View From The Glen

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Shopping Part III


Christmas Eve morning finds you at the grocery store – where you will know the psychotic shopping has finally gotten out of hand as you stare wildly at a stand of pomengranates and wonder if you should get some for emergencies. Emergency what, exactly? Sure. Get a box of pomengranates and do the same thing with them as you did with the five emergency tubes of chestnut puree you bought last year at this time. Nothing – until you find them exploded at the back of your fridge in February! This is what Christmas boils down to – you and the other shoppers with their own emergency pomengranates eyeing each other warily as you cut each other off at the checkout.

Time to get a grip. Admit you are not Martha Stewart. Let go of the perfection. Let go of that pomengranate – you are not going to concoct a craft or elegant cocktail out of it. Put it down and move away from your cart. Buy milk. Eggs. Coffee. Cereal. Vegetables. And breathe. Go home, and enjoy a glass of wine by the sparkling lights of your tree with your family. Feel blessed. If you haven’t got it, you don’t need it. Merry Christmas!

to be continued...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Shopping Part II


A babysitter later, you are at Toys R Us, with about a million other zombie eyed, frazzled parents wandering aimlessly up and down primary coloured rows of toy upon toy upon toy, listening to Christmas With The Chipmunks, and trying to figure out just how many batteries you need to invest in after your purchases are made.

But ladies and gentlemen, don’t get home with your carload and gifts and sink thankfully into a chair. You still have to wrap them and tomorrow the real shopping starts. You still have to go to the Beer Store, the LCBO, the Florist for the centerpiece, the post office to pick up the parcels you forgot to pick up last week, the drug store for extra wrapping paper and ribbon, and maybe a bottle of pepto bismal for the tummy aches that are bound to occur, and – last stop – the grocery store.

to be continued...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmas Shopping Part I

Ah - the Christmas season. A time of peace, love, joy. Also a time of psychotic shopping.

The psychotic shopping always starts innoculously enough – a day browsing gently, swaying through the aisles of department stores picking up perfect gifts as you see them. Subtly, the days progress and the pace increases as you realize you have gifts for your sister, your mom and your best friend, but nothing for great-uncle Albert, or your husband’s snarky cousin Mildred.

With the hardest gifts yet to get, you steel yourself to take a precious Saturday – when you should be picking out a tree with your family – to brave the malls, and at the end of a trying, frustrating day when you have given up and bought them both toasters with an uncharitable “If they don’t like them, tough!” attitude – you get home, marvel at the tree and feel your heart sink at the realization that the “fun and easy” shopping for the kids you allowed yourself to put off until later, still needs to be done.

to be continued...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bravo! A Christmas Concert

'Tis the season ...for school Christmas concerts!
Oh, the good old hockey game, is the best game you can name
And the best game you can name, is the good old hockey game...
You know - that time of year when we parents cram ourselves into pint sized chairs in a school gymnasium and watch our offspring sing, dance and entertain their way through an evening of songs and skits.
Even the most cynical have to admit that despite muffled voices, serious faces, the odd case of stage fright, and the helpful whispers of teachers from the wings, school concert nights are delightful. There is unbridled innocence and exhuberance about the younger grades and the older grades manage to infuse Christmas meaning into their rap performance leaving you believing there is hope for the future.
Here are the apples which fall from the tree...
We took the kids' great-grandmother with us, and she loved every moment of it. She waved at all the children on stage, and many of them waved back. She clapped with the music, before the music, after the music, and sporadically during the music, and often, some of those sitting around her would clap too as if in support. She had a wonderful evening.
Yee haw,'s a cowboy Christmas
(doesn't he look happy?)
We are lucky at our school to have a marvelous band, and the quality of the music was one of the highlights of the evening.
And at the end of the concert, we were able to say with pride, Bravo!
Until next year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Haiku

Silent falls the snow

like a white velvet embrace

over all the land

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Let it snow! - But stay safe when driving.

We had a storm yesterday. Got home in the dusk to a drifted driveway and windswept fields, and made it inside the house just as the freezing rain started to fall, turning everything glacial.

I could have skated across the yard.

The dog had icicles on her whiskers.

Those who live in warmer climes where this doesn't happen - good decision!

Fellow northerners, it's time to rethink what we carry in our cars.

