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…

Babies Become People

I should have known babies become people.

When I let mine cry for so many nights, hoping the parenting textbook would win in the end, I didn’t realize who I (and the author) was up against. I forgot Susanna was actually a person. I knew, of course, that adults have unique personalities and are unpredictable, but babies, according to my book, were supposed to be different. It promised they could be managed with a few simple formulas and I figured if every other baby could learn to sleep after three nights of crying, mine could too.

It took 39 nights of listening to her screams before I admitted perhaps my child didn’t fit the mold. I finally caved and went back to nursing her whenever she wanted, thinking both she and I had failed miserably. I didn’t know then that this should have been a reason to celebrate, to toast the child flailing in the crib with the chubby cheeks and wild hair and say, “My, what endurance you have! How passionate you are! What great things will you accomplish, my baby?”

I couldn’t have known the same perseverance that fueled her cries as an infant would keep her bow on the violin until she got all the notes right. How at five years old she would practise a fiddle tune for an hour before giving up. Or that when she was eight she would decide she was going to send $450 a year to a child in Uganda, without any allowance or reliable income. To this end, she and her sister have thrown themselves into selling garlic, ice cream, and baking, but recently Susanna decided she needs to diversify her fund-raising efforts. Now she wants to sell entertainment.

“We’ll have a talent show and people will pay to see it,” she says while scribbling a list on her notepad. So far there are two names under performers: “The Walkers”, our family friends (this is your heads up by the way), and “Vivian”.

“Okay, so where are we going to have it?” Susanna asks.

She mentions the biggest theatre in town and I get nervous. Who will sign up? And who will come watch? I envision kids plunking out notes on the piano, awkward skits, and audience members with pained expressions, and quickly realize this is something I don’t want to be in charge of. Then I remember I’m not in charge, she is.

The dedication she showed at 9-months-old in the middle of the night is the same dedication she pours into her self-appointed role as our family activity programmer.

“Don’t forget to sign up for Adventure Night this Tuesday!” she booms into her paper towel roll. “Step right up, ladies and gentlemen… This Tuesday night!” She throws down her home-made megaphone and adds more slots to her sign-up sheet with unwavering optimism.

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Her endurance also manifests itself in her culinary interests. For months she asks me to order the cookbook Ratio, which is more of a guide on the chemistry of ingredients than a recipe book. I finally give it to her for her birthday and the next few days she takes it everywhere. I imagine her on the bus, squished between fourth-graders and backpacks, reading about the proportion of liquid to flour in onion bread, or how to infuse ginger and orange zest into heavy cream to make truffles. When she comes home from school her first words are often, “Mom can I bake something?” to which my response is almost always negative. Still, she keeps asking.

The passion I used to hear in the timbre of her cries I now see in her love of words. She consumes books and reads her favourite novels many times over; when friends come to play I keep my eye on her to make sure she doesn’t sneak away—I’ve found her in a corner with a book before, leaving her company to entertain themselves. She likes writing as much as she does reading and has a file on our computer with several manuscripts in process. She is a poet, lyricist, and as of last week, a religious devotional writer. I found this reminder on my pillow recently:

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Years from now, if my daughter has her own little one who insists on crying through night, I might, for a split-second–if I am feeling very small, think it serves her right. But then I will remember the singing fiddle, bake sales, shows and adventure nights, and say, “Congratulations! You’ve been given the gift of baby who is actually a person! With a unique personality that will probably frustrate, surprise, and entertain you, but most certainly, amaze you.” Then I’ll raise my glass and say, “Cheers!”

Tricia

shelly's camera

We played the Amazing Race (on foot) for Susie’s party. Here I am giving the first tickets…

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looking for coins in the woodpile at 7/11 to buy a treat for our librarians

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Everyone had to learn how to make a perfect duck call from our friend, Roger, before getting the next clue

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Ending the night with Mary, her birthday twin.

PS. Wait! Don’t leave yet! You forgot your treat bags. First, there’s this title to check out of your library: The Merchant of Marvels and the Peddler of Dreams. It’s bizarre, creative, and beautiful and will make you want to write poems, draw, and give crazy gifts. (We gave it to Susie for her birthday.)

Then there’s The (Kirsten) Collective, a blog authored by my brilliant friend living in Nairobi, Kenya. I particularly loved this lecture on writing. I also use her life uninterpreted section to get me warmed up, and remind myself how to be an observer, before I start my own writing. Enjoy!

