The Magic and the Mystery of Making Things

alafoss-lopi-1231I make and craft and create to discover the magic and the mystery in things.  Pickles?  I can make those!  Handknit sweater?  That, too!  A felted handbag?  I learned how to do it one summer seven years ago.  Lip balm?  I made some this year!

What all of these things have in common is not necessity or having to make do or any kind of motive of need or fashion.  Nor is crafting a particular passion.  I can go for months without taking up a new project.

What they have in common is that I wanted to unravel the mystery of something that struck me as beautiful and rare.  I loved making lip balm with my boys not only because it was a great idea for Valentine’s favours, but mostly because it took all of the mystery out of something I use several times a day.  I had been paying an outrageous $40 per tube of lip treatment because after many, many tries, it was the only one that worked.  Learning how to make my own, made cosmetics something totally accessible, and I could control the quality and the contents.  That was a powerful feeling.

I have known how to knit since I was a child, and my mother, bless her patience, helped along many a hobbled project when I was little.  Most of them I abandoned.  In elementary school, I think I may have completed a knitted bear, and perhaps a blanket to go with it, and in high school I made myself one simple summer sweater, but I was not a star knitter by any stretch of the imagination.  My mother was.  She knitted, crocheted and sewed the most beautiful and intricate things.  She always had a project on the go.  When I got to university, and my mother was an ocean away, I happened to see some gorgeous Icelandic wool on sale in a bin in big department store, of all places.  It came in a cellophane package, with about ten balls of wool for the main colour of the sweater and one ball each of the secondary colours.  There was a pattern for a chunky fairisle sweater, and it looked so wonderful for the Montreal winter that was already hinting at its severity.  (I had moved from Egypt.  I was not at all used to Canadian winter.)

I love the internet!  This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that's the model, complete with her white headband.

I love the internet! This is not the pattern I used 25 years ago, but that’s the model, complete with her white headband.

At first, I just looked at it longingly, feeling that it was something so far out of my reach, and then I thought, “No, I have what I need to be able to make that.”  I bought the wool and the needles, and I set out to make it.

The only problem was that in all the knitting I had done, my mother had always cast on the stitches for me.  I had never done that alone.  I didn’t have any choice but to go it alone this time, so I taught myself how to cast on simply by closing my eyes and remembering the motions of my mother’s hands as she did it.  There was a trick and a rhythm, and after a few false starts I found them.  I was amazed at the time to have been able to draw that out of my memory.  Muscle memory by proxy.

Making that sweater was so much more than just arming myself for a cold winter.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment in moving myself from beginner to intermediate knitter, and my joy at succeeding at the project was immense.  I wore that sweater for years with great pride.  I made two more, all with the same sense of joy, and with increasing confidence and willingness to improvise with colour and pattern.  It was also contagious: several other women in my dorm went off and bought the same kit, and we’d sit and knit together, avoiding term papers and the drama of the wider world for just that little while.  Making our own sweaters gave us a common purpose and a space apart from the world that worked so hard to define us.

The moment of remembering my mother’s hands casting on my stitches is a touchstone for me.  I think of it often and fondly as a minor miracle of memory and motion and chance.  How many times would I have actually witnessed her casting on stitches?  How carefully was I watching?  I often wonder if or what motions of my hands my own kids will remember years hence.  We don’t plan these moments, but in some way, shape or form, I hope that there will come a time when they are trying something and can close their eyes and see me doing it.

A Labour of Love: My Dollhouse Adventure: Guest Post by Holly Forsythe

If you have little kids who enjoy adorable movies about piglets—and are, therefore, quite possibly the sort of person who is thinking about building a dollhouse—you’ll probably recall the opening sequence of the 1995 movie “Babe.”  The first shot depicts the foyer of a lovely Georgian home, with elegant furnishings and stained glass lunettes, which is suddenly disrupted by the intrusion of a giant thumb. As the camera pans out, we realise we’ve been looking at the interior of a dollhouse that Farmer Hoggett, the film’s central human character, lovingly embellishes for his granddaughter. The moment gives us a reassuring wink about the controlled and affectionate handling of the miniature world portrayed in the film. It also gives us an early insight into Farmer Hoggett, whose patient, imaginative, and inventive nature enables him to perceive the latent talents in the story’s porcine protagonist. You have to be a certain kind of person to build a dollhouse.

