Happy New Year

September, more than January, always feels like a new beginning.

Tomorrow is our first day of grade one (Susanna), grade three (Belén), and grade six (me!).

I imagine Susanna will be trying to decipher what her teacher is saying; this is her first year of French immersion.  Belén will be engaged in high-stakes deals, negotiating who is going to play with who, and I’ll be trying to pretend I’m a teacher.  (Note: if you are a future employer of mine, I’m just kidding.  I’m really very confident and competent, and never have sweaty armpits when dealing with 28 ‘tweens).

Last week I was offered a short-term position in a grade six classroom and I took it.

But, since that’s all happening tomorrow, let’s talk about summer before it evaporates.

I’ve heard winter associated with imagery of cocooning and rest.  Well, I think summer has been that way for us.

We didn’t see friends from school, or our community, much at all.  Mostly we were with relatives, or practically relatives, and our own little family; people who really know us.  It was like a two month “love shelter” before entering back into classrooms full of kids, schedules, and new beginnings.  It bolsters the confidence… maybe even too much… Last week, my eldest ran out the front door and down the sidewalk before she realized she wasn’t wearing a top!

cousins

Don’t let the previous paragraph fool you into thinking we’ve just come out of one long group hug.  We’ve all been enraged, whiny, violent, self-centered cry babies (I’m speaking for at least 3 out of the four of us) intermittently, and needed time outs from each other; though you won’t see any pictures of that.  It’s hard to grab the camera and take a shot for the blog while you’re gripping your child just a wee bit harder than you should, sputtering threats through clenched teeth.  Sand art is so much more photogenic than a mother over the edge, or insolent children.

Besides the relational hazards of being together all the time,  we’ve been coming and going so much that the days we have been at home were usually a scramble to un-pack,  and then pack up again.  And, when we were just at home it seemed we were ALWAYS cleaning.  When I read this line in my favourite blog* last week  – “…the dishes in our sink are like one of those trick candles that you can’t ever blow out”, I was pleased to imagine how I’ll look at my own Mount Rushmore kitchen counter the next time.  I’ll sigh, and then think of birthday cake and trick candles, and feel a tiny bit comforted.

But, despite the mess and fights, July and August have been a retreat.  A reprieve from some of the stresses of normal life.  I’m hoping we’re all a little stronger for it and ready to face the growth and changes that lie ahead.

With Grandma at the dunes

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I finally got my butt in gear and tackled the apples in our basement.  I have a formula I use when it comes to evaluating how, and if, I want to process something:  (taste ) / (mess + time),  or something like that.  I think the apple sauce and dried apple pieces come out about even on that one.  Dehydrated apples are probably a little quicker and less messy, but that apple sauce is so… saucy.

Apple sauce, hot off the press. I couldn’t keep the girls, or the wasps, away.

I dehydrated the apples in the back of our vehicle.  We have a dehydrator but I only use it when I have to.  It seems a little silly to be plugging in an apparatus, adding more heat to our un-conditioned home, when the sun is already merrily beating down for free.

I read somewhere that the apples slices are done when they have a raisin-like consistency.  We forgot about ours while we were off lounging at a spray park and the poor things nearly petrified.  Ours are definitely past the raisin stage but both girls thought they were good enough to shovel in by the fist-full.  It could have had something to do with nearing 6 pm and no supper on the horizon.

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Last week I took the girls shopping for their first-day-of-school outfit.  We happened to be walking near my *favourite store* when Susanna asked optimistically, “Can we get new clothes, Mom?”

“Of course you can, my goodness, what kind of mother do you think I am … but since we’re so close… shall we just check it out?”

Belén thought it was a good idea,  Susanna wasn’t so sure.  Minutes later, we were deep in the heart of my *favourite store* and both girls’ arms were draped with dresses,shirts, and pants and there was this kind of gleeful, celebratory look in our eyes.  But, I was ready to leave it all, if that is what they wanted.

“Are you girls sure you want to stay here, and buy these clothes instead of looking elsewhere?”

“Stay, stay, stay,” they both chimed, especially Susanna.

