaning to read Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. This is turning out to be a perfectly absorbing novel; although it was not emotionally easy to read, it felt purposeful and touching. 

Currently on my "up next" list are Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects, Lois Lowry's The Giver, and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

On the screen:

The Doctor has returned, and there is basically nothing else worth mentioning once The Doctor has entered the conversation.

The Twelfth Doctor has pretty much won me over already, although I do still dearly miss Eleven. As for his companion, I loved Clara last season, but I'm less attached this season - if only, perhaps, because I know she'll be gone soon. The Time Heist was one of my favourite episodes ever, and definitely my favourite of the season so far. I'm curious as to where the various unresolved threads are heading - Missy, Pink, and so on.

In My Kitchen:

The lovely husband has been commandeering the kitchen most evenings this month, but I've slipped in from time to time to do a bit of baking. Energy balls, monster cookies, lemon thumbprint cookies, and (my personal favourite) pumpkin custard have all satisfied various cravings these past few weeks.

In My Memories:

September was, understandably, a slow month, and we stuck close to home more often than not. We were blessed by a few different visits from family who wanted to meet the new baby. When we did venture out, it was to visit a couple of parks to hang out with other homeschoolers in the area. Speaking of homeschooling, the boy finished another Life of Fred book and learned how to play both Chess and Othello. His younger brother worked on firming up his letter recognition. Baby girl temporarily became a giant after her baby brother was born, but she seems to have shrunk back down into a typical two year old again. Phew.

The husband and I have been spending many of our evenings with some newly-discovered board games. Pandemic was introduced to us by my sister-in-law, and our marriage thanks her profusely for this - having a cooperative board game is Very Good for those evenings when a competitive one would leave one of us feeling a bit grumpy about losing. It's like we're five, I know.

Still, a bit of competition can be fun too, and for that we've been relying on Power Grid lately. Because of Power Grid's unique turn-order rule that handicaps the game leader, the final results are nearly always very close. There's no winning by a landslide with this game. When we first opened the box and read through the rules, it all felt a bit intimidating, but actual game-play turned out to be quite simple and intuitive. We've enjoyed it so much that we've purchase both the Robots expansion and one of the new maps.

Both of these games are great family games, too. The team-based approach to Pandemic means that we can talk through the best moves together, and if one of the kids drops out, it's no problem. Power Grid has proven to be simple enough for the boy to tackle on his own - in fact, he's won the game twice so far, to our minor embarrassment. The four year old, meanwhile, joins forces with the autonomous robot, which carries on smoothly without him when he gets bored and wanders away from the table.

What I'm Looking Forward to in October:

Although the month is starting off on a bit of a low note with the husband heading out of town for two weeks again, the kids and I will make the best of things by driving up to visit their Oma and Opa for (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Which means I'm basically begging everyone for all the prayers, luck, and well-wishes that they can possibly offer, because eleven hours in a vehicle with four little children sounds like the craziest idea I've had in ages. But getting to spend a few days with my lovely in-laws will be well worth it, I expect.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?


Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Too fast

It's only been two weeks and already, too fast, too fast.

There are those size 1 diapers that I mistakenly bought because I forgot that such a thing as newborn size existed until after he was born. They were so ridiculously big on him and now they fit him just fine.

(Let's not discuss how, when I first went to buy all the various post-birth necessities, I forgot about diapers altogether. Basically, the punch line is, I have run out of brain.)

His legs aren't all scrunched up anymore and his arms aren't nearly so scrawny and his face isn't wrinkled and his skull is lovely and round and he doesn't smell like birth and too fast, too fast.

How can he be bigger already? What did he look like last week? What will he look like next week? I'll forget about today but I don't want to, I just want to cling, collect each day and hold it right in my fist so I never forget what he looked like today and yesterday and tomorrow, capture his scent too, record every little facial expression and newborn sound.

I've spent hours each day just sitting here while he breathes the rapid newborn rhythm of sleep. The top of his head is baptized with endless kisses; I whisper steady murmurs of love. I inhale deeply every few moments. Close my eyes and savour the weight of him of my chest, knees pressed into the soft skin of my stomach. He shudders, shifts, sleeps on.

The kids gather round with books and games and kisses. I read aloud, imagining how my voice must sound to him, his ear resting against me. I play chess with the boy. The kindergartener works on his letters with me. Baby girl reaches over to play with my hair, thumb in her mouth, still, always, for now. Evening arrives and we move to the kitchen table while the husband and I play a board game, Pandemic or Power Grid or Ticket to Ride, or the three of us snuggle on the couch and watch Sherlock or Doctor Who or Top Gear.

Life continues on around us as I sit here with this growing creature. I know it will pass too fast, it already is, and I want to soak up these days while I can. Nothing is urgent; everything else can wait or continue as it will. I'm busy sitting with my baby.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

The day before Labour Day

Our newest son was born at home at 11:02 pm on Sunday, August 31, 2014, weighing 8 lbs 8 oz.


We are all, as always, madly in love with this beautiful little person.


Now, for those interested, the long version...

My sisters had arrived. Our van purchase had been finalized. The baby's due date had come and gone, as had the next few days, and still there was nothing more than the occasional contraction here and there. Which would have been fine, except that my sisters were, by unfortunate extenuating circumstances, leaving first thing Monday morning.

I spent that week giving the baby the usual cajoling - spicy food, birthing brownies, long walks, and so on - but all it did was leave me with heartburn and sore hips. Twice I considered and then decided against a membrane sweep from my midwife, as nothing seemed to indicate that my body was on the verge of labour. Like his siblings before him, this baby was in no rush to leave his cozy womb.

Sunday morning dawned somewhat more hopeful. The contractions were more frequent and of a different nature, crampy and lower like the ones that had preceded our daughter's birth. We went for a walk in hopes of helping things become more established, but by mid-afternoon it was all still rather flaky. Mild, irregular, nothing much to write home about. Still, it was something, so at 4:30, I made the decision to call the midwife and request a membrane sweep.

