Monthly Archiv: January, 2014

What we are learning

Inspired by the, “what we are learning,” newsletter from the new school. What we are learning:

Girl one is learning to make a roux and a white sauce. The goal is homemade macaroni and cheese from scratch so she will know how to make a favourite dish. She is also learning by default the pleasure of not being the one assigned to the hard lessons. (Thanks to me, her father also had reason to revisit this pleasant educational state.)

Girl two is learning that no one finds it funny when you take a sharp metal object and scratch large designs on the piano bench. In fact, they are still mad at you every time they walk by. She is also learning how to fake sincere apologies by closing her eyes, and nodding her head with her lips squished together.

Boy one is learning to clean a toilet properly. He has also had his first run at final exams and the concept of extensive studying. Results still to come, he is sure he did brilliantly. He has not yet learned how to fake sincere apologies. We look forward with longing to the day he decides to try.

Boy two is learning that when you fake being sick because you want the a day off to read (while your father is very sick with the stomach flu) your mother does not forgive you for a tiny apology and an offer of $10. A compliment from another adult that would have melted her a week ago (you’re doing well with your French) fails to impress. Maternal ears appear immune to your sweetness, and most uninterested in compliments of any kind in reference to you.

My lesson plans were as follows:

First, when my husband missed the bus that boy one takes to school (because he stopped for gas before dropping him off) the obvious lesson was that late people merit frustrating outcomes. I can’t remember if I shared my insights. Probably not. The lesson was too self evident.

It turns out the lesson was actually that it would happen to me too (undeserving and timely, though I am) if I similarly stop for gas before dropping off. For reasons that are dull (no cell phone, faker sick boy, real sick husband, etc.) my little failure to get the lesson when someone else was learning it cost me the better part of an hour and a half to get everyone to where they needed to be. Husband was empathetic, and warmed to the cockles of his toes.

I also learned about metal cans. I.e. cutting yourself on metal can lids is not hard to do. Even though I cut myself badly on a peach can lid two years ago and swore to never to make that mistake again. In fact, while fighting with a useless can opener, it was possible to cut with even more gusto, deeper and longer on the edge of a massive ketchup can lid.

Ode to an Old Farm Girl

Our 1950's era Ford 8N tractor

Our 1950’s era Ford 8N tractor


Ode to an Old Farm Girl

Oh the brand new is spanky and starts up real quick

Supposedly rarely in need of a fix

But the old’s not so bad, it feels good to drive

She might not be perfect but she does alright


I like my things real like the Velveteen rabbit

The old girl’s the one until she says she’s had it.

The husband, he dreams of snow blowing machines

But me, I’m in love with this tractor


Smoking a peace pipe with mornings

January  2013 193

Me thinking about accepting the pipe

I have a little issue. It has gone undiscussed here on County Road 21, on account of it failing to meet the last little part of the true, simple, BEAUTIFUL criteria. The issue is waking up.

I used to work with someone who routinely got up at 4:30 am. One of her babies had started her on it. He was an adult now, but she had kept the schedule. I felt sorry for her. Wondered why she wasn’t trying to fix it. Rising at that time without soldiers, or an extremely exciting trip to embark on seemed unimaginable.

Unfortunately, I no longer require imagination to see early.

Chris, I say to myself at 4 or 4:30 as I fill up the wood stove, are you still out there? I don’t remember the routine. Are you drinking coffee and reading the paper? I didn’t have a Fraser, but I’m up now. Top of the morning to you. If you’ve stopped getting up early, don’t tell me. It makes me feel better to think there’s somebody else out there.

I tossed and turned for a few nights at 2:00 a.m. with no results other than sleep loss combined with boredom. The next night, I took off the gloves and fought back. Cleaning the bathroom in the middle of the night was surprisingly rewarding. I went back to bed pleased that at least I hadn’t been bored.

2:00 went away. 4:30 though, seems here to stay. What did I do wrong? I wonder. Occasionally, I roll over and see that it is almost 5:30. I smile madly. I slept in! Successful mornings are followed by a careful examination of conscience. What did I do right? What do I do to deserve that again? It will be ok, I tell myself, the day I figure out exactly the way the points are tallied.