Twenty minutes later we walked out the doors of my *favourite store* with two bags full and all our clothes shopping done.

‘Turns out I’m the kind of mother who will put up with kids who don’t need new clothes, just pretty ones.

Susanna, hanging her first-day-of-school dress to dry, after coming home from my favourite store

Wishing you courage, enthusiasm and peace as you jump into your “new year”…

*Rachel Turiel is the author of the only “stranger” blog I follow.  I call her my Colorado girl.  Stan always finds it weird that I am looking at pictures of this family I’ve never met.
“It’s her writing,” I tell him.  When I read her posts it’s like eating those candies that pop and fizz around in your mouth, her words are so vivid they trigger little picture explosions in my head.

True Story: How I got from the Gas Station to the Delivery Room

It was 10:30 at night, in a gas station an hour away from home, when I saw them.  She was exhaling loudly and he had one arm around her shoulders and another on her belly.  A belly that looked like it was ready to launch off her body.

I was on my way out of the station, but when I saw her stance and big eyes, I asked them immediately if they were okay.

“We’re on the way to the hospital” he said, stating the obvious.  Then he took her into the washroom and I waited with my daughters outside the door, half expecting to hear a splashing sound from the toilet and the cry of a newborn.

When they emerged, still just the two of them, I asked them if they had family with them.  In the short exchange that followed I learned they were alone, this was their first child, and we knew each other!  He was from my home town.  I hadn’t thought about him in twenty years but when he said his name a faint vision of him with a snowboard and less facial hair re-surfaced.

Another woman standing nearby, filling up slurpee cups for a gaggle of young children, (presumably a family of night-owls since it was now nearing 11), gave her one look and said with a sigh, “Oh, I always hate that stage.” Then she went back to the slurpee machine as if labour was nothing more than a daily irritant.

I told them I was going to follow them to the hospital, still an hour of wheat and canola fields away.  “If you need to stop on the side of the road, don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  Babies can be born anywhere.”  I thought of the beach towels in my trunk, still damp from our river swim, and figured they would make a fine swaddle.  “Where are you from?”  I asked quickly before jumping into the car, having noted an accent.  “Argentina,” she replied, and then I told her how brave she was, in Spanish.  It’s not often you meet someone from Patagonia in the prairies.

For the next hour I waited for the brake lights ahead of me to come on, but they never did.  By the time we made it to town I had coached my kids on how they would have to jump out of the car, run down the block, and wave at the front door once their dad let them in.  I was planning to take the couple to the hospital and stay with them until no longer needed.

For the next three and a half hours I got wet towels, rocked with her, massaged her feet and gripped her hand when she was ready to crawl out of her own body.  She took turns moaning through her contractions then vomiting during the breaks.  In a way, she was the perfect picture of grace; she feeling as if her body was breaking in two to give life.  By 2:30 am, high on oxytocin with my empathy levels still shooting through the roof, I knew I should leave so I would be able to function the next day with my own family.  Plus, the couple was heading for the showers and I wasn’t planning on jumping in with them.

I went home exhausted, but feeling lucky.  I am now more convinced than ever that a woman needs another woman’s hand to hold during labour.  This time it was mine.  And, how could I have known so many years earlier, I would be in the hospital with this sweet, gentle, father-to-be; rubbing lavender oil on his wife’s feet and supporting her while she buried her cries into my chest?

Life sometimes offers up weird and delicious moments such as these; when you feel like you’re sinking your teeth into the main course instead of picking at the carrot sticks and pickles before the meal begins.

… Oh, and it’s a girl.

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Remember how I was so excited about those scavenged apples?  Well, they’re still sitting pretty  in my basement, lined up on egg cartons, awaiting their fate.  I’ve been thinking about drying them, thinking about juicing them, thinking about making sauce out of them, thinking about freezing them… And then my Auntie Fritz sends me these doing pictures.  She makes her juice out of tiny, coin-sized apples that most people consider inedible.  Instead of letting “the birds go drunk on them” she cans up 100 jars of this stuff.  Here are her photos to inspire us thinkers:

The apple juice tree

Fritz’s canned apple juice