The risks of the sweep seemed very minimal at this point; either it would tip the contractions into a more established zone, or it would all fizzle out again after some discomfort. The midwife came, swept, and went, and we soon settled in to Sunday dinner (lasagna - I was done with spice-induced heartburn at this point). The contractions did indeed gradually pick up. When labour seemed well established, with contractions coming strong and steady, the husband insisted that I call the midwife before we ended up with another unplanned unassisted birth. I agreed, and by the time she arrived at 8:30, I was feeling rather grateful that I hadn't waited any longer. My midwife immediately called for the second midwife and the waiting began, everyone certain it wouldn't be much longer now.

Then it all stopped.

Too many eyes on me? Too much pressure to hurry up and birth this baby before the girls had to leave? Just a simple matter of false labour thanks to the sweep done earlier that afternoon? A bit of a pause, or a full-out stop? The midwife, with my gratitude, had everyone leave the room for a while. A bit of space, some breathing room, time to collect our thoughts. The husband and I talked.

One of my sisters came in to tell me that our mom had suggested we try to change the flights to the following day (we won't get into how the flights were supposed to be that day to begin with, but when I went to book them, she couldn't possibly take the day off work to drive to the city to pick the girls up on the Tuesday instead of Labour Day - those "unfortunate extenuating circumstances" I mentioned earlier). I decided it was worth a try, gave my beloved WestJet a phone call, explained the situation, and asked if we could switch to the exact same flight, just one day later.

Well, we could, for $500.

Unfortunately, $500 for the possibility that maybe-I-will/maybe-I-won't have the baby during that additional 24 hours really wasn't in our budget. Especially not with the new van sitting in our driveway, ready and waiting to seat our soon-to-be-four children. But she absolutely could not wave the difference in the (exact same, one day later) flight fees; disappointed, I chose to leave their flights as they were and hope for the best.

Thanks for nothing, WestJet.

I hung up the phone and the husband came back into the bedroom, asked what I wanted to do now.

"I want to watch Doctor Who." What? We hadn't yet got around to watching the newest episode, and I needed a distraction.

"Are you serious?" he asked.

"Yes."

"...Okay! I'll be right back with the laptop." He's a good man, he knows when not to argue.

I paced the room while we watched the Doctor enter the Dalek. The midwives sat talking quietly together outside the door. The girls corralled the children, who were quickly approaching the over-tired and over-excited stage. Everyone waited, but other than the occasional mild contraction, things were looking decidedly unhopeful.

Halfway through the episode, the midwife came in to check on us. I was feeling more than a little discouraged by this point. The midwife gave us a few different options: she could send the second midwife home for some rest while staying herself for a while longer, we could try some different positions and movements to see if labour picks up again, we could try some other methods to encourage labour...or she could break my water and the baby would in all likelihood arrive very soon afterwards.

It was 10:00 at that point and I wasn't feeling labour. My dilation had been at 4 cm when the midwife arrived to do the sweep, and a quick internal check confirmed no change. To me, the options were either go to bed or get this done with.

Any other baby, I'd have gone to bed. But we had flown my sisters out here with the intent that they be at the birth, and it wasn't their fault that their return flight ended up having to be earlier than we had initially planned. It meant a lot to them - and to me - that they be there for the delivery.

We discussed the various risks and possible outcomes of breaking my water. There were no guarantees. But I was six days past my EDD, I had been in active labour, and my midwife expected that in all likelihood, breaking my water would result in the baby arriving within the next hour or so.

The husband and I discussed it some more. It was so far outside my typical view of birth to consider breaking my water for no purpose other than to hurry things along, and I was having a hard time with the idea. Even the sweep had been beyond my comfort zone; I prefer to leave baby alone, let him or her arrive when they're ready, medical reasons aside. I confessed my anger that by having my sisters come, I had also given my mother this small measure of inclusion in and influence over my labour.

"But it's like that Doctor Who quote you love: Just because there's some bad, the good things don't become less important. You've enjoyed having your sisters here. You want them here for the delivery. This isn't her choice, it's yours. I feel comfortable with either option. Do what feels right to you."

(Source)

Oh. That man. I wiped away a few tears, took a few deep breaths, and told the midwife I wanted to have my water broken.

At 10:18, the midwife broke my water, reminding me as she did so that a warm shower would help ease the transition. I shut the laptop at the foot of the bed before she began; I couldn't have my water broken while a Dalek had such a direct view of the proceedings. The experience was uncomfortable, to put it mildly, and I was grateful to step into the hot shower as soon as it was done.

The contractions picked up immediately. They were indeed more intense, but the water was lovely on my back. Each contraction was preceded by a gush of water; I'd lean into it, knees bent, moaning low while reminding myself to keep breathing, keep breathing. Then it would ease and I'd rock and sway through the interim cramps, talking with whoever was at the door at the time - sometimes a sister, one of the kids, the midwife, or most often the husband.

The husband kept asking if he could get me anything. Finally, feeling amusingly annoyed by the question, I asked for a TARDIS so I could pop a few minutes into the future when this would all be over. He explained why that wouldn't work (nerd), so I suggested an epidural instead. He winced at the thought of a needle, and I agreed - even then, the idea of having a needle inserted into my spine sounded like someone's idea of a sick joke. We chuckled about that until the next gush of water indicated the arrival of another contraction.

The intensity continued to build and I knew it was almost time. After one contraction nearly brought me (literally) to my knees, I told the husband to turn off the water and call the kids in while I knelt on the shower floor. The midwife slid a towel and blanket under me, the next contraction hit, and I hollered low through the push. I reached down to control the speed of arrival as the head emerged, followed, as always, by that blissful sense of the worst of it being over. After a very brief pause, the next contraction delivered the rest of the baby, which I guided forward and lowered onto the waiting blanket. It was the first time I had caught my own baby.

The baby let out a cry, then relaxed into the blanket. It had been 45 minutes since my water had been broken, and everything had gone as perfectly as it could possibly go. The next 15 minutes are a blur of congratulations, discomfort, joy, and that lovely moment of "Well, what is it?" "It's a boy!" Our two costume-loving middle children had attended the birth dressed as a knight and a dragon, and everyone else had been there to witness the moment as well.

After the placenta arrived, the oldest boy cut the cord, grinning the whole time. The midwife passed the baby to his Daddy while I took a short but glorious shower. Clean, I slid gratefully into bed and watched as everyone said hello to this new little person.