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I wasn’t necessarily planning to be that sort of person. My daughter, Grace, fell in love with a dollhouse in a waiting room. She talked about the toy for months. She’s an unusually gentle, thoughtful, and self-denying little old soul, so when she asked for a dollhouse for her birthday, I didn’t have the heart to say no…even though the prospect terrified me a little.

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You can buy dollhouses in quite a few different forms: as kits, ready-made, with or without furniture, and in a number of different scales. I was a little surprised that the major toy stores don’t really carry proper dollhouses. Ours stocked three kinds of mass-produced sets, but they all seemed more babyish and generic than what we had in mind. We also decided against the generic toystore sets because their scale was too small. The most common scale for proper dollhouse furniture is 1:12 (also called “one-inch scale”): that means that one foot of length is represented by one inch in the dollhouse (so a doorway, that would be seven feet high in reality, is 7 inches high in the dollhouse). The toystore brands commonly used a 1:18 scale (“two-third inch scale”), which would make it difficult to collect furniture from eclectic sources.

The Little Dollhouse Company, located near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton, is pretty much the only dollhouse store in Toronto. There used to be brick-and-mortar dollhouse stores in Cambridge and Elora, but they’re only online now.  We started looking around online on Craigslist, Kijiji, and Ebay. There were quite a few mass-produced dollhouse systems available second-hand and also quite a few kits in unopened boxes: not everyone has the resolve to build a kit, but if you do, that kind of dollhouse is a keeper.

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By the time my husband lucked out with a great kit online, Grace’s birthday was looming very close, so we decided to break the construction into two phases: we hired a student from George Brown to do the basic construction so Grace would have a present to open; afterwards, I would complete the finishing touches to the structure (porch, gingerbread, fireplace), paint, and furnish it. If you hire someone to build your kit for you, I recommend that you establish a fee for the entire project: our poor student worked day and night to meet his deadline and we definitely went over budget paying him by the hour. That being said, I think it was a smart decision to have the main structure built by someone who knew how to make things square and level.

The kit itself was very clear about the assembly process. It had diagrams to correspond with each sheet of plywood and very detailed instructions. It’s tedious but essential to read the instructions completely before beginning. If you’re a “wing it” person, this is not your sort of project. The process is broken into stages: at each stage, you carefully remove specified pieces from the plywood sheet using an exacto knife, sand them, paint them, and glue them in a precise order following a diagram. The results are much tidier if you paint before assembly (I painted the student’s part of the structure after he assembled it). Most of the online guides assume that you’ll use house paint, but acrylic craft paint worked just fine for me: since you have to paint pieces at many separate stages, it’s smart to use premixed colours. I got small bottles of premixed colours at the local craft store for a dollar each (the acrylic in the crafter’s/stencilling aisle is way cheaper than the artist’s acrylic). You need wood glue for a lasting hold, but you can sparingly use your glue gun to hold pieces in place while the wood glue slowly dries. This will allow you to hug your children instead of standing around holding gingerbread to the roof while it dries (haunting memory). And you will need to hug your children for inspiration. As I say, I only did the superficial decorations on Grace’s dollhouse but, working from morning drop-off to afternoon pickup and then again from their bedtime till mine, it took me ten days to finish.