Today’s Top Ten

Golden leaves litter the grass; wind whips at pony tails; nerves wait for the gun; calf muscles tighten; hundreds of shoes pound the ground; parents whoop, holler and even jump over fences–in suit pants and dress shoes–to keep up with their children and cheer them on. Yep, it’s cross-country season. I’m always mystified why it’s such a big deal here (three different meets for young elementary students) but I’m not complaining. Running is more accessible than many other sports; you don’t need special equipment or hand-eye coordination, only a pair of legs that work and a bit of spirit. In honour of the season I’m handing out ribbons, in the shape of sentences, to the ideas racing around my brain. They aren’t necessarily my favourite things in the whole world, rather, the top ten things I feel like noting today.

Eleven-year-olds… This is the bi-lingual age; of picking up the accent of adulthood while still fluent with childhood, of friends with cell phones and tree forts, of babysitting jobs and bedtime hugs, of sarcasm and silly dances, of looking adults in the eye and tag with two-year-olds. I don’t find myself coaching Belén on how to “look at people” when they speak anymore, as much as I watch her talking with adults and children alike and act the proud-mama part in secret. Inside my head I’m shouting, “See her over there? That one who stands tall with the wide smile? She’s my child! That’s my girl!”

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One moment, during Belén’s birthday party, I’m having a serious and meaningful conversation with the girls, the next moment they’re all off playing tag.

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Salsa verde… Made from tomatillos, this green sauce for enchiladas fits my favourite cooking category: the one where you don’t need a recipe. Of course, there are plenty on-line to follow but as long as you have tomatillos, peppers, onion, garlic and salt, it will turn out fine. I don’t add any extra water, but let it all simmer slowly before liquefying with my immersion blender.

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I’ve never cooked with tomatillos before growing them this summer but will definitely plant them again next year.

Neighbours with garbage… Thank you Rebecca for sharing your wealth. The rotting broccoli, over-ripe tomatoes and wilted lettuce is much appreciated. When I see you coming up the walk with a full bucket I get excited just thinking about the nitrogen, carbon and microbes that will work together to make the most precious of gifts. Dirt. Now that’s neighbourliness.

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I have 2 compost bins; one for collecting and one for curing. (It takes about 2 months once I start turning/watering/tending it.) The one on the right is finished and I am shoveling it out here.

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Instead of pulling my bean plants I piled fresh compost right on top (and spread it out later). The nitrogen-rich plants should decompose in place and be ready to host tomatoes next spring.

Wild goose meat… “You’ll need your knives for this kids,” Stan announces as he brings the grilled meat to the table. “Just pretend it’s jerky and you’ll be okay.” It’s true, the leg meat is chewy and tough but the breasts are different. Juicy and barely pink on the inside, they resemble steak and taste just as good. “It’s the rib-eye of the sky,” he tells us. We all agree, chiming in with compliments for the hunter.

Watermelon packages… I tell her it won’t grow; she doesn’t listen. I tell her it’s too late, too shady; she plants it anyway. I tell her the vine is too spindly; she calls her grandma to tell her there’s a blossom. I tell her the fruit will never ripen; she takes every visitor back to the garden to see it. If watermelon could grow on faith and loyalty alone, this one would be a prize winner. When her cousins from Ontario come she gives them the tour and leaves the best ’til last. Her dear watermelon, no bigger than a tennis ball and mostly white with a greenish hue, elicits sufficient praise. Matteus even asks for a taste.

A week later we scramble to bring in the garden before the first frost and Susanna picks her precious fruit. She slices it up and gently places one half on a square of plastic wrap while informing her father she is sending it in the mail to her cousin. He shoots her idea down; she hums and keeps working. The next day I ask about the piece of rind wrapped up on the counter.

“It’s going in the mail,” she responds.

“No, it’s not,” I say. “You can’t send a drippy, moldy package of watermelon.”

Susanna looks at me, smiles sweetly, and continues on.

It’s still there, awaiting its final destiny: compost or Canada post. Who will win?

This book… If you share my reading taste you will love Tattoos on the Heart written by a Jesuit priest who lives in gang territory in L.A.

And this one: Good God, Lousy World, and Me. It’s another spiritual memoir written by a human rights activist who comes to understand God is present even in in the filthiest, darkest, and most violent of places.

Deception in the name of cleanliness… We have a house cleaner. She comes once a week. We don’t know her full name because of her company’s privacy policy, but we know we all have to tidy up the night before so she can deep clean without the clutter. Everyone is very impressed with her work. I don’t think we pay her enough.