Our sweet youngest son is four days old now. He's healthy and snuggly and nurses well and what more is there to say? We are so grateful for his presence in our home and our family.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The Edge

Sometimes I linger too long at that place between fully awake and fully asleep. There are half-dreams and half-thoughts, the remains of the night and the beginning of the day. I don't feel ready to surrender to wakefulness, but neither can I seem to fall properly back to sleep. And so I linger there, on the edge.

Eventually I give in. Open my eyes. Today my reward is the sweet sight of baby girl fully and totally asleep. Her thumb hangs halfway out of her mouth, her other arm resting against the swell of her soon-to-be (any day now, any minute) baby brother or sister. Under that arm, her two constant companions are pinned between us: the doll I made for one of her brothers, and the rainbow dinosaur her aunt and uncle brought back from Brazil. Behind her lay her three blankets, one Grandma-knit, one Oma-sewn, and her car blanket that somehow migrated to her sleeping space during the past few hot weeks. She is utterly abandoned to sleep and I marvel at her, study this toddler-baby who is both so small and so big at once.

At the end of the bed, the husband is fastening his belt. It felt like only moments ago he had been pressed against my back, arm over me as we slept, interrupted by his alarm (Doctor Who theme, because we're geeks like that) reminding him to get out of bed every few minutes. No contractions meant I couldn't rescue him from this last work day of the week. He kisses me goodbye and leaves quietly. He'll text me later, I know, asking me to go into labour so he can come home from a boring day at the office, and I'll reply in faux-annoyance but it's been five days of this and the annoyance isn't entirely a joke at this point.

Some days I manage to fall back asleep after he leaves. Today I stay awake, just lying there quietly, thinking, until baby girl wakes up too and her early-riser brother hears her babbling and bursts into the room and the day has started, time for breakfast. My time of lingering is over.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Tell me a story without an ending.

I have happily spent this summer devouring fiction and memoirs, a veritable deluge of stories. Morton, Flynn, Graham, Hunt, Moriarty, Worth, Picoult, Green, Niffenegger; love and loss, murder and mystery, birth and paper towns and secrets and time travel. Each one has been delicious as it sinks into my marrow, my very being, in a way that no instructing or soap-boxing or arguing ever could.

The stories become part of me, and through them I come to better know the heart and soul of humanity.

* * *

I've become weary of conclusions.

How I Quit Sugar For Good

10 Steps to Stop Yelling

5 Products You Need Today

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

50 Ways to Make Summer Memorable

How _______ Changed My Life for Good

Conclusions, all of them. The last page of people's stories. The ending, the final thoughts, the lesson. They're tidy and clean and instructive and often quite lovely...but I'm feeling burnt out on lovely. What happened to the middle part, the long messy twisting journey that preceded the arrival?



What do I want? I want unfinished. Unpolished. I don't want the conclusion or the lesson or the ten-point how-to. I want the adventure, not the destination. The mess, not the polished finale. How about a bit of uncertainty? Some loops back to try again? And what of dreams still far off, not just the ones coming true now?

I want to read more than the last chapter of the book, where everything comes neatly together and Happily Ever After begins. I could do with less outrage and certainty and cynicism, more questioning and wondering and wonder. A story without an ending.

* * *

Stories are what make us unique. Even computers can't do it. Just us, just people, telling our stories to each other and down through the generations. They endure. They help us to see one another - not labels and divisions and boxes, but one another. Not judgement, but compassion and understanding. Not lines in the sand, but hearts and souls that are so much more like our own than we ever before realized.

Tell me a story. Just the beginning, the middle, the cross-road, the climax, the wherever-you-are along the path. The end of that particular road will come in time, and there will be other roads that begin, so many of them, branches and twists and forks and where next? Snippets from the journey, that's what I want. I'm tired of only hearing the endings.

Tell me an unfinished story.

* * *

Once upon a yesterday...

I splashed boiling water on my 40-weeks-pregnant belly and damn, did that hurt. I fell straight asleep that night and woke up in the morning still waiting, waiting, for that 40 week baby to arrive. And in the waiting there was boredom, jumpiness, a bit of anxiety and impatience alongside the anticipation.

Perhaps tomorrow there will be more to tell.

And perhaps not.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

This hot and sticky summer

This summer has been hot days and cold iced tea, week after week, as we make our last memories as a family of five and prepare to become six. And what treasured memories they have been...

Reading poems to the kids as we drive along the dark highway, breaking up the arguments and the he-touched-me's with some Roald Dahl and A. A. Milne and whatever else I could find on my phone.

Going to sleep smelling like a campfire and waking up eager for that one-dollar five-minute shower. New friends at the campground and new words brought back to the tent and new freedoms as they head off to play some more while we try (again) to get the campfire to stay lit. Hiking, museums, and dinosaurs (oh my).


The boy's first time getting lost in the neighbourhood, and remaining calm while walking fast and then relief and hugs and dried tears and reassuring words. And then a printed map and a review and trying again and sweet success. Swim lessons and ice skating lessons, badges and goals.


Weeding the garden again and again (and again and again and) the way it becomes one more reminder of the inner weed-yanking that must happen endlessly within me. Fresh carrots eaten daily, green tops strewn around the yard by children with more pressing matters to attend to than keeping the yard tidy: playing soccer, riding bikes, drinking cold water from the tap.


Cherry stained fingers and boxes of blueberries, handfuls snatched by hungry children every time they walk by. Blueberry jam spread on toast, jars of it stored for future less bountiful months.

A certain baby girl's second birthday, with balloons and chocolate zucchini cake and gifts and a new birthday skirt, elastic still safety pinned together at the back because she won't take it off long enough for me to finish the waist. A new backpack and a beautiful Oma-made quilt and puzzles and joy and celebration and singing, all for this delightful child.


A new van and a borrowed bassinet and soft lambskin and tiny clothes, all in preparation for the newest little one, any day now. Waiting. Waiting.

Good moments and bad moments all jumbled together, grace and impatience and apologies and naps and love and laughter and tears. Every day a bit of everything, messy but mostly good, I think.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

On not writing

Half-written stories sit unshared because they have no tidy beginning or ending. They're just snippets, really, but I can't stop myself from writing them.

