Why I Care About a Mouse Tail

The moon is a small sliver and the sky is overcast tonight. Stan is trying to back our small Saturn, and trailer, down a narrow alley that borders a park at the edge of the city. The trailer hitch is short so it’s incredibly hard to back up at the best of times, never-mind doing it in pitch darkness with soft snow ready to swallow the tires. He gets stuck so I get in the driver seat while he pushes. Then we try again; I call out directions while he maneuvers the trailer back towards the fresh snow. (This is the second night of shoveling so we’ve already cleaned off the stuff that is easy to access.) Finally we make it to our destination and I start pushing up piles with the snow scoop while Stan hefts it into the trailer.

I notice a home owner peek his head out of his garage to find out what the commotion is about. He stares for awhile and then retreats and I wonder if he will tell his wife about the crazy people shoveling snow off public land. I also wonder if we actually are a tiny bit crazy.

Sweat starts to trickle down my back–under my tank-top, tee-shirt, sweatshirt and winter parka. I can hear Stan grunting while he heaves snow at his usual frenzied pace. “I wonder,” I call through my scarf that is frozen stiff, “if we’ll be nostalgic about this when we are in the old folks home. Can you imagine sitting around and talking about the days when we used to steal snow for sculpting?”

When the trailer is piled high we lumber down the block-and-a-half to our front yard and half-empty wooden box. About 3 loads later, it’s finally full to the top and ready to sit for a few days while we wait for the snow particles to bond.

About a week later, after Stan has taken the wood form apart and finished 95% of the carving, we spend a couple evenings taking care of the last details. He’s working on the mouse’s nose and teeth and I’m on a step ladder, shaping the feet.  It’s dark and quiet enough to hear the scraping sounds our tools make against the snow. “Just so you know,” I tell my husband, “I would never be doing this if I hadn’t married you.” I’m not unhappy, or even complaining about the -30 temps, I’m just stating the obvious. How marriage affects us in ways we never would have known when standing at the altar. The next night this truth becomes even more apparent.

We’re laying in bed, and just before falling asleep Stan comments, “I think the tail is too wide for the body. It would look less reptilian if we narrowed it.” I agree and roll over. Hours later, in the middle of the night, I awake for no reason. I toss and turn and think about all kinds of stuff, including the mouse’s tail. Suddenly it’s all I can think about: how I’ll need to get the saw out in the morning and shave off the sides, how the mouse’s hind legs are curved, and how the buttocks should partly cover the tail. And then I think, why on earth do I care about a mouse’s butt at stinkin’ four o’clock in the morning?

But I do care. I care because we’ve invested so much time in it already. Because snow is a beautiful thing to work with. Because people like to drive by slow and crane their necks and take pictures. Because my girls look forward to the sculpture on their yard every year. Because creating something–anything at all, even a mouse’s tail–is the opposite of apathy; it affirms that there is meaning and that we have a reason to care. And I care because I married Stan, of course. Which is the main reason why I’m worried about how a mouse’s tail comes out of its butt.

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Stan cuts off a lot of snow blocks when he starts carving–they girls love to use these in their snow forts

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Saron and Free help us pack the snow

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When Heads Roll

When heads roll is a better forecaster of spring, around here, than any American groundhog. All season long the kids (and their friends) await the annual destruction of our snow sculpture and the beheading is always the highlight of the event. While I can’t say it feels exactly like spring (it was almost -30 yesterday), we know it’s on its way. In fact, we’ve probably got only few weekends left of good snow. What will you do with them?

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The whole process is not as easy as it looks; the sculpture is always more sturdy than they expect. They persisted with their feet, a machete, butcher knives, and a saw made of barbed wire, for at least half an hour, to take it down this year. It made for a nice little play-date.

***

Last weekend we went cross-country skiing all together for the first time this season. We told the girls to be quiet so we could see the local moose family but Vivian didn’t listen–she kept hooting and chirping happily. Perhaps she’s been feeling as cooped up as I have and was too relieved to be out that she couldn’t stay quiet. On the way back, after a fire and snack at the warm-up cabin, she fell asleep. Still didn’t see any long-legged mammals except for these….