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In our case, the structure was assembled before the interior was decorated. In rooms with hard-to-reach places, I painted (with the premixed acrylic) but I wallpapered the more open spaces (I found some really pretty pads of paper for scrapbookers, which was heavier than wrapping paper). We’re furnishing gradually. Most pieces of furniture cost at least $5: to furnish a room, it will generally cost you around $30, depending on your source. I found a dollhouse furniture maker on Etsy who had reasonable prices and contacted her to arrange a starter kit order. We raised $70 for the furniture from the guests at Grace’s birthday party and that will get us the living room, dining room, bathtub, bed and dresser (plus shipping!). We’re going to let the rest of it be a labour of love instead of desperation.

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No matter how you do it, setting up a proper dollhouse is going to be relatively expensive. If you decide to take on some of the construction or decoration of the house, it is also going to be fairly time-consuming. This is probably why the people who are really into dollhouses don’t make them for children. There is a quiet subculture of dollhouse hobbyists who enjoy building and furnishing elaborate structures for their own satisfaction. For the most part, these grownups wouldn’t be very comfortable letting children play with the product of their labours. If you come across one of these experts in your dollhouse adventure, don’t let them know that you think toys are for children. Hardcore dollhouse hobbyists have immersed themselves in a special kind of creative impracticality: benefit from their knowledge, use them as a resource, and you can substantially limit your own dip into that pool. Hopefully, my first-and-only-time experiences in dollhouse building can help save you even more time (certainly) and money (hopefully) if you decide to take the plunge.

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Holly Forsythe Paul has worked at the University of Toronto as an adjunct professor of English since 2003.  She lives with her talented husband and two lovely daughters in Toronto.

 

Potted Potter: A Great Dose of Fun

posterOur posts for January are about health, and if laughter is the best medicine, you can get yourself a great dose of fun by going along to see Potted Potter.  You will have to hurry, though; the show is in its last week for its run in Toronto.

Beth-Anne, Carol and I took our boys to see the show in December, and I have to tell you that it was one of the highlights of my lead-up to Christmas.  “Attend” is my word of the year for 2015, but of course, I had had the word in mind for a while before writing about it for the blog.  Writing this blog has brought us many wonderful things, including friendships for which I am eternally grateful, but another thing I’m grateful for is Opportunity.  We are invited to interesting events and occasions, and I will be honest and tell you that I weigh each and every invitation very carefully.  It takes a lot to get me out of my routine and my happy place (pajamas, bed, book).  When the opportunity came to see Potted Potter smack dab in the middle of the chaos that characterizes the weeks in mid-December, I thought long and hard about accepting; I think we all did.  Like you, we all had a lot on our plates, but I wanted to get an early start on my word of the year, and I chose to attend.

I’m so glad I did.  It was such a gift to witness not only my nine year old’s belly laughs, but Carol’s and Beth-Anne’s too!  We all had a hoot, and you really do not have to be a Harry Potter expert to enjoy the show.

The premise of the show is that two actors act out all seven books in the Harry Potter series in 70 minutes.  It’s a fast-paced physical comedy that brings into play humour both broad and subtle.  There’s a straight man and a funny man, there is a wild and wacky frenzy as the two attempt to act out as many of the major roles as possible.  Unexpected costumes, props and choreography add much to the fun.  There are jokes pitched high and low, and the actors appeared to improvise references to everything from Frozen to Toronto’s Gay Pride Parade and disastrous Mayor Ford.  The jokes come at you a mile a minute, and while the kids are still laughing at the ones pitched to them, the adults are laughing at the subsequent allusions pitched to them.  There is even audience participation, as members of the audience are invited to participate in a Quidditch game, while two kids get invited up onto the stage.

Before the show, you can order a butter beer from the bar (the recipe is secret, but they will alert you to possible allergens).  The lobby and the sidewalk outside the Panasonic Theatre are quite small, and it felt very crowded very quickly, so you’d be well advised to arrive and take your seats early.   It’s just steps from the subway, so getting there and home was a breeze for those of us on the TTC.  Parking was not easy to find, so, again, arrive early to give yourself wiggle room.