A few weeks ago, I helped with a birthday party. Little girls dropped bowling balls on the floor with tiny nudges. Half the time they walked away before their ball even reached the pins. There were no real attempts to aim, the balls were heavy enough. Rolling, or dropping equalled success. It was new and it was fun.

No one understood the score or where it came from, but it appeared on a screen above us. After a while the girls began to watch the computer. In fact, they watched it more than the pins or the ball. From there, they derived the meaning of it all.

“I’m good at this,” said a girl delighted.

“I’m bad at this,” said another resigned. “Me too,” echoed a third.

You’re not good or bad, the numbers are almost random at this point, I wanted to say. The things you are adding up, they don’t equal the thing you think they do.

It was bowling, but it was a glimpse of the obvious. Children should live freely, without thinking it’s all a tally about whether they are good or bad.


Strange tree, matching kids

For some reason this tree reminds me of my kids

For some reason this tree reminds me of my kids

It was hard to get a good picture of this tree. When I tried to show the whole tree you couldn’t see the fact it’s hanging in mid air. The kids would laugh if they were out walking with me and got to go on the path underneath it. (The oddest thing of all was that I couldn’t find a stump. I walked in circles trying to figure out how it got there with no results.)

Other oddities of late include:

Girl one plays school during the following times: after school, at school, and on weekends. She has notebooks of plans, treats for good students, games, and lessons in a constant state of readiness. When there is no one to play school with her, she does her prep work for when they might be available again.

Girl two is climbing walls now. Door frames to be exact. She takes off her shoes, grabs either side of the trim with her fingers, and starts climbing. She is especially fond of doing this near the kitchen. Right at the top with her head touching the ceiling, she calls to me while I’m cooking, “Can somebody help me? I think I’m starting to lose my grip.”

Boy two has developed a fascination with imitating the dog and gets himself giggling with delight. The dog lifts a paw, he lifts an arm. The dog stands up and walks in a circle. Ditto. The dog lies down, stretches and yawns. Repeat.  “I’m practicing being Phil,” is his explanation. Boy two got extra large black glasses when he went to see The Hobbit in 3D. He popped out the lenses afterwards and declared himself Phil. After days and days of continuous glasses frame wearing, I have restricted them to Tuesdays and Fridays only. So, yes, today he will be wearing them to school and everyone will be calling him Phil all day, because as he explains, when he wears them, that’s who he is. I have no explanation.

Boy one’s responses to hot and cold are approximately parallel to the rest of his emotions. As in, sometimes he is freezing and will die if he does not have blankets and sweatshirts and a hotter fire in the room RIGHT NOW. And sometimes he goes out cross country skiing a night, and stops by after a loop to remove clothing because he is SO HOT HE IS DYING and we really have NO IDEA how hot he is.


We still don't know why he needed to do it, but it made him very happy.

We still don’t know why he needed to do it, but it made him very happy.


I’ll close by adding that sometimes when the children are left alone too long, they take the wings off flies and name them so they can have pets in their rooms.


The Wonder of Education

The switch to a new school was a long time coming, but a difficult decision to make. Girl two was thriving. The grass is always greener. What if. But Boy two’s situation demanded that we find alternatives.

I could do it for the others as well, but here are boy two’s first days.

Day one (visiting day): Hi Mom. Can I stay at this school?

At dinner time, unprovoked (the rest of us were chewing): I learned about molecules today.

We tried to be nonchalant. (Later we discussed. When was the last time he came home and said he learned something? We couldn’t remember.) So what do you know about molecules? asked my husband. How do they work?

A clear explanation of molecules in three states of matter followed. We stopped eating and stared.

Day two:

The boy who does not like morning was out of bed, dressed and ready to go. That day he learned about electrons and began a unit on electricity. He sparkled telling us that there would be a project at the end. One year someone had made their own burglar alarm.

Day three:

At pick up, I could see his cheeks twitching with the smile he was holding in. Staring straight ahead with failed attempts at normal, he held a guitar. He climbed in the car and his grin won. It had been music day. He was required to study an instrument. The teacher said she had an extra guitar and would he like to learn it. He worked excitedly on music theory, then strummed his guitar for the evening.

Day four:

How was school?

Same as usual. Which for this school means great. It was a really good day.

Day five:

Hi Mom. We started learning a poem today, but I think I’ve got it, except one part, want to hear it?

