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


Happening Here

Susanna pounds out the Russian Sailor Dance on our upright piano. She plays it about five times faster, and eight times louder, than necessary. Our living area echoes with minor chords until no one hears what anyone else is saying even though we are all shouting. I marvel at the sheer quantity of sound produced by this piece of wood and metal, well over 100 years old. Once I sit down to play the teacher duet part with the bass notes, neither of us want to stop. We play it over and over, faster and faster, louder and louder, laughing and thrilled with ourselves. A half-hour later we will forget our excitement and camaraderie. A half-hour later the moment will have evaporated into anger. She will cry. I will lose my temper. She will refuse to change her attitude. I will yell. But for now we are dancing together with the ivory keys.


Stan is bee crazy right now. He’s ordering all the supplies and bees he needs to try bee-keeping again this spring. (The wild hive he captured a few years back didn’t make it through their first winter). He spends hours researching, contacting bee-keepers and chuckling about all the honey we’ll be harvesting. His buddy Kevin is in on it with him, and they scheme and text each other like two teenagers.


I wonder if the famous lines of Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day are often taken out of context. The way I read it, she’s not asking people what their career plans are, what they want to stroke off their bucket list, or how they will use their influence, fame or money to leave their mark on this world. In fact, the poem is not really about doing anything but, rather, just being. It makes me happy to look at the words on our chalkboard even if nobody else who reads them has ever seen the rest of the poem.


Registration is now open for Wonderscape on the Prairie and I feel like I’ve just jumped off the high diving board. I’ve spent hours planning, researching venues, contacting artists and musicians, writing emails, putting details together on the website and now my role changes. As people sign up it becomes more of an experience created by the community of participants and less of the-project-that-lives-inside-my-head. Come to Last Mountain Lake, SK and be a part of it. I’d love to meet you!


Susanna carefully draws the mini-greenhouse and adds the label watermelon to 3 squares on our map. She and I have each made a few concessions; she gets to plant flowers and watermelon again (she insists the fruit were huge and sweet last year, I remember them as a puny waste of garden space), and I get to plant more than my share of basil and tomatoes. After all the seeds are covered and set in the sun we stare at the earthy possibility of tomatoe sauce, fresh bouquets, and dessert. A few days later I hear a shopper complaining about the price of cucumbers. “Why are they $2.50 here? They’re only a dollar at Walmart right now! ” he informs the Superstore employee. Has this man ever saved seed from a rotting cucumber? Has he ever covered this seed with a blanket of dirt and waited for it to burst forth with life? Or set his transplants out, an hour a day, to harden them to the reality of the outdoors? How many hours has he weeded and watered, then weeded some more? And what about the harvesting and cleaning? Has he stopped to think about all this while he holds a long, perfectly shaped cucumber, in the middle of March, that only costs two dollars and fifty cents?

A couple days after seeding, the first sprouts appear. We try to guess whose plants came up first; I’m rooting for the basil, Susanna hopes it’s one of hers. We consult the map and identify them as morning glories! Susanna is thrilled and so am I. They’re not edible, but they’re still a green miracle.


“Who wants to go for a walk?” Rebecca asks.

“I do!” Belén answers emphatically. She’s been busy lately with play practise, guitar lessons, piano lessons and youth group and is relieved to have an evening off with nothing to do but walk to nowhere. By the time they are ready to leave the house their group has swelled from two to eight walkers, ages 2 to 39. None of us want to stay inside when it is almost 7 o’clock and still light outside. Once we get out of town I shout, “Who wants to run?”

Free starts counting, “One, two, three…” and we are off. Clomping, skipping, and shuffling in snow boots, galoshes, heeled boots, and runners. We risk breaking through paper-thin ice and slide on frozen puddles, we cartwheel on a mat of dead grass, and we look at the clouds. We are like children waiting for their parents to wake up on Christmas morning. Wake up world! Wake up dead grass! The light is coming back! It’s time to wake up!


Susanna’s Ukrainian Easter eggs. More to come…

Dandelion Root Coffee

I planned on encapsulating the meaning of life in a jaunty essay this morning but I haven’t had enough sleep for that. Instead I’ll drink a cup of dandelion root coffee and go back to bed. Here’s my post from last season on how to do it. It’s worth it just for the yummy smell of the roots roasting. The taste is coffee-like; try experimenting with the steeping times if you are not immediately won over. Goodnight!

Experimenting as we grow

DSCN7858_ dandelion root coffee

What sort of extras do you have time for? Yoga? Scrap-booking? TV? Floor mopping? Puzzles? Going to the gym? Movies?

