Thursday, August 13, 2015

circle of warmth and light

We wake up early. 

My husband starts a fire while I start the coffee. Pull the breakfast makings from the cooler. Enjoy a quiet moment of sunrise before the kids slowly emerge from their tents, heralded by the buzz of the zipper being opened. 

I warm milk for them as they awaken, stirring in some hot chocolate powder. They gather around the fire to draw in its warmth and look ahead to the day full of nothing, the day full of everything.

We've camped at Bonnechere Provincial Park for five summers now. My children are growing up here and are spreading their wings; they can walk to the beach on their own. They giggle with glee as they run to the camp store for ice cream without a grown up. They seem incredulous that I let them eat chips and eat ice cream every single day.

 They're allowed to stay up late, to see the stars that blanket the sky so incredibly. 
Every evening Margot asks, "Are we going to have a bonfire tonight?" I reply, "Yes, honey, we have a fire every night". 

"But do we get to stay have a bonfire in the dark?" 

And the answer, when camping, is always yes.  Yes to full days at the beach. Yes to ice cream every day. Yes to late bedtimes. Yes to not tidying up their beds in the morning. 

No wonder they love it. No wonder I love it.

I spent the trip reading Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things" (so good), knitting on my hand spun Ten Stitch Twist blanket, and trying to drink in every moment, trying to kiss every new freckle and caress each sun-kissed shoulder. 

An afternoon paddle with my sister up a winding river led us to a sandbank where we drank margaritas and read uninterrupted while the sun settled low in the sky. 

The simplicity of warming water over a fire to wash minimal dishes, of hanging the tea towel in a tree to dry, of living under the sky and sleeping under a nylon roof, and of eating simple, nourishing foods always leads me down the same path: how can I bring the simplicity and joy of camping into our everyday life? 

How can I nurture the engagement with life that camping allows, with simple chores, with living minimally, and with leaning in to each child to hear about the wonders they beheld that day and focusing on nothing more than that? 

Every moment while camping feels like a meditation, attached to a mindfulness and a mindlessness that I don't even realise is missing from my everyday life until I leave it to come here to the outside. A quieting of my mind and the many things I always feel I have to do, a calming of the busyness that fills every day. 

Too soon, five days pass and we start to pack up again. I hug my husband as we begin, reminding him of the annual pitfall of tension building as we try to get this job done efficiently while the stress we left behind creeps back in. We know from experience that this part of the camping trip often leads us into the pitfall of snapping at each other and the children.

We agree to be mindful of our breath so that we can commit the same calm focus to this task as to any other we've performed this week.

We agree to be mindful of how stress colours outside the lines of our lives: the care of children and livestock, the interminable chores of maintaining an old house and farm buildings, the late nights and early mornings.

We agree that, when stress threatens to swamp our canoe, we will revisit these days under the stars, where all we need and all we love fits within the circle of warmth and light cast by our small fire. 


Friday, July 31, 2015

kitchen table in summer

I've nurtured a new habit this summer of completely clearing off the kitchen table every evening before going to bed. It isn't always easy because it is such a hub of activity during the day. 

But being the first one awake most days, it has become a beautiful way to start the day. While I wait for the coffee to perk, I get set up to do a bit of school work. Yes, I'm a teacher on summer holiday but I spend an hour a day prepping and planning for the coming school year as well as reading about approaches to education to improve my teaching practice. I like staying in touch with my teacher-self during these months "off".

This table gradually gets cluttered through the day as various children read here, draw here, snack here, and play games here.  Sometimes a friend comes by for lunch. 

Violet reads here every morning, often wearing daddy's protective ear muffs (usually used for chain sawing but Violet has adapted them to block out the noise of her siblings so she can completely enter the world of the Greek Gods and Goddesses).

Since my return from France I've more consciously used this table as a canvas for culinary creations, and find myself dreaming of kitchen equipment and place settings to enhance the many dinner parties I imagine myself having in the years to come. Meals have been simple and nourishing as the extreme heat we've been experiencing deters me from using the oven.

The table is a place to rest and connect, to create and to count our blessings. This week? We discovered that our adopted mama hen has started laying, not just ordinary white or brown eggs but delicately green-tinged eggs. A jam jar of wildflowers and a handwoven table runner are as fine as linen, crystal, and china.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Noir et Blanc

Wedding festivities were held at Domaine de la Fontaine, a beautiful site on the outskirts of Orleans.
Without kids in tow, I had the freedom to wander at will and photograph whatever took my fancy. In my teens and twenties I had an old 35 mm manual (of course!) camera; I knew how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed to get the results I wanted. With my digital camera, it just doesn't make the same kind of sense to me! But a quick tutorial from a kind Scotsman led me down the path of achieving the look I used to love. These will find themselves in frames when I get the chance to repaint my bathroom, a reminder of a beautiful trip and a wonderful day of celebration.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Simple Beauty of France

Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point.

