Category Archives: Holidays

Returning in sections

MIA: believed to be en route

MIA: believed to be en route

4450 kilometers (2765 miles) later we are home. Our bodies arrived a few hours of schedule. Our brains seem to have been lost in transit. Hopefully they’ll catch up with us before too many days go by.

Highlights people without brains can remember:

Air BnB:   Has everyone except me heard of this? I had never heard of it until this trip. We rented a small house from a local couple for the week. Full kitchen, two bathrooms, laundry room, porch, yard, living room, 4 bedrooms . . . it was amazing.

Public Transit: Once we figured out how to use public transit (which wasn’t that hard because we ran into so many helpful people) the city became a very easy place to get around. Buses were good. The kids liked them, but the subways were great. Major thumbs up from all parties. The first day we had to ride around on them for a while even though we’d already been everywhere we needed to go. Tired people in their seats couldn’t help smiling and laughing at the kids yammering about what was out the window and doing motion experiments holding on to things or not when the subway stopped.

Fruit: When you drive two days south and go to the grocery store, the fruit is a lot more remarkable.

Cash: We haven’t ever done a trip in cash before but we’ll do it again. It was downright exciting to sit girl one and boy two down at the table and assign them to count out our money for the trip. We attempted to write down everything we spent so we’d have a tally of how much went for gas, food, museum admission etc. but that kind of fell apart. Regardless, there is something really nice about having money that you can count and see.

Blue Ridge Mountains: Our little timeout onto the parkway to see the mountains (estimated at half an hour) turned into an hour and a half. The fog was so thick up in the mountains that we couldn’t see twenty feet in front of the car and had to drive very slowly with the hazard lights on. We had a very good laugh about the view from the mountains

It’s good to be back, with or without the brains.

 

 

 

Road Trip

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Before we had children (back when we thought the number of children you have is the kind of thing you decide) we planned to take a road trip. We would load them the children we did not yet have in a car, as soon as they were old enough to appreciate it, and drive across Canada.

Life happened. Jobs, schools and houses came and went. Four children made it to born. We moved to the farm. The theory of small farms is that one supplements one’s food supply and therefore income, while enjoying the wholesome qualities of country living. The reality is that while working  harder for it, you also pay more than the neighbors for your food. We stick with it because the farm makes us happy, our food tastes great, and we know where it came from.

The kids are now old enough to appreciate a road trip across Canada just in time for us to appreciate that the rest of our life choices have made that impossible. Luckily they weren’t there when we vowed to do it so nobody is upset. We the vow makers are okay with it because we think the trade off is worth it. Nevertheless, I have longed for a smaller version of the road trip. We looked at a few ideas in the last few years but nothing clicked.

This January I sat fretting about a beloved aunt. Should I fly down to see her?  If so when? I batted these questions around until I realized the problem: I really wanted to go see my aunt, but I really didn’t want to leave my family at home and go off by myself on a big journey.

Which is when I realized that a road trip would solve everything.

In January, my husband was ambivalent but willing. Since the end of February, he has been gleefully counting the days. The internet estimates the trip at 17.5 hours of driving. Past experience predicts at least 2 hours of stops for every 8 hours of driving. The return trip is longer. :)

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print. I’m away from the blog for a week to be fully present for our adventure.

Revolutionary Activities

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It’s almost March break up here in the snowy lands. Snow banks are sinking. Roofs drip madly. The maple syrup is running and the pancake houses have put out their open-for-business signs. March break is not the end of winter, but it’s the time you let yourself start longing for spring. Maybe if the schools didn’t let out for a week it wouldn’t stir up every trapped feeling I’ve ever had. But they do and it does. Institutions and structures and culture loom like prison bars on a window begging for a jailbreak. A holiday is great, but I’m feeling revolution.

My opening battle cry of revolutionary activities to be completed or repeated

Give a child directions on how to get somewhere and leave (The grocery store, main street in a small town, the woods, or a major urban center depending on the age.)

Leave children untended with no more than two rules for hours. (Ditto for self)

Sing together for fun (This will be hard if there are too many Catholics unless they play the guitar. According to my observations the majority of guitar playing Catholics are accustomed to singing, the rest are not. So guitars, Protestants, or musicians required if anyone else wants to pull this off.)