For as long as I can remember, I have narrated my life. Often I narrated in the third person, which drove me crazy but my brain just wouldn't stop, wouldn't stop silently telling the story of my life back to myself. Even the most mundane details ran through my head in story form:

"She headed to the bathroom, emptied her bladder, wondered once again how many squares of toilet paper the average female used afterwards. It irritated her not to know - is she typical? efficient? wasteful? With all the ridiculous studies out there, has no one bothered to study this?"

As though my trips to the bathroom needed narration. Or my choice of breakfast cereal. Or the things I noticed as I wandered through the halls at school. As though anything in my quiet average life even warranted narration.

Even as a little girl, both the narration and the annoyance with the narration were there in my head:

"She sat down with her Barbies, trying to decide which storyline to act out today...Oh STOP, just let me play!"

And then - then! - the most irritating of all, when I would third-person narrate my annoyance with the running stream of third-person narration:

"Why couldn't she turn it off? Why couldn't she just wash her hands or observe an interaction or pay the cashier without her brain mentally writing it down, as though she isn't already aware of what she herself is currently doing? Maddening! Infuriating! And most of all, unbelievably annoying."

I remember spending weeks trying to at least shift to a first-person narrative. I was a teenager by then, already in love with writing. I had my pen-and-paper diaries, my online diary, my secret poems that I have never shared with anyone because somehow I find poetry to be the most intimate of all forms of writing. There were stories for English class - one particularly dark one was passed around by friends and classmates, my quiet shy self enjoying a bit of attention for a few days. Even essays were a pleasure to write, choosing just the right words, transitioning from paragraph to paragraph, topic to topic, presenting my arguments and sources and oh, it was satisfying.

I did manage, at last, to get rid of the third person in my head. That first-person narration continues, though, and tiny blog posts continually draft themselves without my permission. Even when I'm not writing, I'm never really not writing.

It feels good to let those words out, but sometimes it feels better to simply keep them to myself. Let the story write itself, silent and unshared, and hope that the words will still be there when I'm old and sifting through memories of the past.

Onward we go, ever onward, as the story unfolds around us.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Evening for one

They've been going to sleep well, these kids, a mercy after long days of skating and swimming and errands. And dinner, why does it have to come every night? Odd how the simple act of eating can cause such mental exhaustion - choosing, cooking, cajoling, cleaning. I'm ready to put myself to bed after all that.

But I don't. They tidy their toys and eat their snack and brush their teeth. I read to them about Laura Ingalls and Nellie Oleson ("I think she's the meanest person ever!", they exclaim). At last I put them to bed and then I stay up too late playing spider solitaire while listening to sappy love songs. It's kind of pathetic but it's nice, too.

Eventually the satisfaction of lining up all the cards just so wears off, so I close the computer and read for the next hour (or two or three) instead. I'm going to regret this in the morning, I know.

When it gets too late to justify just one more chapter, I head to the boys' bedroom where they're both sound asleep. The preschooler looks like an angel, as he always does when he's sleeping (perhaps simply by virtue of it being the only time he's quiet, ever), while the long and lanky boy is sprawled out, arms grazing the floor, like a gangly teenager who doesn't quite fit into his bed anymore. I want to leave them both sleeping peacefully where they are, save my arms and my back the effort of carrying them down the hall and depositing them on my bed, where they proceed to squirm around and kick me all night long. I promised them, though, and a promise is a promise, so my arms and back and I suck it up and move them into my bed. The oldest startles when I lay him down, swinging out his hand and catching me square in the bridge of the nose. This must be my thanks, I think sardonically, for keeping my word.

They ask to join me every night when their dad is out of town. Sometimes I say yes and sometimes I insist on a night of sound sleep by myself. I don't know if they sense, like me, the emptiness that seems to pervade the house when he's not here at night, even with the four (and a half) of us still remaining, or if they simply like to take advantage of the chance to snuggle back into the bed they each slept on until they were kicked out by the next baby, one after the other. Baby girl got kicked out early, though; maybe these kids are just preparing me again for the extra space I'll lose when Baby Number Four arrives to fill it.

I re-read the recipe for the lentil, carrot, and potato hash I have planned for tomorrow evening's dinner, jotting down the items I need to pick up. The kids are likely to complain, but I'm thoroughly tired of the various combinations of sandwiches, soup, and breakfast food that we eat so often when it's just us. What else...blood test tomorrow (oh boy). The boy's swim bag is by the front door; the preschooler's skates and warm clothes are in the trunk. Everything's ready, I just need to convince myself to turn out the light and go to sleep.

I suppose now's as good a time as any. Good night, world.


Just writing along with the EO...

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Missing him

I'm tired. Combine pregnancy with The Cold That Will Not Die, and it doesn't make for awesome sleep. So when she stood beside me asking up! up!, I really just wanted her to go find some toys and leave me to my coffee.

But she's feverish right now (this hasn't been a healthy week for the Hippie Household) and also adorable, so I picked her up anyway. She wrapped her arm around my neck (one-armed hugs only from this little thumb-sucker) and how many times have I missed such moments because I want just five minutes to drink my coffee or please, I just don't want to be touched for a moment or can't you see I'm trying to have a bit of a nap?

But I didn't say no today and what a reward, to have her hug me so tightly for so long.

The husband left this morning, another two weeks on site before two weeks back here and then gone again. I'm mopey and melancholy and I wonder, often, how other wives feel as they say goodbye. Am I as whiny as I feel? Do they wave goodbye, see you in a while, no big deal? I have no idea. My dad never traveled; it's outside my paradigm and I don't like it one bit, this new reality. It just doesn't feel right when he's gone.

I'm the lucky one, though. How lonely can I be, really, when I get these one-armed hugs from my baby and sloppy kisses from my preschooler and late-night chats with my growing boy? When I wake up more mornings than not with three kids in my bed and a fourth one kicking inside?

Still, I feel his absence and I'm mopey and mostly unapologetic for being so. I feel aimless; I don't really know what to do. I just wander around Cleaning All The Things. I hadn't realized how many of our daily anchor points depend on him - his coming and going from work, our mealtimes (which are so much more casual when he's not here), our evenings together after the kids are in bed, a kiss good-night and again in the morning. Now so much of our daily rhythm feels fluid, optional, drifting.