I’m afraid I don’t have time for any of those things. My life is too fast-paced for such indulgences and I’m simply much too busy. Busy picking dandelions. Isn’t it wonderful most of us have some choice in what we do with our time–even if it’s just a half hour a day? I think yoga must be terrific but I don’t know how I’d ever squeeze it in at times like these when digging dandelions roots is absolutely urgent.

I read somewhere that millions of French children, women, and old men feel the same way I do. Though I’m not sure this is true, I like to imagine the French roaming the countryside en masse in pursuit of the aptly named pissenlit. Besides it’s diuretic action…

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To Be Normal; Part One

Do you ever wish you were a normal person? I do, all the time, and I tell myself I’m not alone. Everybody else wants to be normal too, right? This morning, for example, I was panting over my pitchfork and my 7-month-old belly, wondering why I can’t garden like a normal person. You know, the till-the-soil-with-a-machine, make-tidy-rows, plant-your-garden-in-a-day, weed-with-a-hoe, kind of normal. Every year I fully intend to do this, to be a normal gardener, but then I get down on hands and knees and start ripping out quack grass. Following the stringy, white roots snaking through the soil I shudder to think how a tiller would extend the weedy web even further (chopped up roots can colonize freshly cultivated soil with vigor). Then, the quack grass leads me to a bed of lettuce I planted last fall. It’s coming up nicely and getting a head start on all the slugs so I certainly can’t till it under either…

What happens next is my version of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, titled, If You Give Me a Pair of Gardening Gloves. The lettuce surrounds some oregano, which needs to be trimmed of old growth. I take the carbon-rich trimmings to my compost pile and, on the way, stop to look for the garlic cloves I planted last September. The pungent greens, ready to burst through the dirt, are next to a saskatoon berry bush that needs watering. While soaking the shrub I notice a pile of dead leaves to be raked away from nearby chamomile seedlings speckling the soil. As I take the rake back to the garage I know I’m starting to slip. The normal garden is eluding me faster than quack grass spreads. Still, I rack my brain to figure out how I could skirt around the calendula and cilantro I scattered in October, the perennial herbs anchoring almost every bed, the 100+ garlic plants, and the self-seeding flowers that will attract pollinators, to make something orderly. Something I could plot out on graph paper. But it’s impossible.

Just when I’m dreading my wild and weedy gardening future, I notice the feathery green top of a parsnip coming back to life. Then another, and another. I’d forgotten I’d left them in the soil to sweeten up over the winter! Soon I’m harvesting a bucket full of roots, ones existing only because I’d let them grow where they’d blown in. Parsnip takes two years to produce seed. If you don’t harvest the root the first season it will grow into a tall plant and produce a magnificent amount of seeds that will wind up all over your garden. Upon discovering my self-seeded treasure I soften a bit. I may not be normal but I’m not a failure; I’ve got parsnips to prove it.


After digging out the parsnips I realize I can’t let my heavy clay soil sit for long; I’ve done this before and working with it afterward is like trying to massage concrete. Fortunately I have some snap pea seeds on hand and I plant a little patch to fill the vacancy created by tonight’s supper. I suppose I won’t be tilling through this either…


Our red willow Christmas tree also functions as a pea trellis. I put straw over the planted peas so they stay moist.


Peas…and an earth worm!


scrubbed parsnips ready for roasting (and soup the day after)

Roasted Parsnips to Boost Morale

  • Chop up parsnips and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt (I use my rosemary salt).
  • Place on a baking sheet and roast until golden brown and soft. If you’re in a hurry it should only take about a half hour at 415 F. If you have time, roast them slower with less heat.
  • Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and fresh green onions. If you harvest the parsnips in spring (like I did today) the green onions will be the only other thing in the garden ready to eat, which makes for a fortunate pairing.


PS. There are many areas of my life where I’d like to be more normal. I was going to address another in this post, but I’ve got to get to school. Check back later.

*This post shared at RealFoodWednesday


For the locals

It’s storming here. The sidewalk the girls worked on clearing, for hours, is covered once again. Spring lasted approximately 48 hours.

Direct quote from Belén, 7:46 am, Tuesday, April 30:

I was ready for a change. It’s kind of nice to wear ski pants in snow again.”

So dear locals, mull that over while you shovel your cars out this morning. You might not hear that sentiment anywhere else today.

PS. I once talked to a lady–she immigrated to Manitoba from South America–who complained people here always talk about the weather. “Can’t they move on to something more important?” she complained. I don’t believe she had lived here long enough to recognize the folly of her question.


The pussy willows I collected on Sunday remind me it wasn’t just a dream. Checkout those pink ones on the red willow!