Read a book requiring many sittings, out loud with the family. (There is little better than a children’s book to begin with. Reading one out loud with someone else means you get to inhabit another world together. If anyone else feels the same way, some of the most delightful I’ve run across lately: The ***Penderwicks, The Calder Games, Chasing Vermeer, Artemis Fowl . . . and I have it on strong recommendation from a seventy year old and an eleven year old that, “The Borrowers,” though hardly a new release is well worth a read or a reread.)

Write letters. Put them in envelopes with stamps and mail them. (I discovered to my horror in February that although my grade ten son is working to become bilingual and is quite proficient in math, he had no idea how to mail a letter or where to write a return address on the envelope.)

Play board games or cards.  (We are big kitchen table game fans but have been playing only in bits and snatches of 15 -30 minutes. A multi-hour game-fest is calling.) If anyone else is feeling the itch:

Our tried and true: Go Fish, Old Maid, Uno. Trouble or Sorry. Dominoes. Taboo. Pit.

Recent delights:  Settlers of Catan, Seven Wonders of the World, Apples to Apples

The eternal classic that may not have broad based appeal but will forever hold my heart: The Farmers’ Game

 

Poetry is enough to start a revolution all by itself. The kids like to listen to it but I want them memorizing it and writing it. Maybe when I figure out how to put feet on that vision, I’ll write about it. So far it is a mystical yearning with no good ideas to hold it up.

Ash Wednesday’s Transportation

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

Ash Wednesday, by Carl Spitzweg, 1855-1860.

I have embarked upon a death by degrees. If I could work in an unheated laundry in the early morning hours with my hands raw from the scrubbing, or make cheese to sell with the milk I had squeezed by hand from the last drips of every neighbour’s cow for five miles, if I was doing something along those lines for my children’s education, I imagine a sense of pride would accompany my labours. Instead, I am nailed to a car for a very extended Lent.

If points A, B, and C, lie on a crooked line, we live at point B, with three of the children requiring taxi service to C, and the child of a thousand activities requiring taxi service to A. By week’s end, the chilly laundress and the determined cheese maker both have something in their hands that proves what they have accomplished. By the sweat of their brow they have obtained their children’s education. While it is true that my children could not attend their places of study without transportation, at the end of every single week, there is nothing to prove that I have done anything. My back aches a bit, my right leg is stiff, my toes at times numb, but only the laundress can decry her chapped hands. It’s not quite the same to say you’re achy because you went from B to C to B to A to B too many times this week.

An early Ash Wednesday is catching me up short. The cold of mid-February amplifies the monotony of duties and begs the question of their meaning. I am hesitant to hope for Lent’s promise. Afraid to believe that Easter will dawn in so short a time. Soon the weather station will have to invent a synonym for polar vortex to keep things interesting. Many days are cloudy, but not all. I went out the other day to almost brilliant sunshine. I turned my face to the sun as I walked and pulled the scarf away from my skin so that light could touch more of me.

Perhaps Lent in deep winter is good. Perhaps the effort it takes to believe on cloudy days that the light will come back builds something for which we have no proof. On Ash Wednesday we bow as a claim that what we bow to is bigger than our moods, disappointments, or even our dreams. Faith needn’t be felt at all times. Ash Wednesday accepts it wrestled to the ground, hogtied, and held by a large rock drug from the backyard. Bags of cat litter would also suffice. Light was and is and will be whether we see it or not. A thousand clouds of dull grey today, but tomorrow the sun will tear once again with ferocious glory through the skies.

We may need to jerry rig this year’s Easter dresses with battery powered sections of an electric blanket, but we’ve got forty days to sort it out. Ashes to remind us from whence we came. Ashes to pull us silently up, out of our forgetting and into a grand awareness of Divine transportation. Tirelessly ferrying us from B to A to B to C and back to B again while we learn our lessons largely oblivious to the driver.

Unheeding of thank you’s neglect, Ash Wednesday comes. With Love’s arms open wide, we are invited to march toward Easter’s hope.

Valentine Attempts to Ponder Human Love

Lovers on a swing painting from http://www.mypublicdomainpictures.com/2013/09/lovers-on-swing-painting.html

Lovers on a swing painting from http://www.mypublicdomainpictures.com/2013/09/lovers-on-swing-painting.html

Love is complicated at the same time it is simple. I have not had a banner week. Or two. Or so. You could say I’m not myself or you could say I’m experiencing my least put together self for far too many days in a row. Whatever you call it, the result is the same floundering me. I prefer public swearing to public tears. The first craves a showing; neither seem suitable most places I find myself. Privately I am acquainted with both.