I spent a whirlwind five days in France this past weekend. My love affair with this country began when I was sixteen, and like all affairs it burned strong in its early years. I spent three months there as an exchange student, then returned for a Christmas visit four years later when I was studying in Belfast.

Twenty years swiftly passed by and although I held the fondest of memories, the ardour faded in the midst of day-to-day life and child-bearing. Then one day, an invitation arrived: my exchange partner was going to get married! 

Armed with a kick ass dress and a good camera, I promptly fell back into love, hard. Seeing loved ones for the first time in 20 years is a very strange experience. Lots of tears and laughter. 

What is it about France? Everything seems simple. Minimalist. Tasteful. Sporadic flowers growing against mute stone walls, pops of colour in the shape of doors and shutters, the scent of lavender wafting up as you walk by a garden. Simple meals shared outdoors, hours-long and ripe with conversation and word-play. A respect for tradition and culture in a rapidly changing world.

 My hostess giggled when she saw my photos of "les volets" (shutters) because they are among the most commonplace of sights in France. I know that when she inevitable visits me she'll take pictures of my log barns and of the pine trees that grow in our yard.

My love affair has been reignited as if it never burned down. Love is like that, isn't it? Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps. But France feels like home to me; when I expressed this to my French "maman" (the woman who mothered me during my three months there as a teenager) she said, "It IS your home.

Et voila. Home is where the heart is. My heart is in two pieces, it seems, never to fully settle in one place or the other. I feel blessed to feel at home in two countries and plan to get back to France before another 20 years goes by.

In the meantime, the above photos will be framed and displayed to keep my love alive.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Drinking in Summer

Photo by Tim Graham, my talented brother-in-law

The days feel timeless, and we're still early enough into our summer break that we're not counting down the weeks (yet) till school starts.

The order of the day is: what fun can we get up to today? We're swimming as much as possible (which has kind of eliminated the need for bathing), eat simple meals of seasonal fruit and veg and BBQ, and neglecting the house as much as possible. Laundry, dishes, and sweeping are about it, with vague dreams of painting the office, bathroom, stairs, kitchen...maybe in the fall.

We are watching lots of movies, reading lots of books, and I'm getting to satisfy my urge to spin every day. A passion for concocting delicious yarns has replaced knitting for now, and I'm filling a basket to be used in projects over the fall and winter. Violet got busy with a weaving project I put together for my Kindergarten students in June, using an old picture frame that I've held onto for years...I knew it would serve a purpose someday!

I don't think I've mentioned here that I'm preparing to head to France this week! It finally seems real. My exchange student from high school years is getting married and my dad and I will be attending. I haven't seen my family there since I was 21 (when I spent Christmas with them during the year I spent in Belfast, Northern Ireland). I've got a fabulous dress, ridiculous shoes, and a hot-off-the-press passport. 

The kids will be in the care of daddy and Nanny while I'm away, and while it's a bit of a whirlwind trip (five nights away) I know by the end of it I'll be missing them enough to head home again. While I'm away I plan to taste the wine, eat pain au chocolat, hold the hands and gaze into the dear faces of loved ones I haven't seen in twenty years. This isn't a trip for touring the sights of Paris, but for reconnecting.

The sweet gnome you see above belongs to the daughter of the radiant, dynamic Erin Ellenberger-March of feather + anchor. A la Amelie, I'll be bringing this little fella along with me on my trip and photographing him as we see the sights together. I don't think we'll make it to la Tour Eiffel, but I'm hoping I can snap a pic out of the plane window. I'll also send a postcard to sweet Poppy, then return her gnome so he can go on other adventures!

I marvel at the feeling of stress leaving my body and mind. I am actually achieving presence in each moment with my children, laughing instead of yelling, breathing instead of panicking. Having the space to rest, reflect, focus on what and who I love, and to once again evaluate what it is I'm on this earth to do is a gift for which I am grateful every day. 

I'll be back next week to post some photos of my time in France...ooh, la la!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

farm chores, beach pictures

*Photos by Maureen of Twig and Toadstool

My dear husband faithfully tends to our animals during the winter when I tend to stick a bit close to the wood stove and my knitting. I am so appreciative of that gesture! So, in the summer when I'm home and he continues to go out to work, I take over the chores. 

I set out at dawn because I have a toddler who makes sure I never miss the sunrise. She is usually with me and helps out by filling the water buckets for the animals. I scoop hog grower into a bucket then mix it with water. We have a quirky entrance to the pig pen which means that I have to climb up on a stump and over the fence onto a rock, precariously balancing the (heavy) bucket of provender while warding off the hungry beasts who tug at my pant-legs with their rubbery mouths. 

A delighted orgy of mastication ensues as they chow down on discarded fruit peels, vegetable scraps, egg shells, leftover bread crusts and the milk and cereal the kids leave behind in their bowls. The rooster and his hen, plus our new hen and her three chicks wander and cluck, venturing in closer to see if any tidbits might have fallen to the side. I scatter some corn for them, then refresh their water.

