Failure #14: No Green

First pro football game

we are obvious rookies

without any green


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.


Failure #11: No advice

“You know how there are good mornings and bad mornings?” she asks me.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I say. “Why? Was this one good or bad?”

My friend goes on to tell me about the horrible start to her day. How her child refused to eat breakfast, refused to get dressed, refused to put on her jacket–when she did it was backwards, and then left for school hungry. How she pushed and pushed and pushed all morning long just to get her kids out of the house and how, at the very end, she lost it. How rage simmers and then suddenly erupts. How anger twists faces and voices into something we don’t want to recognize in ourselves. At the end of her explanation she looks at me for advice with tears in her eyes.

“You’re further along this journey than I am. Surely, you must have something? Some tips or wisdom?” she trails off hopefully.

I’ve been murmuring “I know” all along. I hate the rush, I hate it when kids don’t listen, I hate how I feel when kids don’t listen, but when she asks me her question I don’t have any solution. I am empty-handed. All I have are the tears to match hers. “We’ve tried everything at our house; charts, schedules, you name it. None of it works… nothing lasts for more than a couple days or so, and then it’s back to square one,” I say. It’s a pessimistic response but it’s also true. “I’m sorry,” I add.

Studies show that it takes 10 years of practise to master a subject. I’m 13 years in on parenting, and when faced with a simple question like How do I motivate my child to get ready in the morning? I fail the test.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.




Failure #10: Writing, laundry, email, Facebook and everything else but prayer

I wake up early. I’ll pray later, when the kids are awake and busy getting ready, I tell myself. Right now the house is quiet and it’s the perfect time to write.

After Belén and Susanna leave for school, two other little girls knock on our door and fill their place. Ill sit down and meditate later, I think, when the girls are playing. Soon they set up Peppa Pig and all three kids are happily engaged with their figurines. I decide to fold laundry and catch up on e-mail.

At 3 pm, when we are back from getting groceries, Vivi settles in with the ipad. I have a few minutes to myself to pause and reflect on who God is and my place in the universe. Instead, I check Facebook.

This cycle of wanting to pray, but never doing it, continues until supper. All 6 of us are in our seats (including Saron). “Wait, don’t touch the sausage,” I warn no one in particular. “We are going to pray before we eat. The least we can do is be thankful.” The normal fighting ensues between Saron and Vivi as to whose turn it is to say grace and Saron wins. Everyone is quiet. “Go Saron,” someone prompts her. “It’s your turn tonight,” another one says. We wait.

She starts in on a song, fumbles, then stops. Again she tries a tune I don’t recognize and soon quits. The food smells good and my appetite scrapes at my stomach. Finally Saron launches into a prayer and keeps at it. The words are indecipherable. It doesn’t sound like English, French, or Amharic–the three plausible options–but I keep my eyes closed and head bowed. The melody wavers and words run together in one long streak. Finally she stops.

“Thank you, Jesus,” I add.

“Amen,” says Stan.

“It’s over!” declares Saron.

“That was interesting,” says Susanna. “I think she was trying to sing the clean-up song from school, in French; It is time to clean up, clean up, clean up...”

Does that count?


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #9: Buying plastic

I’m standing in a corner, one of many in the huge bookstore, when she approaches me. It’s a friend I haven’t seen for years and both of us are firing questions at each other. How are you? What are you up to? How are the kids? And then… What are you buying? Immediately I’m embarrassed. In my hand is a cheap plastic microphone. It requires batteries. It has buttons to push. It flashes. It amplifies and records voices. It is also on sale for 60% off.

When she asks me the question I wish I were holding a copy of War and Peace, or even some beautifully crafted wooden toy. But not this. “Oh nothing really,” I laugh. “Well, just this thing, um, I know it’s a piece of junk but we have this girl who is over a lot… (How do I explain who Saron is to us–not exactly family, but more than a friend)… I’m buying it for her.”