I spent hours starting multiple posts about Valentine’s Day. It isn’t the most important date on my calendar. Hallmark irritates me no end. But for homemade cards from my kids and surprises from my husband, I like it. Valentine’s Day with a surprise candlelight breakfast from my mother is a highlight of childhood memories. Yet none of this was enough to save my multiple half pieces with no place to go.

My husband is halfway through some cataract surgeries. His vision is expected to be much brighter and I can’t help wondering what impact this will have on me and us. Will it be a good thing if he can see me better? Is life a series of ongoing cataract removals in order to really see each other? This is the kind of thing I think about while he ponders gas prices. And why our conversations have so many non sequiturs.

I am often the push behind the party within the family. I don’t have anything planned for Valentines this year. I might still think of something. Or I might show up and need them more than they need me for a little while. I don’t write about my husband very frequently. The depth of how I feel about him is difficult to access. On some days, his human failings drive me to distraction. On my worst days, there is nothing I want except to hear his voice, have him in the room, tell him it is so. In the movies this would be because when I pour out my heart, he pauses while the music plays, understands what I mean by what I do and don’t say, and responds with everything I both want and need to hear.

In real life, he tries very hard to understand me but sometimes can’t. Every once in a while he says exactly the right thing. More often he worries in the middle of my crisis that we need to change the oil on the car or that there’s a crack in the chicken’s water feeder. Always, he says I love you. Even if I know what it is, rarely can he fix the problem, but always and forever he waits with me. It is this in our marriage that I treasure above all, his unfailing presence.

I watch him and learn. When love cannot fix it, love waits. When love has no idea what to do, love waits. Love waits because it knows it can survive longer than whatever else is filling up the current spaces. Compassion, empathy, and a ready knight on noble steed to battle all, love waits.

Epiphany Now

The Three Wismen Aka Halt of the Wisemen, by John La Farge.  (Because we wise women and men have to halt now and again to work up the courage to keep going)

The Three Wisemen Aka Halt of the Wisemen, by John La Farge. (Because wise people have to halt now and again to work up the courage to keep going)

Epiphany Then:

Wise men follow a star for a long time through strange lands. They are looking for a king. When the star leads them to the boy, they do not trouble themselves that a peasant child stands before them, they see a king. They kneel. They worship. They offer gifts befitting royalty.

Epiphany Now:

I don’t know how to follow a star, yet the heavens beckon. I long for that which is good and true. On my best days I pursue the glimmers. We’ve traded camels for cars, but the journey still stretches to endless some days.

It is difficult to recognize salvation in the simple and unsung. People talk about the wisemen risking Herod’s wrath, but no one talks about the courage it took to kneel before someone so unrecognized. To insist with their gifts that this unlikely baby was exactly who they were looking for.

 

So wise men three, or however many you be, here’s to a year of courageous epiphanies . . .

In the tears of a defeated nine year old in the bathroom, the siren call to set aside the lessons and love the girl. Maybe not just the girl. Maybe others, myself, the world.

In the stomping of a six year old, the insistent invitation to express my own frustration more gently.

In the lengthy explanation of Lego worlds, a glimpse of wonder. Things live and move and breathe without my orchestration or knowledge.

In the impassioned hopes and dreams of a 14 year old, a dare to throw caution to the wind and let the fire of love run madly down the hallways of my heart.

 

I took a nap on Dec. 30th. My husband met me with delight when I woke up. There was a surprise, he said. Downstairs I found him standing where the Christmas tree had been, grinning.

Decorations, lights, everything. Done, he said.

Thank you, I said softly. (The tree cannot come down before January 1, I thought. I never got to sit for one last night and look at the lights. I wanted to cry.)

You’re not happy, he said. I thought you would be happy. I’ve been excited for almost an hour.

I’m happy that you love me, I said.

Every hour or so for the rest of the day we both said the same things over again.

I thought you would be happy.

It was kind of you to try and surprise me.

The tree’s absence made me sad but the face of the man who loved me was there too. He had failed to love me as I wished to be loved. But he loved me. Epiphany.

Love has a history of awkward packaging. The baby came wearing diapers undoubtedly full at times. May we have the wisdom to recognize the moments of our salvation, the courage to kneel, and the good sense to bring royal gifts to the least of these.

Together Times, New Year’s and Now

The Card Players (Zwei Kartenspieler) by Paul Cézanne. 1892-1893. (Interesting Trivia: purchased by Qatar royal family in 2011 for most sum of money ever paid for a work of art.)