I give the heavy plastic trough we use for watering the pigs each morning; yesterday's water becomes the day's mud pit. The intent was to put their water in a vessel that they couldn't easily tip. They can't tip this one and don't want to, because they use it as a bathtub. It is both annoying and hilarious to watch them take a sip of the cold, clean well water, then step right in and roll around in it. By the end of the day it is more mud than water. But they love it, so how can I say no? 

The sheep often need to be moved from the barnyard where they spend the night to a pasture that has enough grass to sustain their incessant grazing. We will be looking into buying some portable electric fencing soon as they have made short work of our available pasture and we have plenty of grass that we'd rather not mow. The puppy has been bravely venturing in to the sheep's sphere with me but has been rewarded for his courage with head butts and hoof-stamping galore. Just wait about six months, I tell him. You'll be big enough then to show them who's boss.

I bring some apple slices in my apron to greet the ponies who remind me of the older sibling once a baby is born. The sheep, pigs, and puppy are new arrivals and have taken up a lot of the time we used to spend with the equine members of the farm. I rest my forehead against a warm neck for a moment and whisper kind words to these quiet, beautiful animals. A peaceful feeling settles over me. I make a mental note to trim their hooves this weekend.

There is a rhythm and a meditation to taking care of animals. When I know that all are fed, watered, and have all the elements for healthy, happy living in place (shade, pasture, fresh straw), I feel peaceful and satisfied. It's like the feeling when the kids are all bathed and asleep, the floor is swept, and the dishes are done. It's a feeling of order, that everything is right in the world, that earth will keep turning for another 12 hours and that at least in my corner of the planet, all are safe and well.

I pause to lean on the fence. I listen to the pigs grunting their greedy satisfaction while the chickens cluck and scratch happily. The sheep are just behind the fence; they raise their heads to see what I'm up to. The sun is getting higher and warmer and I know that a beautiful summer day lies ahead.

It is not surprising for me to find that 45 minutes have passed since I told the kids I'd be right back. I scoop out some kibble for the cats (and kittens!) and for the pup and make sure their water bowls are replenished, then step inside.

I pack food, towels, hats, and a quilt, and we set off to enjoy the rest of the day at the beach. Kayuk joins us for his first big outing and he wins all hearts with his calm, goofy nature and his beautiful freckles. I bring a bit of knitting to occupy my hands in those rare moments when there is no one asking me for food, and Norah uses the watermelon as a chair. and fun, beautifully balanced to bring peace and joy into each day.

Monday, June 29, 2015

summer holidays, at last

Tired faces, ready to be done school!

Pioneer costumes optional for summer fun.

Exploring culinary variety.

Hands full of wonder.

The school year passes in a blur of busyness: pulling kids from sleep, rushing them through breakfast, hustling them out the door, then repeating it all in reverse in the evening till everyone is asleep again. And repeat. I fantasize about the flexible rhythms of a family that can stay at home, and remember with fondness the days when I was home with my toddlers to enjoy the many little moments that make up their days. I have missed Norah terribly this past year, as she has missed me. 

The last week of school was tough on us both; she was home from her daycare and was here in the care of my mom and my mother-in-law. She cried every morning when we left, and we literally counted down the days. When I got home on Wednesday I noticed a curious spotty rash all over her torso. 

On the last day of school I snapped the requisite photo then paced my phone on the hood of the car to take a picture with my Canon. I drove off and forgot about the phone...until I saw it fly through the air then hit the road HARD. I had to wander the road before I found it in the ditch, screen smashed to smithereens. Sigh. It was a fitting symbol of the many balls I've been juggling all year; it stands to reason that I should drop one on the last day of the school year.

We ended the week with a case of the chicken pox. The older three went through it all at once six years ago (at exactly this time of year), so Norah suffered the itching alone. Calamine, baking soda baths, and Benadryl got her through without too much trouble. She is coming out on the other side now, covered in scabs. We've watched lots of movies and cuddled our way through the worst of it.

Having TIME is such a gift. Time to sit in the early morning light and play with barns and animals. The teacher in me marvels at her cognitive development, how she works to find the barn that fits the each animal best, how she stacks and balances and problem solves. Mostly I just marvel at her: her skin, her messy hair, her dexterous hands, her many sweet and funny words. 

I have time to make healthy food again. That was one of the biggest challenges this past year: coming home and having to figure out what to feed everyone. I had time to make spring rolls the other night, and last night made a yummy chicken curry. Jude has expressed an interest in trying spicy, "different" foods which has me jumping for joy. Years of plain chicken, potatoes, and steamed veggies (the girls' favourite meal) has me pining for flavour.

Aside from a trip to France in July and our camping trip in August, summer will be spent caring for our increasing population of critters and hopefully spinning lots as I've joined Ravelry's Tour de Fleece!

I'll drop by here now and then when I have fun stuff to share.