I could easily have got stranded last night. If not then, today, during the perilous drive to work on ice-encrusted roads. And if/when that happens you need to have supplies. Not just the usual snow scraper/shovel/booster cable/first aid kit either.

This is what I put in my car this morning (I had a spare 20 minutes while waiting for the defroster to actually get the inch thick layer of ice off the front and side windows):
  • blankets;
  • flashlight with extra batteries;
  • knife;
  • high-calorie, non-perishable food;
  • extra clothing to keep dry (including hat, socks and mitts, not gloves);
  • sack of sand (or cat litter);
  • tow rope;
  • water container with water;
  • brightly colored cloth to use as a flag;
  • keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.

And one more thing - keep your car filled with gas.

Other Works for Me posts of a sunnier and happier nature can be found at

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Picking the Tree

Picking the perfect Christmas tree is a ritual that should not be rushed.

I can say that even though we were in and out of the bush where we found our tree within an hour. That included the sleigh ride there and back, and the hot chocolate at Sanata's shack afterward.

But then, we've got it down to a fine art.
The trick is deciding ahead of time what kind of tree is required. Which basically means Pine or Spruce. Spruce is perfect with it's sturdy branches for hanging ornaments, but I am a sucker for the long soft needles of the Pine tree. Also, I find that Pines look more rounded, and I love fat trees.

The second trick is in knowing whether you want tall and slender (read elegant) or full and bushy. This may be determined by the size of room you have.

And finally, knowing the height you require is essential. Andrew is 6'3" and we have 8' ceilings in the farmhouse, so we look for a tree that is no taller than the top of his fingers when he holds his arm up over his head. (This is easier that taking a tape measure out, though that works too). You'd think this was a no-brainer, but plenty of people get their tree home only to find it is much bigger than they thought and have to start lopping bits off the end to make them fit (right, Dad?). This is because trees tend to look a lot smaller out of doors.

Once you know the size and shape and kind of tree you want, you just need to look around and make sure the one you pick doesn't have any gaping holes anywhere. Trial and error has shown that you can spend hours in the snow debating between trees, and all that happens is you end up with the one you were debating when you finally realised your toes were cold.

So we skip all that angst now, and take the first or second that we look at that meets the criteria. Fit in a rousing snowball fight and the obligatory pictures, and then we take it home, and spend our time and energy debating more important things.

Like angel or star. Coloured lights of white. That sort of thing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Old Fashioned Tree Lighting

We went to our local small town tree lighting and carol sing on Friday night. The kids all participated with the Scouting group, and when they weren't singing, they ran around with their mates from school.
The lights sparkled and twinkled. The night was cold but clear. The Scouts served hot chocolate. The community gathered and we sang songs.
It kind of felt the way Christmas is supposed to feel.
The way it hardly ever does anymore in these days of consumer madness and rushe. It was nice to slow down and savour the moment.

What is he doing?

My son is one smart cookie. He has a fantastic imagination, an amazing memory, and a keen interest in the world around him.

Perhaps too keen an interest in the world around him, judging by what he was doing on the weekend.
I happened to glance out the window.

What is he doing?
Is he feasting?
On snow?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Inflatable Christmas

If the children are with me, I put off going to Canadian Tire this time of year. This is because outside the door is one or more of those huge, inflatable Christmas “decorations” (and I use the term loosely). Whether it’s Frosty the Snowman, or a bubble of swirling snow with Santa on his sleigh inside it (like some captured prize of a Narnia-like evil despot), or (this one makes me grit my teeth) a Santa Homer Simpson (WHO ON EARTH thinks that is Christmassy?) – they all just make me want to run screaming. And yes, I have been known to turn away from a store just because these monstrous things are up.

The children, however, love these things. Look! They play music. Look! Santa pops up out of the chimney. Look! It’s magic. And the inevitable request. Can we get one? Please? Pleeeeaaase?


Maybe it’s my conservative nature. I like decorating with fairy lights and greenery, red bows and silver balls. I can admire home-made ornaments and paper chains strung from the ceiling, cotton wool bearded popsicle Santa’s and clothes-peg based Rudolphs. Bring it all on, and I revel in it.