Orca beans… Dry beans are the middle child of the garden; they get on quite well with almost no attention. I planted a tiny corner of my garden with these and basically forgot about them until today, when I harvested enough for a few meals and next year’s seed cache.

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Sunsets during supper

The rice is cooking, so are the beans
My kitchen window glows neon
No time to cook
Pull Vivi from her highchair, buckle up, squish in, head out of town
Find a prairie,
a gravel road,
a place to smell the harvest dust
The sky blossoms purple and orange and makes this field a ballroom
This stubble our dance floor

Seven Good Things

It’s Sunday afternoon and I decide to go for a walk. All by myself. While the rest of my family plays a board game. I know, crazy isn’t it–going off on my own instead of spending quality time with my husband and children? But it gets worse (or better, depending on your point of view). I head to 7-11 and attempt to purchase a few chocolate bars before realizing I’d scooped up Mexican pesos from our change box. Because I don’t have enough Canadian currency for all the bars, I buy only one. The one I like best. On my way home I nibble slowly, face towards the sun, crunching on peanuts and sucking on caramel. I walk back and forth on my own block just so I can finish it before reaching home to dispose of the evidence. While the wrapper floats to the bottom of our garbage bin I slip in the back door and try to keep from smiling suspiciously.

***

The woman ahead of me in line watches while I nose my full cart into the cashier’s lane. It doesn’t take long before she meets my eye and launches into conversation.

“Did you hear about the baby that almost drowned? It was a car crash and the mother died but they found the baby, still strapped into its seat.”

I told her I hadn’t heard the story until now. Then she added, “It was alive,” as an afterthought. “How old is your baby?”

“Seven months.”

“Mmm… babies. So many things to worry about. Terrible things. The accidents that could happen… And then, when they get bigger–”

I’m not sure I want to hear more but I say, “It must get even harder as they get older.” I sense she’s just trying to make conversation, even though she sounds like a church bell ringing the death toll, because people do that. We say weird things, even offensive things, just because we’re clumsy at connecting.

Then the man in front of her jumps in and the next moment we’re not talking about tragedy anymore, but curling. The cashier gives her opinion on the Brier and the conversation veers again while the gentleman tells us exactly what he thinks about “those Albertans.” By the time I have my bags packed I feel like I’ve been at a local coffee shop. In the parking lot I see the man who was ahead of me in line and he waves and nods. Friendly places are like this, I think, where goodbyes are needed after standing in line with strangers at the grocery store.

***

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***

The meeting is getting long and there are no windows in the room. I’m wondering if the sun will still be shining by the time we leave when a man gets up to speak. At first I lean forward to pay attention and then I realize he’s not like “us”. Not normal. I try to appear engaged but inwardly I lose interest. His gestures are getting bigger now and he’s repeating his spiel for the fourth time. I look around the room and see some smiling patronizingly; others are starting to fidget. How long will they let this guy keep going? Who has the nerve to interrupt him? His words tumble out fast, like a train building momentum–unable to stop itself even if it wanted to. Then someone else clears his throat and without pausing starts speaking over the first guy. Immediately I feel uncomfortable, dreading the public awkwardness sure to follow. But it doesn’t. The new speaker directs his words to the one he just interrupted and they come like a long, cold drink of water. What you are saying is important. I understand you. We appreciate hearing this. Thank you for sharing. Everyone relaxes. Then we are clapping. A bit of grace.

***

These books:

  1. The Story-If you think the Bible is just for little girls in pretty dresses to carry under their arm on their way to Sunday School, read this. It’s all about bloodbaths, cowardly men and woman, feuding tribes, supernatural powers, and the ancient culture that still informs the lives of millions of us today. As I’ve read I’ve laughed aloud, cringed, and most of all, wanted to know more. Was Ruth’s heart pounding when she sneaked in to wake Boaz on the threshing floor? What exactly was Saul thinking while he cowered in the supplies closet to hide from those who wanted to crown him as king?
  2. Animal Dialogues-Beautiful essays that will make you want to trek in the wilderness for days on end.
  3. Bread of Angels-More Christian stuff that’s well-written enough you might enjoy it even if you’re not Christian. I’m reading it slowly, hoping I don’t reach the end of the book.