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Enjoy this one coming up!

T

The Only Princess He’s Willing to Carve*

Every year our daughters pitch their ideas for our annual snow sculpture and most years their list starts with a Disney princess. This year was no different. Susanna requested Anna and Elsa, but her daddy made Elizabeth instead. If you’ve read this book by Robert Munsch you’ll know why.

After many days of helping shovel, pack, measure, saw, dig, slice, and whittle, I’d like to write a philosophical essay on snow sculptures and their ephemeral quality, or something that sounds deep while including witty quips from the carvers, but it’s late. And my fingers are still stiff from the cold; it only reached -24 C today. Here are some pictures instead.

Until next time,
Tricia (for the carving crew)

*Other than Princess Auto. But how would you carve that?

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Belén helped more this year than ever before.

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Susanna, carving one of the very IMPORTANT parts

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Stanley, the genius behind this all. Or as he says it, “The crazy fool who squanders thirty hours playing with snow.”

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the back view with dragon wings

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We call this part the “Bravinder Tail”. Thanks Derek for shoveling!

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A Patchwork Post: Scraps from an ordinary week

Nothing proves neighbourliness like a lion’s head rolling off. After the massacre, acquaintances and coworkers approached me with concern, wondering who was responsible for such a thing. When I told them our household was accountable they almost seemed relieved, as if we were having another unspoken conversation. Yes that’s right, we live in a place where people wouldn’t dare vandalize a snow sculpture…and isn’t it a fine little town?

The girls had been planning to destroy the sculpture for months. They finally waged war against winter, rallying forces with Jack, Ainsly, and their mom, Shelly. When Belén cried out, “I call the machete,” and Susanna yelled, “Dibs on the saw,” in front of our company I was glad for a friend like Shelly. She didn’t blink an eye.

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Ready to fight with warrior paint

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Unfortunately, the task was harder than they anticipated…

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Stan had to make a notch in the neck so the girls could fell the massive head with their barbed-wire saw.

Shelly also didn’t blink an eye when I told her what we’d be having for dinner. I’d been experimenting with a gluten-free sourdough recipe I’d left on my counter for 4 days and was hopeful that this time would finally be the time–when the stars would align and I’d discover the traditional, wheaty-tasting sourdough I was after. (Gluten-free bakers have a lot in common with gamblers or gold diggers.) I should’ve known how it would all play out; I’ve been doing this for about 10 years–getting my hopes up and then seeing them crumble, quite literally, before my eyes.

When I piled the cracked, oblong rocks (aka my sourdough baguettes) on the table Shelly said, “Oh, I see you’ve made pocket buns.” Pocket buns, a term coined by her husband, are the kind of rolls you can put in your pocket, and after a full day of hunting in the woods, take out of your pocket and observe no change. The pocket buns will look just the same, and as hard, as they went in. Regrettably, I foresee the title, Pocket buns, getting a lot of use around here.

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I was so optimistic I even took this picture before they went in the oven to document my impending success.

Susanna had a friend sleep over at our house for the very first time this weekend. She decorated the whole house in advance, taping ribbons to the walls and strewing other bric-a-brac around our living room. When her friend, Kirsi, arrived Susanna led her to a homemade pinata–constructed feverishly, only minutes before, with a cardboard box and masking tape. After the whole thing collapsed, Kirsi pawed through the shredded newspaper for treasures and found a lonely pack of gum.

“It’s half-eaten,” she observed while holding it up to Susanna.

Stan, having just retired the broomstick after the event, responded cheerfully for Susanna’s sake, “But it isn’t pre-chewed now, is it?”