There was a time when I wasn't so bothered by our being apart. I looked forward to being together again but I didn't particularly miss him in the meantime. It just was. Things are different now and maybe we just need to find our way back to the middle. Or maybe not, maybe this missing him is just fine.

And maybe that's just an odd thing to wonder about.


Just writing along with the EO...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Returning

There's something about returning home that feels like fresh air, even if the air itself is a bit stuffy after a couple of weeks away. The husband and I walk through each room, opening blinds and windows to release the heat and stuffiness. It's rewarding to see everything just the way we left it. The beds are neatly made, clean towels are waiting for that first oh-how-I-missed-you shower, and our pillows have never felt so deliciously comfortable as they do that night. Only the empty fridge needs to be taken care of.

I unpack suitcases and backpacks, storing the empty luggage until next time. It's satisfying to put everything in it's proper place again. I start the laundry and empty the dishwasher before beginning the next day's grocery list. The kids are rediscovering all their favourite toys while the husband and I enjoy the quiet of our own separate activities, introverts recharging after all that travelling and visiting.

We haven't yet lived in this house for a year, but as soon as we stepped inside, the husband noted that it felt like home. The boy declared that he likes to be home the best, and I agree with the both of them. Being here just feels right.

The garden has grown beautifully in our absence - both the vegetables and the weeds. I'll take care of the weeds first and then we'll plant some more. We'll get back into our small routines of mealtimes and bedtimes and read-alouds and the rest. There's a midwife appointment marked on the calendar for next week; it feels grounding, somehow, that small square of evidence that we're returning to our daily lives, business as usual.

Ah. It's good to be home again.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Encouraging Young Children to Write

Today's guest post comes from Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.com. Having two enthusiastic young storytellers in my home (and a third who's well on her way to becoming quite the storyteller herself), I love the tips and resources Nikolas shares to encourage that delight to persist as they grow older.

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Young children want to tell stories. They want to tell us about the things they've seen, especially if they're discovering it for the first time. If they experience something that they enjoy, they especially want to share that joy with others. As they grow, many of them carry that love of storytelling into a love of reading. And, while it would be wonderful if this love of reading and writing continued into later years, that's not often the case. Unfortunately, when most children reach junior high or high school age, they're forced to read and write, and because of this, they tend to lose their love of stories. Reading and writing become additional chores, which they have to do alongside solving math problems and cleaning the kitchen. How, then, can we encourage our children to maintain this love going into these later years? By taking that early desire to tell stories and fostering it, encouraging them to view their world through words and express their imagination. Doing so will help them understand the power of words and, hopefully, develop a love of writing as they grow older.

So, how do we do all of that? The easiest way is to just take some time to tell stories with your young children. When they want to tell you about this thing they discovered outside, don't just half-listen, responding periodically with a “uh-huh.” Engage yourself in their story. Ask them questions. Encourage them to further think about how to express themselves.

Participating in your child's storytelling doesn't have to stop with listening to their experiences. Take them out to the park and look for stuff to tell stories about. If you see a squirrel, ask your child what he or she thinks that squirrel does when it's not in the park. Does it go home to its own squirrel family and watch squirrel cartoons on a tiny TV? While it may seem silly, doing this will encourage your child to engage his or her imagination and express what he or she is thinking.

As your child grows older, it may become fun to work with him or her to get his or her stories down on paper. In my work for Grammarly, I research how people are writing and what tools they're using to improve their skills. I can tell you that there are a number of online resources that will not only encourage you and your child to write together, but also help them create a visually fun and engaging storybook.

  • ArtisanCam's “Picture Book Maker” is one of the most basic ways you can begin. It provides all of the scenery and character art, allowing you and your child to compose the pictures on the page and write the words below. When the picture book is complete, you can then save it to a gallery and email a link to one or two friends or family members. In doing this, your child is not only getting a chance to share his or her story with you, but with others, which can be further encouragement to continue storytelling.
  • “My Storymaker” is similar, in that it provides the artwork for you and your child to compose a picture book. It differs from ArtisanCam, however, in its complexity. “My Storymaker” allows you to insert other objects into the scene, and even animate characters as they interact with those objects or other characters. As you make selections, “My Storymaker” will write many of the sentences for you.
  • “Little Bird Tales” takes the complexity even further by allowing you to upload your child's own artwork to build the picture book. You and your child can then write the story below, and even record your voices narrating that story.

Taking some time to foster a love of storytelling within your children can go a long way to maintaining that love into their later years. And, as they grow older, they may want to continue telling their own stories and further developing their writing skills. When this happens, it's important to help them develop a stronger understanding of some of the more specific grammar lessons. The grammar check at Grammarly can be a great way to do that. It will take any chunk of text and check it for over 250 grammar rules. This can be an easy way to catch basic mistakes, helping young writers develop solid writing skills.

_____________________


Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children's novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Spring legs

I am a homebody. I am also a detester of all that is cold or rainy or snowy. In the chilly seasons, those two forces combine to leave me hibernating in the comfort of my home as much as I can get away with it.

But now it's spring (glorious delightful sunny spring) and the sunshine is calling. Wake up, come out, enjoy. The vegetable garden has been turned and weeded and half-planted, the nearby nature park has been explored, and picnics at the beach and the park have been eaten. We're getting out there even when it's hard for me to find the motivation. Just go, I remind myself. You're always happier when you do.

The only problem is that I've got spring legs. They're weak and wimpy and achy, and they complain all the day long after being well used. I garden and my thighs ache. I hike and my calves ache. I sit in the sun and they turn red. They're sad, sorry, grumbly legs after spending the winter curled up under a blanket, a mug of tea and a book and often a child or two resting on them.

But still the sunshine pulls and the kids push and I find myself outside once again. Muscles work and then they ache but they'll get used to it. I will press through the wimpy spring legs until I arrive at summer legs, tanned and strong and - bonus - more defined and lovely. They'll walk through sand and hilly trails and water and autumn leaves and then winter will come and I can pretend I'll keep getting out there, but I won't. Those legs will curl up under a blanket once again and this is simply who I am, the one who steps outside into the sunshine a few months later with weak spring legs, ready to press through to strength one more time.



Just writing along with the EO...

Saturday, 10 May 2014

When it's just you and the kids on Mother's Day

With the much-missed husband working out of town right now, it's just me and the kids this Mother's Day. And you know, that's life; it's not as though he deliberately chose to be away on this particular day. We've been chatting on the phone and messaging back and forth, and we're all managing just fine.