I think of all the educational videos I’ve seen of machines pushing mountains of plastic, and the environmental repercussions of our consumer society. I think of the islands of garbage polluting our oceans and I am sure my friend is the kind of person who would not buy a mike to add to the floating piles.

Still, after our conversation, even after my embarrassment and fleeting guilt, I take the cheap toy to the till. I imagine Saron belting out Annie songs at the top of her lungs and dancing like crazy. She will love it! At least until the batteries go dead or it falls apart.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.





Failure #6: Supper

I heap the quinoa into the pot and add a few cups of cold water. It’s been a long time since we’ve eaten quinoa regularly (probably since we lived in Bolivia and over-dosed on it) but I’m trying to get us back in the groove. Along with the quinoa I roast some garlic that I planted last fall, garlic that took 11 months to grow from a single clove to a full head. I also prepare Roma tomatoes I started from seed, carefully moving their little pots to follow the sunlight throughout March and April; transplanting in May; watering, weeding and mulching through June, July, and August; then storing in a cardboard box to ripen in October. Tonight I’m drizzling the fruits of my labour with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and slowly roasting them for two hours to bring out their flavour.

When the quinoa should be done I notice it still looks mushy and wet. I lift a spoonful to my mouth and it smells off, like old play-dough. I make a mental note to buy a new bag of quinoa for our quinoa renaissance and set it on the table anyway, even though no one is going to touch it. Then I start on a fresh pot of spaghetti.

Finally the meal is ready and we corral everyone to the table. Vivian takes one look at her plate, eyeing the ingredients that took months to procure and spits out an emphatic, “YUCK!”

I hold her chin, twisting her face to meet mine, telling her we don’t say YUCK at the table, when another family member starts gagging. The gluten-free spaghetti is sticking together in unwieldy chunks and is lodged in their throat. There is theatrical sputtering, drooling and coughing. Meanwhile someone trying to tell a story huffs about all the interruptions.

People are disgusted. Tired. Frustrated. And irritated.

Do therapists who recommend sit-down family dinners ever try their own advice? Is this what’s going to keep us together and healthy? It seems hard to believe and a little frightening.

september 012

*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe and record moments I experience a sense of failure; I’m simply capturing a scene without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Seeing the Gifts

When I’m around my children all the time it’s hard to see them for who they are. I get so caught up in making them set the table, practise their instruments, harvest tomatoes, stop fighting with Saron, go to bed and get out of bed, that I lose perspective. Even though it’s all unfolding around me–a daily unwrapping of gifts, skills, intuitions and leanings–I’m too busy dealing with the riffraff at the party of our daily life to ooh and aah over any gifts. It takes a certain kind of distance to do this. Just like I can’t tell how my daughter is growing until I drop her off at school and notice the hem of her pants riding at mid-calf, I need to see things from a few metres, or years, away to get the whole picture.

But sometimes, like when I was in the concert theatre last night holding hands with both of them, I notice stuff. I watch Susanna’s eyes shine while she holds them fast on the fiddle-player; I lean over to Belén and we whisper about the show. These kind of moments make up approximately 2.5% of our family life, but they still happen. It all goes on right before my eyes. Amidst all the herding, huffing, feeding, mediating, nagging, and managing that I do, the gifts are being opened steadily and surely. Layer after layer…

This morning I get get up, eat breakfast, dress, and then flop back into bed. I’m moaning about my headache, plugged sinuses and stomach cramps when Belén follows me and sits on the bed beside me. I lay with my socks draped limply over my stomach while we talk about the day ahead. Mid-discussion, Belén reaches for the wool pair I’m clutching and without saying a word, takes them apart. She holds my right foot and slips the heavy sock over my toes then pulls it up so the heel slides into place. We’re talking about what to put in their lunches and the games we planned for youth-group tonight when she starts with my left foot. It is an act of service that almost feels like a foot-washing. I am warmed.