The Card Players (Zwei Kartenspieler) by Paul Cézanne. 1892-1893.
(Interesting Trivia: purchased by Qatar royal family in 2011 for most sum of money ever paid for a work of art.)

The ping pong table was a success. Stunned raised eyebrows that mother dearest was of her own accord introducing things that bounced into the house. Mother dearest has been emotionally challenged with the enthusiastic table shoving involved in preferred methods of set up, but overall, no regrets, and a little training in gift usage is ok.

Girl two had asked repeatedly for Christmas to bring a Barbie horse. I found two possibilities, both for ridiculous amounts of money that I simply couldn’t justify. Unbeknownst to me, her siblings had found a Barbie horse at a second hand store earlier that day for less than a tenth of the price. By Christmas morning it was one of the biggest packages under the tree. (For some reason the kids don’t think they’ve done it right unless there are multiple boxes involved in a packaging exercise.)

We made the best of the mild weather. We took our usual walks and scouted new ones in nearby forests. On boxing day, the kids and I decided that weather that warm the day after Christmas was not to be scoffed at. In snow pants, gloves, hats, and sweatshirts, we hit the bike trails for a rare mid-winter cycle.

Uno games are high on my list, since everyone can play them, but watching Girl one begin her entry into the regular world of cards after Girl two had gone to bed, was a great joy. Some parents sit with baited breath as their child takes their first step, gets on the school bus, or goes for a first overnight. For us, the crossing of the threshold into competitive card games is a joy hard to contain. Girl one was thrilled to be included and appointed me her royal adviser. Not sure where she gets all the drama, but she was happy and we were happy, and with a little reminding about how much help she was getting, Boy two (now taking his own first steps in the world of the now un-coached card player) survived her first few winning hands.

I have dispensed of New Year’s resolutions and have instead arranged some modest goals from now until the end of February, at which time I will re-evaluate. As part of modest goals, Boy one is working on his cooking. Since session one, I’ve adjusted the idea that he’ll magically cook by himself without first cooking together. This was fine for baking, but with cooking it helps to chop side by side, learn to peel the skin off garlic by seeing someone do it, and smell spices together before throwing them in. There’s a heart and soul to cooking that I want to share. And now that I mention it, I want to write about it sometime too, so no more of that for now.

For now, it’s time for the lovely quiet of kids gone back to school.

Failed Attempts with Petunia

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Over the holidays, the girls and I found ourselves with the richness of empty time together in someone else’s house. Games? I wondered. Barbies! they cheered. The Barbies looked as boring as the ones at our house but perhaps I was misinformed.

I declined the invitation to join. (I don’t know how, I said. I’ll read a magazine.) Then I felt guilty and recanted. My cynical side was not amused. My creative side felt certain I could muster enough imagination to overcome my God given repulsion to so many long haired plastic women with deformed feet and monstrous bosoms.

Upon sitting down with assigned Barbie in hand, I spied a plate of plastic cupcakes. Both girls were grooming their Barbies. I looked at mine but she looked fine so I walked her over to get a cupcake. She wanted the green one, which turned out to be a problem because the  Barbie sitting at the table said she wanted the green one also. This was ridiculous. Table girl had been sitting there all night. If she’d actually wanted the green one she could have consumed it hours ago, but no, she waited until my Barbie politely asked for it to cause a scene. Things got heated. My Barbie had just stormed off when the girls interrupted to tell me I wasn’t doing it right.

I ignored them and walked my Barbie back over to the table. She and the other girl agreed to split the cupcake. I got them to hug, high five, and squeal, “sisters!” Nobody tells me I can’t do that Barbie thing.

So how are you supposed to play Barbies, I said.

You like do their hair and put on clothes and stuff, they said.

As far as I can tell the perfect Barbie would have clothes that disintegrate after 30 seconds exposure to air, thereby assuring that Barbie would be in need of almost constant dressing and accessorizing. In other words, a picture of hell. My Barbie was already dressed. They weren’t our Barbies so I didn’t feel right cutting her hair, irritating though it was. I sighed and my eyes landed on one of the ugliest pair of shoes I have ever seen.

Petunia (my Barbie) was thrilled. O my gosh, she said, I am soooo happy. These are like the best shoes, ever. Just look at all the little bumps. I have no idea how many toads they used to make them, but 100% toad skin shoes are like totally awesome, she added.

Mom, said Girl one, those are shoes for a completely different doll. They don’t even go with that Barbie. But you can use them if you want.