Now don't believe for a moment that I haven't allowed myself a few moments of self-pity. It's not often a day comes along devoted to honouring the mothers in our lives. Most days we quietly serve our family and watching these kids grow is more than reward enough, but a day especially for us? I'm not going to turn that down.

When reality doesn't match our ideals (as it so often doesn't), there's not much to do but make the best of it. And make the best of it I shall.

For me, that means that Mother's Day dinner will be take-out pizza and a nice cold glass of Coca Cola - it's been a long time since I last indulged that way. Then it's dirt cake for dessert, and oh, how I blushed at all that junk food rolling along the conveyor belt at the grocery store last week. Worth it, though. I do love a good dirt cake every once in a while, and there are few things kids find funnier than (gummy) worms to top it all off.

We'll spread our picnic blanket over the couch and watch a movie together while we eat and I won't feel guilty for a bit of it. This is my day and I intend to enjoy a bit of relaxation. A nice afternoon nap, I think, and we'll see if I can't wrangle some breakfast in bed out of these three wild creatures of mine.

A little extra housework tonight will be a nice reward in the morning too. I will wake to freshly-swept floors and tidy rooms and a sparkling kitchen, and it will all have been more than worth it.

If it's just you and the kids this Mother's Day, go ahead and, where possible, give yourself permission to relax and have things your way. Pick that coveted meal even if the kids hate it. Put your feet up and read your own book instead of theirs. Take a few extra minutes in the shower. Dress up or dress down, whatever makes you feel happiest. And if you've got a bit of extra time before you turn off the lights tonight, give the house a quick once-over so you can wake to that little extra bit of peace and calm.

Go ahead. If there's no one else around to do it, thank yourself for all that you do.

Happy Mother's Day to all of us.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What I Am Into - April 2014




What I Am Into :: April 2014

April has been lovely. Our weeks have been peaceful and quiet, the weather has been a nice mix of warm days and rainy days, the boy turned seven, and of course there was Easter as well.

This weekend the husband ran in a 10K race; the picture above testifies to the long, chilly wait the kids and I had while the participants were released in waves. Once he began, we warmed up in a coffee shop for a while, then hiked 5K around downtown to cheer him on at the midpoint and the finish line. Between the baby on my back and the one growing in my belly, I rather felt like I'd participated in quite an event myself. The husband and I are still bemoaning our various aches and pains, while the boys were ready to do it again by the time we got back home. Apparently I'm not nearly as in shape as I'd like to pretend I am.

Our Easter:

Good Friday was filled with frustrations: hot cross buns that failed to rise, buttonholes that refused to do as I wanted them to on baby girl's new dress, a lackluster dinner, nothing turned out quite right.

Easter Sunday was beautiful. The church service was full of promise that maybe, maybe, this is the home for us. There was joy on the kids' faces as we held our own celebrations at home afterwards, baby girl gathering up her armfuls of eggs and then opening them all, one after the other, shoving raisins in her mouth and hair clips in her hair. The boys were more judicious but no less excited. The bread rose beautifully and dinner came together well.

It was a fitting contrast. Only the weather did not bend to expectations, dawning bright and sunny on Friday while the clouds stubbornly refused to yield on Sunday. The days after Easter, though, felt lovely and fresh and new.

On My Nightstand:

After finishing Cannon's Just Spirituality, I went on a brief fiction binge. I devoured Cynthia Voigt's A Solitary Blue over the course of two evenings, then picked up Emma Donoghue's Room from the library and spent another couple of days glued to the pages of that book as well. The narrative was absolutely fascinating and I was sorry when it was finished.

Next up was Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. It was an interesting read - all of the cases were engrossing, and it certainly provided a unique perspective on things - but I felt dissatisfied when I put the book down. I think that, ultimately, I simply disagree with Gladwell's very definition of "success", which led to me bristling at a few points as I read through his accounts.

Now I've picked up Jennifer Worth's Call the Midwife again. I hadn't been able to get into it last time I opened it, but I have not had that same trouble this time at all. I'm thoroughly enjoying it and glad to have two more waiting for me when this first one is finished.

On the screen:

How I Met Your Mother is - mercifully, at long last, thank you thank you thank you - over. The husband and I enjoyed the first seasons of it, but eventually it lost a certain something and it's kind of ridiculous that we even continued to watch it, but we did because could we please just see how the story ends? Please? Anyway. It's over, and there's only relief about that here.

Now that Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, and Sherlock are all on pause, we're feeling a bit lacking in options for those evenings when we just want to veg in front of a show. So we're going to give Foyle's War and Parenthood each a shot, see if we can't find a new series to binge-watch for a while. I also intend to watch Miranda when I next have some evenings to myself; it will be something to look forward to while the husband is away for a couple of weeks.

In My Kitchen:

Easter weekend was a bit of a bread weekend for me. There were Earl Grey hot cross buns on Friday, rosemary olive oil bread on Saturday, and a delicious french bread loaf on Sunday; I felt like I spent a great deal of the weekend with my hands in dough. It was quite nice, actually, particularly on the last two days when I used a jar of yeast that was still active. That's what I get for not proofing my yeast the first day.

In My Ears:

I have most recently been captivated by Sandra McCracken's Thy Mercy, My God, and when it's not playing on repeat, I'm listening to the rest of my Hymns playlist. In the evenings, the husband and I have been alternating between The Beatles and Doctor Who albums (Series 5 and Series 6).

What I'm Looking Forward to in May:

I'm very excited about the beautiful temperatures currently forecast for the first days of May. There are few things I enjoy more than being outside in the warm sunshine. I avoid the cold and the rain when I can, but I'm all about those soaring temperatures. Bring on the lawn chairs and the iced tea and the picnics; I'm so ready.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?


Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Saturday, 19 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 38-40


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

First there was the sound of a can of compressed air being used in the bathroom, followed soon after by the sound of my hair dryer. I walked down the hallway and turned the corner and there was the husband, blowing hot air at nothing at all.

I asked him, bewildered, what he was doing.

"Cleaning out the vents in your hair dryer. Much more lint in there and it was going to turn into a heat gun."