A recitation of Frost’s, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” followed.

Day six:

What’s that book?

It’s a book on penmanship. I asked the teacher if I could bring it home to work on it. The other kids know all their lower case letters. Some people call it cursive. At my school, we just call it writing. Want to see what I’ve done so far?


Boy two likes school now. He may even be a morning person, we can’t tell. Girl one is more peaceful than we have ever seen her. She also brings home her work with new pride and intent. Girl two remains in love with all creation.

We are optimistic, but honeymoons happen. There are no perfect schools. Time will tell if we’ve stumbled into where they belong for good, or even if the goodness we found can hold its own enough to keep the doors open.

Education either provokes wonder or it lulls it to sleep. Fifteen minutes from our home, in the middle of some farmers fields, is a tiny school who prefers its students awake. To this little school, I say, thank you for the wonder.

Identity Crisis

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Country Flags by Bill Longshaw, courtesy of

Spelling is complicated. When I was growing up, I spelled like an American because I was one. And because Americans owned the red pens and the stickers for my spelling tests.

How, I wondered when I first came to Canada, could the people seem so cultured and yet spell so poorly? Then I got a job. I deliberated with myself about the merits of intentionally learning to spell things incorrectly, but I have always been highly motivated by red pens and stickers. At first, the new favourite spelling system was a chore. I would stop half way through a word and sigh before going through with the desecration.

By the time I clamoured to the designated centre to get myself labelled a real Canadian, it was second nature. Far from humouring those for whom I laboured, it had become a matter of honour to spell things as any good Canadian would. I took my own high calibre red pen to work on my students’ papers . . . thirty kilometres south this would be fine, I noted –  here, it’s a misspelled word.

Enter the blog. What now? I say to myself. Most of the time I write in Word, then cut and paste to the blog. My computer, obviously Canadian, spells as I have told it to. When I go back and do my edits, the program that runs the blog, grabs its own red pen and yells, “We own the internet. Spell like an American.”

Dialogue ensues.

Me: Stop telling me what to do. I’m Canadian flavoured now. If you want to get snippy, I’m still American enough to fight about it.

Other Me: There are more Americans than Canadians. Maybe you should spell like an American. If you ever sell something, they’ll be the ones to write the checks.

Me: Blog readers are split half and half and that doesn’t count the people in Europe. When the cheques arrive, I’ll take it under advisement.

Other Me: What about the Mexicans? Or the Koreans? What kind of spelling do they like?

Me: I have no idea. We don’t make our decisions based on what other people think, remember? We don’t colour our hair if we don’t feel like it, even if everyone else thinks it’s just marvellous.

Other Me: Maybe you should spell American. Everybody else you mentioned at least knows that there are various ways to spell things. Americans might have the hardest time coping with something foreign to them. Consider it a meager attempt to be neighborly.

Me: Forget it. This is gruelling. It’ll be half Canadian, half American. Even in the same document. A little of this and a little of that. No rhyme. No reason.

Other Me: This explains why if a group of any ten of your friends were asked what your last name is, three different answers would be forthcoming.

Me: Let’s not over analyse. I’m beginning to feel like an axe.


Turkey Convention

Die hards at the end of the day

Convention Stragglers

Half a kilometer down the road is an on-going as we speak turkey convention. Now that I take the kids to school, I drive by it four times a day. By afternoon, half the participants have left for happy hour, but in the morning, I can count on fifteen or more of them milling around on convention business.

The convention takes place in a graveyard. The main hall in the convention centre is actually the gravesite of a six year old girl. Years ago, her grandparents made it into a little shrine and they keep it in pristine condition still. There are toys, a bench, a bird feeder. At night, there are soft lights. The path to the grave is always clear, even in winter. There is no sign that the turkeys find this an odd place for a convention. Quite the opposite. They love the free food, sprinkled liberally across the ground.

I pass the graveyard on my walks to the woods too. For a while there were raccoons who came. They would scamper up the trees as I walked by, then come down again when I was past. Countless deer stop by in a week, but most of the time they seem to have booked the centre for different hours. One day I saw the turkey convention with three deer standing right in the middle. I was too far off to see if they wore name tags, but it seemed to be working for everyone concerned.