I had one very special night with Middlest, and we went out for dinner after the show, just the two of us, and it felt like just the right way to kick off the winter holiday.  It would also be a great way to kick off the new year.  Here’s to attending!

Potted Potter is at the Panasonic Theater, 651 Yonge Street.  It runs until January 11, 2015.

You can get tickets here.

Bedtime Stories Are My Abiding Delight

I am a big believer in making time, and lots of it, for books before bed.  My family was even interviewed about it once by Andrea Gordon at the Toronto Star.

Four years later, and the boys are bigger and, significantly, they play a lot more hockey.  All three boys play competitive hockey, and we make 10-12 trips to the rink a week.  This is a good thing, mostly, and I’m a little bit proud and a lot relieved to be raising kids who are so eager to be fit and healthy and active.  (Not my DNA.)  However, hockey eats into time for all kinds of things: playdates, family dinners, unstructured time, and, yes, bedtime stories.

Time is never found, it’s made, and I make time for bedtime reading whenever it’s remotely possible, which is still usually four times a week of an hour of reading aloud before bed.  I am a stickler for bedtimes, because some of us are quite cranky if we don’t get a full night’s sleep, even if some of us are in our forties.  But if I can squeeze in a chapter before Youngest’s bedtime, I will always go the extra mile to do so.  I’m now reading aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and it’s all Harry Potter all the time.  After Youngest pops off to bed, Middlest reads by himself, sometimes curled up with me and my book, and sometimes for up to two hours before it’s time for his lights out.  (Definitely my DNA.)  It’s a magical time.  I am so profoundly grateful for it.

endgameEldest does not read with predictable regularity any more, though, and that saddens me.  He is at the rink most often, and he comes home late.  He will occasionally get immersed in a series, but it’s not a dependable thing.  I recently heard an interview that impressed me so much, I went out and bought the book for him.  (Seriously, go listen to this interview: James Frey being interviewed by a boy named Joshua for The Guardian.  It’s not often I am more impressed by the interviewer than the interviewee, but this kid is sharp.)  Anyway, I learned from this interview that James Frey’s new YA novel The Calling, the first in the Endgame trilogy, has a puzzle built into it, and the first person to solve the puzzle has a chance to win $500,000 of James Frey’s own dollars, currently sitting in a vault in Las Vegas in gold bars.  “This will get his attention,” I thought.  I’m glad to say that while it did get his attention, and while he did find my enthusiasm about the interview infectious, he did not make a huge effort to read the book quickly to solve the puzzle to win the gold.

Reading should be its own reward, and I’m glad that money was not sufficient enticement.  I have a quiet faith that one day, when there is somewhat less hockey (and soccer and basketball and swimming) on his schedule, Eldest will make his way back to daily and lengthy engagements with a book.  Reading is my abiding delight, and I do so want them to have that kind of pleasure in their daily lives.

November Nights

10409459_10154861075470014_5627303319057549844_n[1]At the gym this morning, after his swimming lesson, Littlest said to a woman in the changing room that he had already practiced hockey, built Lego, had Second Breakfast and watched television that day.  It was 11:00.  He wasn’t doing a kid’s version of an adult’s litany of I’m so busy; he was just answering her question about how his morning had been.  It had been full.  And so was his afternoon: we walked home from the gym, grabbed warm milk to go on the way, raked leaves for two hours, he built more Lego, we took Middlest to an afternoon class, he did an hour of math homework, we walked home, bought marshmallows and hot dogs on the way, and we ate dinner and dessert al fresco around a bonfire.

By 6:30, the fire was dying out, and so was he.

I needed a glass of wine to go with my s’mores because, honestly, the rush and the push tries my patience six ways from Sunday, but part of the exercise of the bonfire was to sit and to stop and to rest at the end of a busy weekend.   The boys ate and drifted into the house, the bonfire that was meant to be a reward for yard work was left to my husband and me, and we had the gift of an uninterrupted 30 minutes by the fire.  I heard the wind in what remains of the maple leaves and the pop of firewood.  I felt my body ache with raking and stiffen from resting.  And resting, I see that these boys of mine thrive on the constant activity that tries me.  Lack of sleep, hunger, boredom: these are the predictable things that set off bombs, but busyness does not faze them.

