Spring Ritual

Vivi swings the door open, wearing her rubber boats, with a snack in hand. We’re about to go on a walk but it’s not just any walk, it’s a hunt. We’re on a mission to find a robin. We’ve been desperate to see one ever since Scoops (the local ice-cream stand) opened this season. Desperate because, according to our family by-laws, no one is allowed out for ice-cream until the first robin sighting. And whoever sees the robin decides where we go for treats.

I’m beginning to feel like a lily-handed city girl as friends and neighbours report their own sightings. “We’ve had them around the farm for weeks,” says Violet. Krista tells me she saw five in her backyard and another neighbour can’t believe we haven’t seen any. “Now it’s our turn,” I announce to Vivi as she eats lunch in the stroller and we wheel onto our regular route.

About a 100 metres along I see movement on my left. Under the pine, behind a stand of red-osier dogwood appears potential. I steal away from the stroller, pacing the perimeter of the bushes, then drop to my knees to get a better look. Vivi tries to get out of the stroller just when a gust of wind sends both of them sailing. She yelps and I quickly put my finger to my lips–this is no time for screaming, not now when I’m just about to close in. All I need is a flash of the bird’s signature red breast.

I see Vivi squinting her eyes at me and grinning. I have a feeling the most exciting part, for her, has nothing to do with our avian search. Vivian is so used to seeing the back of my head while I drive the van; my rear end while I stand at the kitchen sink; my calves tangled around the stool while I sit in front of the laptop, that my current posture is curiously thrilling for her. She crouches beside me, both of us pressing knees and hands into muddy grass, craning for a better look.

“There it is! There it is! Do you see it, Vivi?”

Vivian turns to face me. “Boo Boo Bubble” she whispers loudly, confirming the sighting with her favourite ice-cream flavour. Mission accomplished.

Once we offer the robins sunflower seeds and other residual crumbs from the stroller, thanking them for returning north, we celebrate our victory. “We did it,” I cry, giving Vivian a high-five. “We’re the first ones to see a robin!”

That evening, the wind blows cold while we walk to Scoops. We wear long underwear, toques, mitts and winter parkas. (Belén urges me to please take off my fur-lined hood when we walk past the skate park.) No other customers are at the ice-cream stand when we arrive. Yesterday would have been more pleasant, and certainly the more sensible day for cold treats, but it simply wasn’t an option. Not according to the ritual.

Vivian does, indeed, order Boo Boo Bubble–most of it ending up on her jacket, the cement and the garbage can. I don’t order anything at all; I don’t even like ice cream. Sometimes the anticipation, the wait, the hype associated with a ritual is better than the ritual itself.

Happy Spring009


Betting and Bat Houses


I believe Spring and April have crossed the threshold and it’s time to start the party. The winter clothes are stashed (though we always keep toques out, just in case) and the geese are coming home. We’ve eaten our first offering from the garden–green onions, and there are weeds to dig. A sunny seven-thirty means baseball and bike-rides instead of pajamas and feather duvets. Yep, it’s finally here.


Well, almost. The trees aren’t green yet, but we’re betting it’s going to happen this weekend. Literally. The gamble between us and nature is on; each of us have picked a day we think the birch tree in our front yard will leaf out. The winner will choose from a list of prizes we all contributed to (a brand new beach towel, $10 shopping spree, choice of meat on the barbeque, or ice cream). When I suggested the idea to my girls, Belén’s first response was, “Can I google it?” And the answer that, of course, was no. Two weeks ago, not a single website or search engine held the secret of spring. Even with technology, it’s still unpredictable and out of our control. All we can do is sit back and watch the miracle happen. Or bet on it.

Besides betting, we’re also into bat houses. Stan and Susanna fashioned this cozy home in hopes of attracting hundreds of nesting bats to our yard this summer. We’re courting them because of their appetite for mosquitoes, but if I get some bat poop out of the deal (for my compost) I’ll be even happier. We don’t know much about these flying mammals so the whole process feels a bit mysterious. Does build it and they will come apply to bats?


Happy Spring to you all! You made it through another winter. That’s something worth jumping up and down for!



My mom, sister, sister-in-law, and I follow each other into the crowded room to a small table near the stage.

I turn to look around at everyone squished in beside us. My mom leans over the tea-light in the middle of the table. “Do you recognize anyone?” she asks.

I crane my head to get a good look but see no familiar faces. I’m a bit surprised–even though we’re in the big city–since these seem like my kind of people and I frequented this place in years past. Then, after listening to the tattooed, dredlocked performer a while, it dawns on me. I don’t recognize anyone because I’m “old”. The first clue was the men around me; lithe, with stretched holes in their ears and funky hair, they don’t resemble the balding, beer-bellied males in my cohort. It’s hard to believe I don’t look like the 22-year old women around me either, but my sister confirms it. “Yep. Definitely younger than you,” she says.

The friends I used to know aren’t here because they’re probably doing homework with their 10-year-olds or adding toilet paper and lunchables to their grocery list. Something I’d be doing myself, if I weren’t on a girls’ weekend away.

“Do you miss this life?” Kristalyn asks me.

No. No I don’t. But I’m happy to be here now, out with my women, wondering what exactly makes me look older when I feel so young.

After my long-anticipated weekend away, Stan and I make a last-minute decision to visit his parents and brother’s family. Two flights and a seven hour drive later we’re rolling down our rental car windows, waving our pasty white arms in the warm breeze, giddy to have found spring on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s. It seems nothing inspires patriotism more than a few budding trees; between shrieks of joy and pointing out daffodils in the ditches, Susanna asks her Dad if he remembers how to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Stan needs no other invitation and gives a heartfelt rendition, quickening all our Canadian winter-worn hearts.



Making a fort in G+G’s woods




Remember how awkward it was to play with the children of your parent’s old friends? I don’t know how these guys do it but they seem to skip through the awkwardness every year. The Haywoods’ personalities help.


helping grandpa split wood


One of the best parts, and our impetus for going, is seeing Lucy. Lucy smiling. Lucy leaning in for another kiss. Lucy bugging her brother. Lucy eating hummus. Lucy tolerating lavish attention and excessive cousin-handling…



Grandpa, Uncle Philip, Lucy and Simon


Grandma’s specialty: Easter egg treasure hunt


A day in Chicago (at the Shed aquarium) before flying home

The day after we get home Stan spots the first (local) robin of the season. He stops playing his guitar, mid-strum, and raises his hands jubilantly. “I see it!” He hoots. “I see the first robin!”

At this point chaos ensues. The first robin-sighting is a big deal around here; the observant family member gets to choose where we go out for ice cream. Susanna is crushed because it’s been years since she was the first one to see the spring robin. We try to tell her the honour is nominal–we all get to eat ice cream and we go to the same place every year, no matter who sees the bird, but she’s not convinced. Unfortunately for her the rest of us are unsympathetic because, well, the robins are back!

Happy spring (even though it snowed yesterday),


PS. Besides robins, this book is getting me into the spring/gardening mood. If you don’t like vegetables, either growing or cooking them, you’ll find it excruciating. I can’t wait to pick it up every night–it’s almost as good as An Everlasting Meal.