I can’t quite explain why the turkey convention has caught my fancy this winter. Is it seeing so much life in the midst of death or is it just the turkeys? Turkeys are fun to watch. The way their heads move on the end of those long necks when they’re looking around makes me want to try it. I can’t get enough of the way they tip toe off in such a flutter of not subtle when they see me coming, all in a line, bustling like church ladies off into the trees, so proud of themselves for being so canny.

Most everything good and bad that’s gotten stuck in my craw these past few weeks has eventually made it to the part of my brain that remembers the turkeys. Exhausted. Excited. Discouraged. Incensed. Triumphant. I picture myself a turkey. Just one of the girls in a grand convention of turkeys. Oblivious to the miracle of life in the midst of death, but deadly serious about the way we stand, the order in the line, and who eats what when and how.

Temporary shut down

County Road 21 is closed for today. The few thoughts I had in my head got said yesterday. I went to bed standing up at 6:00 last night. From there, I wandered between children issuing barely intelligible directives. They got bored of me and went to bed early.  You know it is bad, when no one even asks you to read to them. I made it to my pillow by 8:30 and that was that.

A fine day to you all. I’ll aim for a good walk before dinner and hope you have the gift of the same.

Winter walk

Winter walk



Small thoughts from small things

It’s -30C outside (-22F). Inside we are feeding the wood stove steadily. The stomach flu which meandered through the ranks  at the end of last week, took a more direct and steady course beginning yesterday at 4am.  All stomachs are now settled. The wan and weak are on separate couches in the livingroom. I am bringing toast and applesauce in small increments.

“Thank you for loving us so much when we’re so disgusting,” said a kneeling 13 year old fresh up for air from an encounter with the toilet last night.

His face from last night has stayed with me. My boy of boundless energy and not a small amount of cockiness these days, all humility, softness and gratitude. Some days I don’t have  a lot of bold conclusions. Today I am pondering these things and not much more.

1. What it means to know we are disgusting and feel embraced by kindness in the midst of it.  What it means to us to be loved and accepted not because we don’t have puke on our face, but while we do.

2. What this says about grace. How it might long to catch us up short and change us forever. Redeem us, with the vomit of our shortcomings still clinging to strands of our hair.

Cheering Out Loud


Girl two often wakes up before I’ve finished the last mechanics of posting in the morning.  She wants to eat and she wants to snuggle.

What did you write your blog about? Girl two wanted to know as soon as we’d settled the time for breakfast.

I told people about us getting our hair cut, I said.

She smiled briefly then frowned, serious. Why didn’t you tell them we read, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle?”

She and I have been reading Beverly Cleary together. The story acts like a vacuum, sucking the other children away from what they are doing until we are many, reading about Ralph’s adventures in Mountain View Inn. “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” arrived for Christmas. We often buy used books, but this one was brand new. Ordered in the mail. A chapter book, wonderfully illustrated, and owned by Girl two.

I got a note from a friend the other day. Not just any friend. A friend I had shared with my mother. At my mother’s request, the friend agreed to be a grandmother in her place, should my mother die. We consider it a kind of arranged adoption. Over the years, she has faithfully loved my children, invited us on vacations, offered free French tutoring and bought shoes. She also got it in her head to look out for me.

Normally, I’m not a fan of cheerleaders (I think it’s the pom, poms), but this isn’t like that. It’s just her. Always there. Always believing in what I can do. Always cheering. Most of the time it goes unsaid. But every once in a while, after a hard day, or a difficult time, I get a note. Hang in there. She knows I’ve got it in me to come out on the other side ok. She’s proud of me.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle reminds me of this. I don’t think Girl Two cares what I write about as much as she wants to know that I’m cheering.

Girl Two isn’t a baby anymore. She is a girl who likes chapter books and reads words to find where we are. She likes, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and she has a lot of opinions about Ralph. “No, don’t do that, Ralph! . . . Good, Ralph . . . ” she cries out as I read. We are engaged readers, if nothing else.

Just like Ralph, Girl two cannot wait to grow up. And just like Ralph, she is doing it even when she can’t see it. A tip of the hat to Beverly Cleary. A hundred cheers for Ralph and Girl two.

I may or may not have to go with a cheering theme for a day or two now. But on my word, though the fig tree blossom not, and the yield of the olive fail, there will be no pom, poms.