But not inflatable Santas that sit in the middle of the yard waving and bopping merrily to all and sundry during the evening, and then spend their days in a crumpled heap of plasticated defeat –a sad sodden puddle of Christmas decoration waiting to be plugged back in so it can wobble and wave once more.

However much I dislike these grossly overdone figures, for reasons I cannot fathom they have become a staple of the Christmas landscape, much as the giant plastic candles were a staple of my childhood Christmas memories (for the record, I never liked them much either!).

Oh yes, they make a big, bold statement. But I so prefer the neighbour’s house down the street with its miniature reindeer lit up with twinkling white lights.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Old Christmas Card

There's an old Christmas card
In an old dusty trunk
And it brings back sweet memories
Dear to me...
- Jim Reeves -

I'm not one of those people who starts to celebrate Christmas in November. My mother (who puts her tree up Nov 30, and this year managed to sneak it up a week earlier than that) berates me for it with such ammunition as "Your brother will have his tree up by now," but I happily ignore it all beacause for me it is enough to celebrate Christmas for the whole of December.
My tree goes up around the 6-10 of December, and the decorations inside and out at the same time.
I even prefer to Christmas shop in December, although I do online ordering in November to ensure delivery, and I like to have a list drawn up as completely as possible.

But the one thing Christmassy that I do love to do in November is Christmas Cards. I love the tradition of sending cards to old friends and new. The children and I make some for family as well, and have a great time being creative and witty with them where possible.

I don't do Christmas letters any more, but I do make sure to handwrite a small note in each card, particularly to those people I don't keep in touch with regularly through the year, but who it is nonetheless nice to keep in touch with at Christmas.

My cards are ready to go now. I just have to pop them in the mail. Now it feels like Christmas is around the corner.
Another week or so and I may even let the kids sing Christmas songs!
Below are some of the farm-related cards we've made in past years;
1. This is our bull, Hughie.

2. This is our llama and a couple of sheep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When Did She Get So Tall?

We were sitting at dinner the other night and Grace asked for some bread and butter.

I'll get it, Anna said.

I've seen them do it a hundred times. We leave a little footstool in the kitchen so that the girls can reach the bottom shelves of the upper cupboards.

(And incidentally so that I can reach the upper shelves of the upper cupboards).

So I was taken aback on glancing over to see her casually reaching into the cupboard for the bread, with both feet planted firmly on the floor.

She's all long legs and spindly arms. When did she get so tall?

I knew Erik was tall. He always has been for his age. But last time I checked Anna could not reach into the cupboard with that kind of natural ease. She is the smaller one. The little one. She even seems little compared to her younger sister who outweighs her despite the difference in their height.

And I looked over at her, confidently dropping a piece of bread and butter on her sister's plate, and launching into a discussion about tasmanian devils with her brother and father. She's not only taller, but maturing too. She wants an I-Pod, and she gets telephone calls for heaven's sake!

Grace, swinging her legs under the table, and poking Erik while smiling at me beatifically is still a little girl. But all of a sudden, Anna has grown up. And I see it with a mingling of pride and sadness.

But then after dinner she comes and snuggles up on my lap for a story, and as I brush the hair out of her eyes I smile. She's still my little girl for now. At least some of the time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On the fly

At 7:29 on Friday morning, the car wouldn't start. It wasn't even trying to start - barely even a click as I turned the key. And Andrew wasn't around the farm this morning to help me out.

What are we going to do, Mom? asked 7 year old Anna. I glanced down the quarter mile of driveway to that distant point where we meet the school bus. Under normal circumstance (ie: the car starting), I drive the kids down the lane, and see them safely aboard before continuing to work.

Usually we were a minute or two early. Sometimes we got there just as the bus did and piled out of the car in a tangle of children and bookbags.

We had already idled away a good 45 seconds turning the key in a desperate hope that the car would spontaineously burst into life. And if we missed the bus, I would be trying to get the car fixed with kids in tow, instead of packing them safely off to school while I dealt with the problem.

If a driveway is a quarter mile long and it takes three children an average of 15 minutes to walk a mile.....oh never mind. This was no time for calculations.

Run! I shouted. Run!

They were out of the car and down the lane, backpacks slung over their shoulders. I followed but in my black heeled boots was quickly outrun by the three of them as they hurtled down the driveway.