I took the shoes off and put them back on three times, thereby proving that they did go with my Barbie.

It’s ok, Mom, said Girl one.

Yeah, said Girl two, they weren’t made for her, but you can use them.

But don’t say stuff about toad skin, said Girl one.

Yeah, said Girl two, that’s just silly.

 

Grateful lists, surprises, and holy days.

Me Contemplating life post Christmas gift . . . or, "Aged Angel," by Odilon Redon

Me Contemplating possible post Christmas regrets from the gift I chose . . . also technically known as, “Aged Angel,” by Odilon Redon

 

I’m sitting around feeling grateful for odd tidbits. We’ve found styles I can manage for the girls’ hair, my husband gets up in the night to add wood to the fire, my son is learning to say I’m sorry properly, my daughter’s whole self lights up with joy when she sings, my other daughter dances glory hallelujah because life pleases her, my son worked after school for days and days to have all his own money to spend for Christmas this year . . . and I had a mother who trained me to write grateful lists year round.

In a first this year, I have a present from me to everybody.  Although my husband reads the blog, the fact that he is easily distracted will work in my favor. From now until Christmas, every time he gets a free minute on his computer, I’ll point to the mistletoe in the kitchen. That or ask him a question about football.

They all know I’m picking up a 4′ x 8′ board today to complete my present, but nobody can guess what it is. I got a ping pong set (net, paddles, balls) that hooks to any size table. My plan is to put felt on the bottom of the board and then paint the top. Wala enlarged ping pong table to sit on top of the kitchen table when we feel like it.

My secret is protected largely by my fanaticism about balls in the house. They are not allowed to be tossed, juggled, banged, bopped, thrown, kicked or dribbled. Boy one has probably put in a 1000 hours of work or so in his fourteen years paying for his ball infractions. He has lost balls to the heel of my foot or to a sleight of hand whereby they end up deep sixed in the garbage can. Possibly a few tennis balls have been cut in half. None of the family would dream something as outlandish as me voluntarily introducing balls into my kingdom.

Wish me well. If I can wrap strips of sheet around my mouth and duct tape my rear end to a chair, I think they’ll have a lot of fun. I imagine it will feel like something akin to finding out the drinking age is lower half an hour away, only they’ll be in their own kitchen living the wild life.

I offer prayers for each of you as Advent draws to a close.  Barring a sudden need to post, I’m taking time off from the blog until January 2nd (or 5th, I can’t decide). A merry and blessed Christmas and New Year’s to everyone. May you be richly blessed in the days ahead. Heading into Christmas, you are all most definitely on my grateful list.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow. Say it ain't so.

Shocking weather forecast predicts droplets of water will be bringing Christmas cheer in lieu of snow.  Gulp.

Circus Days

Circus, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - 1913. (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=55807)

Circus, by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner – 1913. (http://www.the-athenaeum.org/art/detail.php?ID=55807)

The children are trying to steal my inner peace. My plans and systems are the grapes. They are the grape pressers, barefoot, stomping, determined to make wine.

The fog Girl one generally lives in has turned to oatmeal. We have not been anywhere at the time I was planning to arrive in weeks.

Girl two (the ever cheerful) has begun raising her voice and banging whatever is closest at the slightest provocation. When she’s in the car and can’t make her feet talk, she pounds the windows or the arm rests.

Happy go lucky Boy two can concentrate enough to read. Experimentation with repetitive high pitched sounds is also in. Speaking, listening, and job completion are out of the question.

Boy one is somehow both bored and behind on all responsibilities. The pressure that comes from an inborn desire for completion does not exist. The need to tap and bounce and never, ever, under any circumstances stop talking fills his waking moments with boundless unfocused energy.

They’re ready for snow and Christmas holidays, but December has just begun. If I knew how to fix it, I would. Were the solution a quaint herbal remedy or a synthetic chemical injection with unknown side effects, I would be the first at the counter for purchase. We’d probably inject and ingest while still in the parking lot. For good measure, we’d let another bit dissolve under our tongues while watching a yoga class.

I am looking into the possibility of hypnotically induced human hibernation – for me (they don’t deserve it). Failing that I am considering some re-homing options – also for me. In the spirit of Christmas, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, and all the rest, my children are also fighting about everything. Patience is, well, we don’t know what it is because we haven’t seen it around for a few days. I think about Christmas, the upcoming birth of a baby. I think of the baby Jesus in the manger and then I think of my kids.

Dear God,

Would you consider a trade?