My first thought upon hearing this was, write it down. Write it down, add it to the list, don't forget this moment because this is a gift right here. To have him notice the little things that I would never consider, to be cared about in practical yet no less meaningful ways - it's a gift.

He put the hair dryer down and we all left for a Good Friday service at (yet another) new church. It's been a year now and we're as homeless as ever. We try and we give up and we try again and I'm tired of trying, I just want a pew to sink into every week, to worship and fellowship and is this so much to ask? This one small grace?

I always panic when we pull up to a new possibility. I look at my husband and he reads it in my eyes, and he's not feeling so sure either. We'd drive away if it was just us, I know we would, just two big introverted chickens we are. But the kids are waiting expectantly in the backseat, so we squeeze each other's hand and step over one more unfamiliar threshold.

This one, though...it felt good. Maybe. It's often hard to tell after that first visit (other times, though, one visit is more than enough to tell us what we need to know). We're not holding our breath but we'll be back there tomorrow for Easter Sunday and that's all we can do, go back until we know one way or another. But this Good Friday service? It, too, gets written down. Thank you.

This is what the past 40 days have done to me. Write it down, I think it time and time again as I go about my day. Notice. Remember. Write it down. Cultivate this spirit of gratitude. Find the grace in it all, the good stuff and the hard stuff, and write it down.

384. Preparing. Anticipation.

387. Silent doors, and a husband who makes them so.

388. Baby girl's word explosion.

390. My sewing machine.

396. Clarity. Learning from past assumptions.

398. Hot cross buns. Rosemary olive oil bread.

399. Fellowship.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 32-37


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


_____________________

It's Holy Week and I'm wholly stressed. A certain boy turns seven years old today and Easter is fast approaching and I've got an Easter dress to finish sewing for baby girl and the preschooler is having a challenging week and I must remind myself, always always, that he doesn't do this to me. He's the one having a hard time, and it's my responsibility and privilege to slow down and help him through it. Still, there are birthday presents to wrap and Easter bags to sew and plastic eggs to stuff, and I'm a bit tired already.

I can feel Good Friday approaching. Perhaps a portion of my busyness is to ward off the sense of mourning that accompanies the solemnity of the day. A quiet Saturday afterwards, and then, joyous day, He is Risen! But first, there's Good Friday.

But first, today, there is a delightful seven year old to celebrate. There will be a rainy walk through the nearby nature park, the excitement of long-desired gifts to be opened, and quinoa chocolate cake with blueberries for dessert.

Today will be a good day.

376. Perspective.

378. Going to a craft show with the boy. Getting to spend time with one child.

379. The husband taking over when I'm worn out. Having a partner in life.

382. My delightful seven-year-old boy and his excitement over his birthday.

383. Watching the preschooler and baby girl interact. Their bubbling laughter and sweet hugs.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Weekend Reading {vol. 110}

When I Can't Do Enough @ A Deeper Family
I prayed. I let my heart hurt for the fallen world where little ones get sick, and so much worse happens, and begged for healing for all of us. I listened to her breathing, alert for any change, relieved that it seemed fine again.

This morning she woke up, full of beans and bouncing around. I asked if she knew I was holding her during the night. “No, but I could feel you loving me.”

Why Confessing Our Sin to Our Children is So Important @ SortaCrunchy
This confessional script creates space for these things:

1) It acknowledges why my action was sin, and it gives my children a vocabulary for confessing their own sin. It translates sin from some big, bad word we only talk about at church into an everyday part of conversation as a family.

2) Humility, humility, humility. It reinforces my humble need for Jesus in every moment of my life.

3) It empowers my children in the process of repairing our relationship.

When I Ask Myself, "Why Do I Still Go To Church?" @ A Deeper Church
Sometimes I ask myself why I still go to church, why my wife and I still wake up on a Sunday morning and wrangle our four kids and one-on-the-way into the car and drive thirty-five minutes. Why, instead of sleeping in or getting things done around the house, do I spend these Sunday mornings teaching elementary school age kids about God or sitting in a chair in a building where nothing seems to be happening? All around me people are just showing up, and I’m not sure why.

Why do I still go to church? I ask myself. Why don’t I cut loose from this obligation? What am I waiting for?

Something amazing, I guess.

What is a Family? @ Practicing Mammal
Blessed Pope John Paul is so much pithier, but here's a re write on "an intimate community of life and love."

"A family is people in close, warm, personal relationship all sharing a common good, primarily the love of God and a desire to bring one another to holiness and ultimately heaven. The family produces life, through the love of the parents and their union, and life through the love they pour out to each other; life meaning the joy of shared love. Their familial affection drives them to selflessness. Love the ACT. The selflessness is God made manifest in our daily lives. Close communities that practice selfless love, tenderness and, because of this, become a reflection of God."

That's what a family is.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

40 Days of Gratitude: Days 26-31


There are moments when I'm left breathless with gratitude, but the moment passes and I forget too easily that it happened. I need to write it down. I tell myself that often and yet I never seem to get around to opening that notebook of mine, even with fresh paper and new pens and more than enough time in my day for this one small-yet-big thing.

What better time than Lent to return to this practice of recording gratitude?

- 40 Days of Gratitude


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I woke up before dawn yesterday morning. The demands of a pregnancy bladder outweighed my desire to stay warm, but I was soon back under the covers. Of course, that's when my over-anxious brain decided to worry about All The Things. Two hours later, my husband was in the shower and I was still wide awake. I gave up.

In the kitchen, I put the cast iron pan on the burner. I was craving eggs, and I was willing to bet that man in the shower wouldn't say no to a nice warm breakfast either. I was right, and we enjoyed a lovely quiet breakfast together before he had to go.

Somehow all three children were still asleep, so after puttering around for a bit, I settled into my favourite chair with my favourite quilt and my favourite mug full of black tea. I opened my Bible to where I had last left off - Ezekiel 33 - and uncapped my pen.

Only 11 verses in, I discover yet another gift my childhood in the Anglican church has given me:

"As I live," says the Lord God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?"

How very many times it has happened that words I have known since I was a little girl, words of hope and love and mercy woven into the prayers that we said together every week, should appear in the very Word of God Himself? How little I realized the amount of Scripture that was placed deep in my heart through this weekly liturgy! For that gift, of which I have yet to discover its extent, I am grateful.