I’ve read a few books lately I’d enthusiastically recommend to the right kind of reader. The first is The Hundred-Foot Journey and if you are interested in cooking, India, or France, this novel will be like a birthday present for you. And I am the child who hands over the present and wants to you to open it RIGHT NOW and tell me how much you love it. But don’t read it too fast… the author’s choice words and sensual descriptions are too rich to gobble down quickly. Another one is Pastrix, a spiritual memoir which will either offend or delight. Then, Stan suggested ordering this book for the girls, which entertains them in short bursts. Tonight, at the dinner table, after Susanna involuntarily growled at the back of her throat trying to eat my soup, I read this quote about a degustateur from the book:

Julia Rogers is a taste educator whose specialty is cheese. If you offered her a piece, she might say: “In this cheese, you can taste brown butter and nuts.” Or: “This cheese smells of ripe cream and melted butter, with just a hint of white mushrooms and earth.” … Julia believes kids are the perfect taste education students. “Kids are especially good at this because they don’t have any preconceptions about what food tastes like,” she says. “Kids don’t hesitate to say it smells like crushed rocks or it smells like poo!”

I continued reading how tasters describe sensations and smells using images unrelated to food and it somehow got us through the meal. Susanna closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the qualities she was tasting. She borrowed “the wet spot in the basement” from the book, but then came up with “the broth tastes like wet construction paper and the scent of pine needles” all on her own. I was impressed with the pine needle comment because I did add rosemary salt for seasoning!

Lastly, we continue to pray for our niece, Lucy. I am amazed at the strength and faith of her parents, especially when I get cranky about it all. Just lately, after talking about the situation, I protested to no one in particular, “Why do we keep praying? What does God need from us? Hundreds and thousands of the same prayers? Can’t He just do something? Now?” I felt testy, ignorant, and impatient at the same time, as if I could thrash around with God like Jacob did–a story I love from Genesis 32 where Jacob is renamed “Israel” or “one who has struggled with God… and overcome.”

Belén and Susanna looked up at me and Stan took them both on his lap. After a moment Stan said, “God doesn’t want us to quit. He wants to change us. And Philip and Anne… and Lucy.”

And so we prayed again for change. For all of us.

Thanks for reading through the patches of our week,

Tricia

Bad Jokes and Snowy Piñatas

The kids are getting squirrelly...

Children acting like caged monkeys…

I was at a meeting recently where the presenter was from New Jersey. He tried creating rapport with his audience by making jokes about the snow, the plug-ins hanging out of our vehicles, and the ice on the sidewalks. One woman tittered at the back of the room but the rest of the crowd remained stiffly silent. The man beside me made a snide remark under his breath. Sorry, nice fellow from New Jersey; I know you tried but frankly, winter jokes (especially ones we’ve all heard a thousand times before) just aren’t that funny this time of year. Canadians really do have a sense of humour–even though that’s not what you’ll tell your wife when you go home–but we’re rather unpredictable at this point. (See next photo.)

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Belén, and accomplices, attacking the head of our giant hen. The snow sculpture has lost its novel appeal.

In other news, we’ve been talking birthing plans around here. Rather, Belen’s been talking birth plans, trying to hammer out the details, oh, about 20 years ahead of time.

“Mom,” she starts seriously, “I want to have babies but I just don’t want to have a baby.”

“Oh don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you—”

She cuts me off, “And Dad, too. I want you on one side and dad on the other.”

Susanna pipes up at this point, concerned she’s being left out of the picture.

“And me? Where will I be, Belén”

“You’ll be at my head,” she says decisively.

I ask where the father of the baby will be; she looks puzzled for a moment and then says, “Oh, he can just go down by my feet, I guess.” It sounds like he’s as much as an afterthought as a piece of limp parsley thrown on a plate at a cheap diner.

Susanna is still concerned about her position. “What if I don’t fit, Belén? What if there’s not enough room for me between the head of your bed and the wall?”

Belén answers briskly, “Well, then you’ll stand beside Mom or Dad.”

“And my husband, where will he be? I might have a husband, you know.” All of a sudden this is getting very complicated.

“At my feet. They’ll both have to be down there.” Then Belén sits back, looking pleased.

And I am pleased too. Pleased to be in this space, where our little family matters the most. It won’t always be this way–it shouldn’t always be this way–but it tastes sweet right now. Like smacking on a fresh piece of gum. Speaking of gum, this picture shows pretty clearly where we’re really at …

Susanna carefully constructed this decoration: a framed piece of chewing gum with an artistic flair. Where shall we hang it?