November nights close in early, and I love the dark and the cold and the early nudge to bed.   Sleep and flannel sheets seem all the more welcome after a day that’s been jam packed and spent outdoors.

We all climbed into our beds with the smell of smoke on our bodies and the sense of satisfaction that comes with getting things done.  The leaves are raked, the week is closed, and memories made around a fire to cap off the day.

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Blogging, or a Way to Slow Things Down

004I had two thoughts when I read Beth-Anne’s post yesterday.  First, happy birthday!!  34 is doing wonders for you!

The second was wholehearted agreement that time often feels like it’s flying, and that I actually know of a way to slow things down, at least for me, and that’s to document what is happening during at least some of those days.  I blog.

I write something, and usually throw up a photograph (or 12).  I’ve spent three hours on a post; sometimes I blurt out whatever I can in the 12 minutes I have before my eyes close for the night, or throw up a picture if I have 12 seconds.  I don’t know how this works exactly, but the record-keeping seems to help me to experience what’s happened more deeply, to remember it better, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, to revel a little in the amazing bits.  And then, having such practiced this habit the night before, the next day I seem more alert to the life around me.  I breathe a little deeper, I notice a little more, I think of something else to write about.  Things slow down.

I’ve been blogging on a private site and here for over five years, and it might not be an exaggeration to say it’s been transformative.  Not completely on its own, because along with blogging I’m sure I was opening myself up to other positive and creative influences, but the personal blog was at the centre of much of this.

And then five months ago I stopped.

Mostly intentionally.  I decided to take on a large (for me, still providing primary childcare for three young kids) project that I believed would require all of my energies.  Many things slid, not just the blog.  Making things with the children and on my own, seeing friends and family, preparing and eating healthy foods – so many tenets that I enjoy and find meaning in kind of flew out the window.

It was not comfortable, and I’m not sure I managed it that well.  Yet I’m not quite sorry for it either.  Years ago I read Carl Honore who asserted in In Praise of Slow that slow living doesn’t mean that life must always be slow; it means that you are consciously choosing its pace.  Good slow living could therefore incorporate periods where life speeds right up, provided an assessment has been made that it’s worth it.  I felt like I did this and took a plunge (which I’ll be writing about soon!).

At some point though, perhaps a month ago, the pendulum swung to its outermost reach (where it really did not feel great), and began its arc of return.  My project was underway – nowhere near fruition but the birthing was done.  There is much more to be done, but now it’s going to get done with a bit more balance.  The period of continuous fast living is finished now.  I want to slow down, and gratefully, I actually know how.

A few days ago, for the first time in five months, I  wrote a personal blog.  And after I finish here, I’ll write another one.

I’ll tell you a secret about my post:  it’s going to be about shoes.  My three year old’s shoes, to be precise.  A few mornings ago, he curled up his toes and refused to put on his shoes.  This and other assertions of independence and will are becoming routine, and I had to get my other sons to school and the little guy to preschool, and resorted to tucking my struggling baby under one arm like a sleeping bag and toting him to the car, shoeless.  I put his shoes on the top of the car trunk while I buckled him in and the other boys climbed in.

If you are a parent yourself, you probably already know what happened – I arrived at school to discover one shoe on the car trunk.  I had forgotten to put the shoes in the car before leaving my garage and lost one en route somewhere.

Searching for shoes to go out today, I found that no pairs for my littlest except for a pair of flip flops, and as my son was wearing socks (which he really did not want to take off), this would not do.  Imagine my delight when I found two shoes – both running shoes, to boot – a left and a right.  Not a matching pair, but a pair.  Boon accepted.  We could leave, and I felt grateful.