***

Before the girls leave for school they get the birthday chair ready for their dad. Presents are wrapped, balloons inflated, and seats are lined up so the audience can watch Stan’s expression as he opens each gift. He does not disappoint. The mushroom farm elicits smiles and curiosity; the pair of chopsticks, a bear hug; the four Coffee Crisps, many lavish thank-yous. It was just what they hoped for.

***

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A pleasant moment during a photo session in which I managed to bring at least two of my children to tears.

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Be well,

Tricia

 

One Little Vanilla Pudding; another way to look at sibling rivalry

I can hear their voices jabbing each other even though I’m at the other end of the house. Without looking into the kitchen, I picture the scene: one of them is standing on the counter, reaching into the highest shelf where we keep our snacks and processed lunch foods, swiping the last vanilla pudding. The other sister is dancing around the stool that has been pushed up to the counter, clutching her empty lunch kit and claiming the last pudding for herself. Of course there are granola bars, yogurt, crackers, apples, carrot sticks, sunflower seeds, oranges, and cheese available but that is irrelevant now. Now that everyone knows there’s only one pudding left. Now that there’s something to fight over.

Their arguing crescendos while I hunker over Vivi’s change table and decide to stay put. The lamplight throws soft shadows on her nursery walls while she sucks on her toes. I take my time, rubbing calendula salve on her bum cheeks then packaging them up in a diaper, and tickling her under her neck. No way do I want to leave my sanctuary and head out into the war zone now. Unfortunately, my daughters don’t wait; they bring the battlefront to me instead. I hear them come closer: stomp, stomp, stomp down the hall way. Loud shrieks. Names growled in exasperation. Su-S-A-A-A-N-na. Buh-L-É-É-É-n. Keeping my hands on Vivian, I balance on one foot and lean to shut the door with the other. It doesn’t help. In the next second they’re in the room, tripping over themselves and their words.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, NO,” I interrupt the onslaught of accusations. “I don’t want to hear it–”

“Butit’snotfairBeléntookthelastpuddingandIdon’tget–”

That Susanna. She’s good at getting the last word (or many words) in and interrupting. Almost as good as me.

“Get out of the room and work this out in the kitchen. By the time I come out I don’t want to hear one word. Not one! You can figure this out yourselves.”

And I mean it. I mean, I sound like I mean it but I’m not sure. Can they figure it out themselves? Are they able to? You might think it’s nothing; two sweet girls and one little vanilla pudding. What’s the big deal? Well it turns out that two sweet girls and one little vanilla pudding are a combustible combination. Explosive, actually, according to all the “YOU NEVERs” and “I ALWAYS” crackling in the air. I figure I may as well pretend to have confidence in them even if I’m doubtful. One of my favourite techniques is the ignore-it-til-it-goes-away approach. I could try to pass this off as parenting tool, but it’s more of an exhausted surrender. And quite honestly, I’m tired of channeling Marshall Rosenberg. Tired of posing questions like How are you feeling right now? Have you told your sister what you need? and trying to be a professional mediator. I reach over, shutting the door with my foot, again, and their voices recede to a background static.

Over the last few days we’ve been watching Twelve Angry Men. It’s an old black-and-white movie with lots of talking, no action, no ice castles or princesses, and no interesting scenery. In fact, the script is played out in a single room while twelve jurors argue around a table for the entire movie. Astonishingly, the girls love it–they even ask us to pause it when they have to go to the bathroom. At first I wondered if this was downright weird. Which kids are interested in watching somewhat incomprehensible dialogue between Henry Fonda and other, now long-dead, actors? Then I thought about their lives and the amount of time they spend convincing, accusing, complaining, and provoking each other. Perhaps they loved the film because they could relate so well. Or maybe because at the end of the story, all that fighting and arguing saves the day, or more specifically, saves somebody’s life.

It’s probably a stretch to draw a connection between the movie and our lives to redeem our own domestic conflicts. Mostly, I can’t foresee anything worthwhile resulting from all the nattering, much less anyone’s life being saved. And the main reason the girls (and their parents) argue is because it’s not easy to accommodate someone else’s ideas and egos when we’ve all got our own to nurse. But maybe a teeny, tiny part of their need to argue is wired in them for a purpose. To figure out how to negotiate, to persuade, to feel the resistance of another’s point of view–like a tiger cub wrestling with their sibling–and learn how far to take the fight. Just like play is actually a survival tool for children– necessary for brain growth and development, maybe so too is fighting. Could it be impossible to keep my daughters from arguing precisely because they need to build those skills?