“Did you see the email your Susanna sent me?” Rebecca asks. When I tell her I don’t know what she’s talking about she goes on to explain the professional nature of Susanna’s correspondence regarding Saron’s fiddle lessons. As her self-appointed teacher, Susanna is taking Saron’s music education very seriously, developing detailed schedules and curriculum for her young protégé. Part of her motivation is her love of music, but a lot of it has to do with her love of simply making things happen. Anything at all. Whether it’s a show, garage sale, “committee meetings” with family, Christmas-gift shopping 10 months ahead of time, or announcements on our oral hygiene, if it requires CEO material, Susanna’s on it.

september 018

When Belen comes home exhausted from a long day of cross-country, volleyball, guitar practise and baby-sitting (all of this besides school), Susanna dances around and questions her about the details. Her sister is overwhelmed and not in the mood to talk about any of it. Susanna sighs and says, “I wish I could be so busy. I keep trying to fill up my schedule but there’s never enough to do.”


It’s 4:30 pm and I am determined Susanna will put in a decent practise instead of flitting room to room with her violin, making up little ditties, as she usually does. She resists, at first, when I set her in front of the sheet music but soon she is playing Ashokan Farewell with the same timing and feeling as the old guy on YouTube. She has figured out most of the song by the time Stan arrives home from his hunting trip. He drops his backpacks and gun to the floor and comes into the kitchen without taking off his muddy boots. I can smell the wood smoke on his fluorescent orange toque and camo sweatshirt as he nears Susanna and me. It’s only been about 15 minutes since she started learning the tune but Stan says, “This is the kind of music that can bring you to tears.” Which is the same thing I was thinking.


Belén and I edge to the start line and take off once the clump of runners ahead of us begins to move. This is the first 5k race I’ve run in many years and I’ve practised for months. I tell my daughter, childishly, that she has to stick with me the whole time. She does. Until the very end when she starts to push hard. I push too but my legs don’t seem to work like hers. She sails past, like a horse heading towards the barn. I arrive at the finish line red-faced and unable to talk, hoping I don’t collapse or faint and cause a scene. Belén looks like she’s just getting started.


Before I leave all three daughters with my parents for the weekend I take Belén aside and tell her seriously, “I don’t want Grandma to have any extra work with Vivi, okay? You make sure you get her up on Sunday morning, brush her hair, dress her, wipe her face and get her out the door to church. She is entirely your responsibility.”

Belen looks confused during my last-minute pep-talk.

“What?” I ask. Is she overwhelmed by her task? Will she balk at the burden of caring for her younger sister?

“Mom,  I do that every week.”

I’m a bit stunned by the truth of it. I’m not sure whether to feel good (I’ve got such a helpful daughter) or bad (Why can’t I get myself together enough to look after my own children?), but she’s right. She’s always ready first. She gets us out the door, whether it’s packing sand toys for the beach, getting snacks or hauling suitcases to the car.


Susanna was born with an itch to move a bow across strings, pound chords on the piano, dance and buy gifts for people. All of this is as effortless for her as it is for Belén to run 5k or braid Vivi’s hair. These gifts aren’t things I’ve taught them. They come free, along with a whole host of other miracles, including cell-division, starting with their stint in amniotic fluid. And although they haven’t worked for these inclinations and talents I hope they work with them to become something deeper and richer. But that is beside the point right now. Right now I’m concentrating on their gifts and what I can see from where I am today. I’m celebrating the seeds, impulses and soul-material that would show up no matter how I raised them.

What are you noticing in your family and friends? Imagine yourself in an entirely different world with those people. Which traits and gifts would show up in the ones you love? I guarantee, if we were living in a garbage dump without money for music lessons, Susanna would still be banging tin cans together. And Belén? She’d be organizing our hut, then getting us out there when the pickin’ was good.


Susanna; canoe trip 2017


Belén; canoe trip 2017

Happy belated 13th birthday Belén.