The post was composed in my mind, and I later took the snapshot.  It’s just a brief and random bit about the day, not the most impactful or important, but I choose it anyway.  Now I’ll log it into my memory.  A nod to the day, a moment to take a deep inhale, and to say thank you for all of this.  Short, sweet, and slow.

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

50 Things to Do Outside

Have you seen the list of 50 Things to Do Before You Are 11 3/4 from England’s National Trust?  It’s brilliant.

I’m a big fan of the bucket-list approach to living.  (We are steadily working our way through 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up.  I plan never to be too old for anything in that book.  I love the whole series.)

Give me a list and I itch to get ticking.  Is it even possible to try 1001 Whiskeys Before You Die?  There’s only one way to find out!  It’s the journey and not the destination, right?

What I love about the National Trust List is that it is as much a starting point for infinite adventures as it is a finite list.  It works for the task-oriented, but also for those who like to wander off the beaten path.  It pushes you further into the wild, and it makes you open your eyes to the wilderness on your urban doorstep.

Middlest and I were walking through a ravine the other day, and he said, “People just see the danger in the wild.  They don’t see the good things.”  We started to name the good things.  We ran out of ravine before we ran out of ideas.

conkersI grew up playing conkers in England.  You tie a chestnut onto a string, and then you try to knock your opponent’s chestnut off of her string.  The enormous crispiness of those brown leaves, the prickle of the nut case, and the smell of weather cooling is forever part of my sensory memory.  I don’t know why conkers isn’t popular in Canada, but because it isn’t, chestnuts are just another tree to my boys, and they probably could not name it.  Chestnut, maple, oak: these are trees that I am confident I can identify in almost all seasons, but as Middlest and I were walking, I realized that I could not name nearly all of the trees we walked past.  It awoke in me a desire to learn to identify all of the trees in our neighbourhood.  They are so much a part of our lives, and yet we don’t know all of their names.

treeI’ve taken to carrying my tree guide to the park, to taking new routes with new trees, and while the kids play soccer, I wander around looking at the trees.  Then they wander over and have a peek and help me to identify the leaf shape and find the right name.

And, lo and behold, we all have a name for the fragrant tree that brings us so much joy when it’s in blossom in June and July.  Hello, Linden.  So nice to know your name.

4Mothers, 4 Years

hourglassFour years ago, where were you?  What were you, and how were you?  I asked myself these questions as 4Mothers closed the loop on its fourth year.  As whenever I engage this process, I am dumbfounded at the answers.

Four years ago, I had two children, not three.  They were 4 and 2 years old (so young! when I look back at their photos).  I was working as a lawyer, and my husband had quit his job to take care of our boys.  He was also playing around with part-time work options, and gearing up for a third major hip surgery in as many years.  We had just embarked on a mammoth (for us) investment decision.  We still had a beloved pussycat.  Our oldest son hadn’t started school yet.  Neither of us was 40.  Did I mention that I had two children, not three?

Four years ago, I decided to take a writing course about creating memoirs from the experiences of motherhood.  I met a group of women there and heard some remarkable writing and did some of my own.  Some of us decided to write a blog and get together, for the pleasure of writing company.

Four years later, we still do this.  We are no less busy that we were when we met; au contraire, mes amis, we have added two children to the already full bushel of boys.  Our lives are so blessedly full, but we make time for this.  We may not meet as often as we like, but we meet, and something in that regular rhythm, kind of like the daily-ness of this blog for me, is a comforting touchstone.

Four years.  What have they brought to you?

Mad Mums’ Martinis

I hosted a Mad Mums’ Martini afternoon for some other half-day Kindergarten kids and mums.  This is the aftermath:

mad

Note that the jello salad is almost all there, the spam is untouched and the vodka … well, not untouched.

One of us wore pearls and heels.  One of us wore a twin set.  One of us wore one of 200 dresses in her closet from the fifties.

All of us had fun.

Because sometimes in this crazy journey we call motherhood, we have to make a detour for the carnival.