Susanna carefully constructed this decoration: a framed piece of chewed gum with embellishments. Where shall we hang it?

Also, the girls threw birthday party in the snow for one of their favourite dollies, including a piñata:

Come on, use your imagination. Can't you see the Mariachi in the background?

Come on, use your imagination. Can’t you see the Mariachi in the background?

DSCN5241_Once the snow piñata crashed to the ground, Belén and Susanna started scrambling for candies. And then they started fight. Yes, indeed. They managed to fight over candies that didn’t even exist!

A made scramble for the imaginary candy.

A mad scramble for the “candy”.

Here’s my parting shot; your response indicates your perspective on life. Are you the the kind of person who sees rich, dark humus and visions of juicy tomatoes, or does this make you want to call the city bylaw officer?

I've been adding to my compost pile all winter, and the snow has fallen just as fast, making it into a towering white mountain. As soon as the snow melts I'll add last years leaves and it will be much less offensive looking,

I’ve been adding to my compost pile all winter and the snow has fallen just as fast, making it into a towering white mountain. As soon as all the snow melts, I’ll mix in last year’s leaves and some fresh grass clippings to get rid of the evidence.

Yours truly, waiting for a steamy compost pile to dig around in!

In solidarity

I often find myself making disparaging comments about the internet and online social networking, while lauding the value of face-to-face interaction. On the other hand, I recognize the importance of virtual communities, especially because it’s not always easy to find other like-minded people nearby. This post then, is written with the latter sentiment in mind…

If you are searching the web looking for connection,wondering if anyone else understands your situation, you may be in luck. Especially if your situation is best described with words like minus, wind chill, and knee-deep. Know this: you are not alone. Despite thousands of blogs sporting pictures of tulips, tee-shirts, and seed beds, not everyone on the continent has made it to spring. Just scroll through the proof and be comforted:

A snow labrynth. If you you can't make it to your next Zumba class, try stomping out one of these. I promise you'll sweat just as much.

A snow labyrinth. If you you can’t make it to your next Zumba class, try stomping out one of these. I promise you’ll sweat just as much.

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After almost five months, it still looks appetizing.

I once read that spring has inspired more poor writing and sentimental drivel than any other subject. I have a hunch that whoever agrees with this idea lives a lot farther south than we do. With a fresh dump of snow last week, and nighttime temperatures of -20c, it’s difficult to resist sentimentality just thinking about seasonal change. The other day we saw a puddle in a parking lot; one of my daughters tugged on my arm and said, “Look, Mom! Running water!” as if liquid H2O is the stuff dreams are made of.

Have a great week, whether you will be wearing sandals or skis!

In snowy solidarity,

Tricia

I am "hopelessly lost" in a maze the girls had made for me.

I am “hopelessly lost” in a maze the girls had made for me.

PS. Perhaps these pictures are the tiniest bit deceiving. Today, for example, I actually felt the sun warming my skin. Then tonight, Stan and I just had this conversation–another hint of spring:

Stan: “You know what the great thing about snow sculptures is?”

Me: No, what?

Stan: “They melt. You don’t have to live with it all, year after year. Imagine collecting huge wooden chain saw art?”

I am trying to imagine cramming a homemade, 8-foot-tall wooden chicken into our already over-stuffed garage. Indeed, there certainly is a place for ephemeral art, especially at our place.

PPS. Continuing with the theme of snow, have you read The Snow Child, set in Alaska, by Eowyn Ivey? Stan read the first part to me on a road trip while I was driving, and it nearly suffocated both of us… but then it all changed for me. I knew I liked the story when the hardy, homesteader neighbour lady was introduced with blood-spattered clothes, after recently slaughtering a turkey. Today, nearly a month after reading it, I found myself thinking about the feral child, living off the land, wild herbs, and what it means to be, or not be, a mother, for at least 3 kilometers of my cross country ski! Thank you, Shalain, for recommending it, and Eowyn, for creating it!