About ten minutes after the shouting peaks during the pudding incident, Susanna unzips her backpack. She takes out her lunch kit and opens it up. There, in her lunch kit, sits an untouched pudding. A vanilla pudding. Just like the one they were fighting over.  Belén looks incredulous.

Susanna glances down and says, “Oh, that’s left over from yesterday. I don’t even like pudding.” As if that should explain it.

Belén looks even more incredulous.

Then Susanna adds quickly, “Oh, let’s not talk about that, I’m feeling jolly right now! Don’t even worry about it.”

Don’t even worry about it? Feeling jolly? Really? That’s it? That’s what a morning’s worth of conflict and angst boils down to? It’s so incredible I almost start another round of family fireworks. But I don’t. We’ve had enough of a show, and more than our share of skill-building, this morning.

 

 

Slippery Elm Lozenges and a Winter Holiday

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When I’m feeling healthy I don’t think about swallowing. I just do it. There, I did it again–without thinking or wincing. Isn’t it amazing how we appreciate even the simplest functions when our body isn’t working the way we are used to? When I have a cold, and daggers line my throat, I wonder how I could ever take good health for granted. Then I get better and forget all about it. Until the next virus shows up–when I’ll search my site to find this recipe again. These homemade cough drops soothe the throat, don’t contain refined sugars* or artificial colourings* like commercial lozenges, and are easy to make.

Recipe for Herbal Lozenges

1/2 cup slippery elm bark powder (mucilaginous herb useful for treating inflammations)
1 tablespoon cinnamon (an antibacterial and antiviral)
1/2 cup licorice root tea (treats sore throat and cough)
4 tablespoons of honey (for flavour and antibacterial qualities)

Boil water, brew licorice tea, and sweeten it with honey. (This tea is extremely sweet–be sure to taste a drop before you add it to see for yourself.) Mix with elm powder and cinnamon and shape into little balls. Keep some powder aside to help roll the dough (dip the balls in it while you are forming them) as it will be sticky. Place lozenges on a cookie sheet and leave to dry. You can dehydrate these or place in a warm oven to speed up the process. When they are dry they will not be as hard as conventional cough drops but they last just as long in the mouth.

Belén and I love the way these taste and eat them like candy. Susanna, on the other hand, won’t touch them. When I offered some of my last batch to Stan he responded with, “Do I have to?” I kind of don’t blame him, they look a lot like deer droppings. But they seem to help and that’s good enough for me.

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*Disclosure: I avoid all artificial colours and sugar unless they happen to be in Skittles, or anything else I want to eat. I’m also the kind of person who drinks my kombucha with hotdogs and potato chips. Just so you know.

***

We’re at the fiddle contest and I’m trying to jiggle Vivian to sleep at the back of the hall, when I spot two other little girls heading for the water fountain. Arms linked and tripping over each other’s winter boots they whisper and giggle, the way most nine-year-olds do. Except they’re doing it in French. Later when Belén and I are waltzing in the swirling crowd of dancers she hears it too. Young people, middle-aged people, and old people, all speaking the language of instruction at her school. And they’re doing it voluntarily. On the drive home from Winnipeg I ask the girls if they noticed it.

“Yes,” Belén says, “And I kept wondering why they were doing it when nobody was making them speak French.”

Which is one of the reasons we like to go to the Festival du Voyageur; so our girls can hear people singing, dancing, partying, and joking in French–a language they associate with math and science, teachers and textbooks. This time we went with my parents and made a little vacation of it, skating on the river, going to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, staying in a hotel and eating out.

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At the Museum for Human Rights. I love this picture of my dad and Vivian. My mom is to the right of my dad.

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Our favourite group at the festival–Bon Débarras

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I got them to look at me for the photo but they mostly entranced by the step-dancing on stage.

My parents at one of the Festival snow sculptures

The sky darkens and our bodies are starting to ache from the cold when the next singer comes on stage. She strums a few chords then yells out to the crowd, “If I were you, I’d have stayed home tonight!” The tents are warmed with huge propane heaters but we can still see our breath and can’t shake the chill of spending the day outside. A few more notes ring out from her guitar. “But I had to come because I’m playing!” The crowd laughs and claps with mittened hands. Soon we’ll go back to the hotel where I’ll run the hottest bath I can handle, the older girls will run back and forth between Grandma and Grandpa’s room and ours, Vivian will finally be able to nurse without distraction, and Stan can kick off his boots after accomplishing another day’s holiday. Which is a bit what it feels like as we get used to traveling with an infant again. She’s been mostly content but it’s not like we haven’t noticed her, and that’s good, but still harder. In Vivian’s defense, she hasn’t had much time to be a baby; like lollygag in her playpen or suckle in a quiet corner. There is too much at the museum to see, maple syrup taffy to taste, and too many miles to skate.