356. Finding the perfect gift.

358. Baby girl dressing up as a knight.

359. Healing foods. Comfort foods.

364. The library's hold system.

365. A rainy day inside after a stretch of lovely sunny days.

373. A good ultrasound. Curled baby fists and kicking legs.

And you? A moment of gratitude, something from your list, a link to your own gratitude journey? I love reading every bit that you share with us.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A Season to Lament

Today I am pleased to have Nicole share some thoughts on her Lenten practice of "lament". I was intrigued by her choice and I am grateful she accepted my invitation to share her experience with us here.
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For the past few weeks, I have been focusing on “lament” as part of my observance of lent. It was a decision with a long build up - “lament” kept coming up in my life for the past few years through things I was learning in seminary, people I heard speak, and other random moments in my life. Laments in the Bible are protests, doubt, despair, and anger. Often they summon God to action, demand a response to the evil being faced. I started this journey of “journaling lament” thinking I would be lamenting the magnitude of sorrows and pains in the world that others face. Goodness knows the world has enough of them I thought I would spend these weeks lamenting lack of clean water, lack of education, the violence that faces women, children, and men on a daily basis. I thought I would delve into understanding corrupt prison systems and the way entire ethnic groups are oppressed because of their DNA. And I did that for a short time, but slowly, somewhat seamlessly, the laments became about me. About the fears and traumas rooted in my heart that impact the way I interact with the world.

I began to wonder if that is what these weeks were about for me. Not one more venture into strengthening my Christian Social Justice viewpoints. Not one more venture into finding out what else I can do to make sure I’m not oppressing people with my food choices or clothing choices. Maybe God brought me to these weeks of lament so that I could, finally, mourn the injustice in my own life. So that I could cry out to God with the honesty of the Psalmists and others in the Bible who demands to know an answer from a God who allows suffering and pain and heartache.

It is hard. It is hard to cry out in agony or anger on my own behalf. It is much easier to get angry and to rally on behalf of someone else; I don’t have to face my own pain and bitterness and brokenness or bruised spots on my heart if I am demanding justice for someone else. I can remain, to some degree, outside of the deepest anger and despair of those laments. I can remain somewhat objective, and in control. To rail against the heavens and to express the bitterness of my pain and my unfulfilled dreams is intimate and very scary.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying this is hard because I am some selfless saint. I am saying that various things in my life has taught me that my emotions create instability at best, and are dangerous at worst. And so my default mode is to tell myself to calm down, to think rationally, to look on the bright side, and - above all – to remain calm and in control. (This makes me an excellent person to have around in a crisis!) But there is nothing stable and calm about lament. There is nothing in “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that is designed to keep the status quo.

Shortly after I had this mini-revelation that I was supposed to lament my own pains, I shared as much with my community here. Later that night my friend told me, “I feel like you need to know that what you have to say to the world is important. That your story can help others, but that you have to be able to tell it from a place of peace. You have to be able to do it without bitterness.” She said that the thought had occurred to her days ago, but it wasn’t the right time to tell me until she had heard me share earlier that night.

There were a few days where I found myself inexplicably sad. I’d take the time to sit in silence or to go for a drive alone and try to identify the sadness. It was most often hopes deferred or the memory of injuries I’ve suffered at the hands of other people’s misdeeds. It was good to grieve those times. One afternoon, I ran across an old quotation that I had saved years before after a friend sent it to me: “And sometimes the God who can’t be found will wrap his arms around you. So, lay down sister, lay down.” That short line speaks the truth of lament to me – that when life demands that you acknowledge the weight of the pain, that God wraps arms around you.

In Psalm 126 the Israelites sing of how the farmer who goes out sowing seeds of sorrow will reap songs of joy. “Those who sow in tears shall reap shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (126: 5-6) The Israelites used their understanding of the real life hardships of watering the earth and waiting for a return to express their relationship with God. The tears of pain, anguish, longing, and hope are all vital to the process of reaping the harvest. In the end, the harvest is always a time for joy.

Many of my laments this season were about “hopes deferred.” For as long as I can remember, all I’ve really wanted to be in life is a mom. I often don’t feel free to speak up about how much of a disappointment it is that I’m 31 and childless – but the pain is real. And then when I start thinking about being single there is a deep-rooted shame inside of me – shame that I’m doing something wrong, that my body is wrong, that I am wrong. Most, if not all, of the men I’ve dated are married now – which makes my brain repeat, “So, see? It is you that’s not enough, or too much, or just wrong.” As much as I can logically identify these thoughts as lies, my heart needed this season to really lament the pain and loss that is wrapped up in these hopes deferred.

I am coming out of this season of lament with a renewed focus about my life. With a passion and a clarity to live into the person God created me to be, regardless of what I may have thought my future should like some months or years before. Part of who God created me to be is one who mothers, one who nurtures. In literally every place I have lived and worked in my adult life – people in my community around me have called me “motherly.” (Meaning it as praise almost always.) It is my deepest hope and prayer that someday that means that there are children who call me Mom and who find their stockings in my living room on Christmas and who think I make the best chocolate chip cookies around. I don’t know for sure that will happen, I feel like it will, but I don’t know for sure.

One result of this season of lament in my life is that I will stop apologizing for the things that make me, me. I will make those things the measuring stick for how I live my life. My question will be: will this move, job, home, etc. allow me to nurture those around me?

I know what my goal is and I have a passion for making that the priority in a way I never have before. I have a better understanding of which things are the hundred-and-four good ideas that might happen as the result of living into who I believe God made me to be. But those things aren’t the goals – those are the dreams. What I have for the first time in my life is a goal, a destination. The destination is not what I will do, but it is about who I am, who God made me to be.

This clarity about my future – about what it is I need to prioritize and focus on in my future – is my song of joy reaped from seeds of lamenting dashed dreams and broken hearts. I demanded an answer from God and then when I laid down he wrapped his arms around me and spoke with joy and delight about who He made me to be.
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Nicole is a full-time seminary student studying theology with an emphasis on public policy. She has a passion for making people feel welcome and believes that on some deep but monumental level, a shared cup of coffee goes a long way towards world peace. You can find more of her writing on her blog Mashena.