Cheers to your 11th Susanna!

Love Mom


The Key to Being a Great House Guest

They say traveling fosters appreciation for your own home; I say having the right kind of guests can do the same thing. We just had family from Pennsylvania stay with us for a week and their visit was an eye-opener for us. A huge pour of vitality into our sense of place. Yes, this is what Canada is like! Yep, this is the prairies! Welcome to our piece of it! every conversation seemed to say, because they were gracious enough to appreciate the nuances we take for granted and show interest in our lives.

The day before our guests arrive my daughters and I are driving home from the lake, trying to mentally prepare for their visit. We are thinking of tips to send them as they embark on their Saskatchewan vacation. Susanna has a scrap of paper and is jotting down our ideas as we come up with them.

“There’s a subtle beauty here,” I say. “It’s not a fast-food, cheap kinda love.” Susanna scribbles it down. “You won’t be bowled over by mountains and oceans and forest.” The big sky, train whistles, and open space grow on you slowly until, one day, you find your attachment to this place goes as deep as the alfalfa roots that chisel through the soil.

We pass by a derelict farmyard. And then another. The canola is in full bloom now and green wheat carpets the fields. A clutch of old grain bins stand together, dying on the land. The wood is aged and rotting and there are gaping holes where the harvest was once kept safe. I think of the picturesque towns of Lancaster County–where our family is coming from–the antique brick buildings, tidy gardens and picket fences. “How do we describe the oldness around here?” I ask the girls. “It’s not a quaint kind of look, but more of a collapsing-in-a-swamp abandonment.”

We pencil in a few more notes and Belén suddenly comments, “You know what’s weird? All of these things sound horrible but when you put them together they describe a place I love.”

Dave, Katrina, and Eli arrive before we complete the list.  Dave helps Stan trench in electrical lines for our new workshop. Katrina makes herself at home in my garden and serves up kale and lemon balm smoothies on a daily basis. Eli slides into routine around here as if getting into an old pair of slippers: eat, play ball, read, repeat. We take them to “our” lake, go for early morning walks on the flats, and play guitar, banjo, fiddle, and the spoons. We build a stage, paint murals and host a house concert together. They have tea with our neighbour, play checkers in the park, and run errands with my girls. The whole time I am learning from them what it means to be a guest.

full patio listening to Kim de Laforest and Greg Simm

When we travel we often stay with friends or family along the way. It’s on these trips that I notice what makes a great host… fresh flowers, comfy pillows, relaxed, no-fuss attitudes. We all love how Uncle Herb and Aunt Vera offer an island full of cheeses, dips, crackers and fruit for grazing. (“Herb and Vera’s” has become common lingo in our house for putting out snacks.) Now, as we host, I am reminding myself how I want to be as a guest.

Dave, Katrina and Eli stay seven days. Seven days can be a long time. It’s 21 meals and shared bathrooms, couches and morning routines. Seven days can seem like an interminable visit or a short week, depending on the dynamics. In our case, it’s the latter and here’s why: they care about the life we are making. They show interest in our home, garden, friends, projects, weather, politics, economy, favourite books, food, and just about everything else.

I realize the most important thing you can do for your hosts is appreciate their home. This doesn’t mean pretending to like it more than your own, where corn on the cob is ready 2 months earlier and the lush countryside is as charming as a page from a storybook. It doesn’t require feigned compliments or making comparisons. It means trying to understand the culture and the community. It means asking questions. About the dragonflies, about the climate, about the plants. It means observing all you can. It means commenting on what is life-giving so that your hosts see their place with new eyes. All of this converts burden into blessing and makes your visit an honour.

Dave and Stan serenading someone to sleep?

Katrina harvesting spinach

Happy travels this summer. Now go notice and bless!


PS. Here’s a link to Kim de Laforest and Greg Simm (the musicians we hosted) playing in a very COOL location!

PSS. And another to Katrina’s Soulful Community page 🙂