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My parents with B and S behind

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Skating on miles of river trails. They had wooden chairs outfitted with skis to give people a break:)

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Vivian is under that pile of plastic and blankets in the stroller.

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 Stay warm,

Tricia

Wanting-and-Well Wednesdays

My mother-in-law called the other day. She had gifts ready for my kids months ago but wanted to know if there was anything else they needed, or wanted, for Christmas. I racked my brain trying to think of something they might be lacking. I couldn’t think of one thing; not a single item they had been pining for or even something practical they could use. It seemed they had it all. Then we went to the store and everything changed.

I hadn’t been shopping in months. Stan is still on grocery duty so my only mercantile outings have been to the farmer’s market and the library. On this particular day I took Belén to the store so she could pick up the materials to make Susanna’s gift. (Inspired by this site, Belén is making My Dream Restaurant in a Box for her sister.) We thought all we needed was some card stock and tissue paper but when we started lacing through the aisles we found we needed more. Much more. Belén stopped to finger some furry booties that were just the kind of slippers she had “always wanted”. I started looking at picture frames and baskets and shelving and shoes and yarn and books and dishes. Then Belén appeared holding a cute agenda including a calendar and address book.

“Could I buy it mom? It’s only ten dollars!”

“For you?” I asked. “Remember we’re here to buy Christmas presents.” I put the baskets I had been eying for myself in the cart.

A moment later she showed me a lipstick holder with a mirror. I shook my head but started a mental list of items I would get later. It didn’t matter that Belén doesn’t wear lipstick, that she already has an address book, and her slippers from last year still fit; I wanted to get it all. After the lipstick holder, Belén dragged me over to an Elsa doll, the kind that flashes and sings “Let it Go” incessantly. Again, the urge to fulfill the desires of my sweet child’s heart washed over me. You know how it feels–that parental instinct, to provide and protect, on steroids. Sometimes it tricks us parents into thinking the best we can do for our kids is get them anything and everything they want. I stood there like this for quite some time. Well, okay, for about three seconds. Then I remembered they don’t really play with barbies …and I imagined the look on my husband’s face when I’d show him the piece of warbling plastic. I also remembered watching Must-have Monday on TV at the doctor’s office earlier in the week.

It crossed my mind then, while waiting for the doctor’s appointment, that we should have a day to remind us it’s okay not to get everything on our must-have lists. That we can appreciate beauty and innovation (for some this will come in the form of a plastic Elsa doll) without owning it. That getting all our must-haves doesn’t make this season, or any other, more magical. In fact, it might not increase our happiness at all. Maybe we could call this day Wanting-and-Well Wednesday to remind us our well-being doesn’t correspond to getting everything we want. And that it’s okay to sit with a want for awhile and still be happy. Perhaps next Wednesday, being Christmas Eve and all, isn’t the best day to introduce the idea. Or maybe it’s the perfect time.* What do you think?

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As for more homey news, we’ve been skiing and laughing. Or rather, we’ve been skiing and Vivian’s learned to laugh. Stan and I have taken turns with the older girls the last few nights to go skiing in the dark. We read this book last winter so now the girls pretend they’re Norse children as we sail under the winter sky. Vivi’s pulk isn’t quite ready yet so she’s had to stay at home to work on her laugh. Her first belly-rumble happened last week when she was watching the girls dance in the kitchen. Since then our house has turned into the set of a musical with the plot line of Get Vivi to laugh. She’s been very responsive to everyone’s theatrical attempts and rewarded us all just enough so we keep on trying. This morning I woke her up early just so she could see the girls before they left for school, and perhaps get some giggles in. Susanna breathed in her milky breath, kissed her sleepy cheeks then turned to me and said,

“Vivian is like the old people in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and we’re Charlie. You know how the grandparents’ only reason for living was Charlie? Well we’re like that for Vivian.”

And then Vivi did this sort of kicky dance in my arms as if to say she agreed. I think Susanna might be right.

Tricia

*In case you’re worried, be assured the girls’ stockings will be filled to the brim on Christmas morning.