I shouted after them: Have a great day. Don't stop. Good luck on your spelling tests. You're half way there. Keeep Moooving!

And when they reached the apple tree 20 feet from the gate I breathed a sigh of relief. They'd make it now.

Great job, I yelled, though I doubt they could hear me.

I watched the bus arrive. Erik turned and waved - a wave of jubilation, of achievement - as the three of them prepared to get on board.

Then I went inside, put on a pot of coffee, and started to make some phonecalls.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Salmon in Beurre Blanc

The Just Be dinner party

Wrap a head of garlic in foil and pop into a 400 celsius oven, along with medium, scrubbed, baking potatoes. Remove garlic after 40 mins and let cool. Leave potatoes for 20 more minutes or until cooked.

Slice off potato tops and scoop out centres. Squeeze roasted garlic into potato and mash with butter or sour cream, 1/4 c grated cheddar, some dijon, and spoon back into potato shells. Grate cheese on top and bake an additional 15 minutes or until heated through.

Beurre Blanc
Take 1/4 c dry white wine and 1/4 c white wine vinegar. Add finely minced shallots and bring to boil over high heat. Simmer until reduced by half (about 6 minutes). Add 3-4 tbsp whipped cream, and whisk in 4-8 tbsp butter 1tbsp at a time, until smooth and velvety. (Do not let boil - it should be the consistency of a creamy hollandaisse sauce.). Add a couple of drops of fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Season salmon fillets if desired. Poach in white wine and garlic until flaky. (I like to poach and then crisp the outside in a fry pan).

Serve salmon with beurre blanc, vegetable of choice, and potato.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Be - Part II

Just Be. That was my mandate.

What does that mean to you?

To me, in the two hours I had, it meant this.

Cooking. I love being in the kitchen, chopping and sauteing, reducing and creating. Not the daily grind kind of cooking, but the truly creative kind that turns out a sublime meal.

Reading. No brainer. I just returned a half dozen books to the library that I had renewed once but somehow still never had time to read. Shameful. I was going to read something in my two hours.

Silence. This, after all, was the point. To take away some of the noise that surrounds me 24/7.

Music. This is not as contradictory as it sounds. After the silence, music. It's good for the soul. But my music. Not anyone elses tonight.

There were lots of other things I could have picked. Writing. A bath. Walking the dog. Playing my guitar. But I did only have 2 hours.

So wrapped in my plaid, the dog and I sat outside in the crisp silence of a velvet night and looked up at the stars. Then I got out salmon and various other ingredients, put on some music (Rita MacNeil), and did some prep cooking like wrapping a head of garlic in foil and popping it in the oven with the potatoes.

Now I had 40 minutes to do whatever I wanted. I took a glass of chablis and my December Canadian Living magazine that has just arrived into the living room and read until the timer went off.

Then it was back to finish the salmon and stuff the potatoes, and whip up a decadent beurre blanc sauce, finishing off just as the headlights of the van flashed into the driveway at 8pm.

Once the kids were in bed, Andrew and I sat down to a candlelit dinner.

I felt restored. The power of being able to just be.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Be - Part I

I had a moment in work the other day where I suddenly got overwhelmed. Not just by work, which is exceptionally busy right now. But also with Christmas coming, commitments I have made, plans I have yet to finalize. I got up, got water, stretched, and was able to regroup very quickly. But that night I didn't sleep all that well.

And so Andrew (being an attentive sort of husband) decreed that I needed a night off. Not just off, but alone. Because I realised that one thing I never get is alone time. From the time Lady (the dog) sticks her cold wet nose into my back at 0615, quickly followed by two Pajama clad little girls who tumble into bed for morning snuggles before the news means it's time to get up, to the day at work interacting and meeting and socializing at lunch, to coming home to the multi-tasking hour of dinner, homework, kitchen tidying, and getting ready for whatever activity is scheduled that night, to making lunches, and getting to bed at a reasonable hour....well, there isn't much opportunity to be by myself.

Not that I want to be by myself. I love the craziness of family life madly and wouldn't ever give it up. But my husband is perceptive enough to see that sometimes a night alone is just what the doctor ordered.

In this case, a whole night was impossible.

But, said Andrew, I will take the girls to Beavers on Thursday night, and Erik can come with me. We'll go to the library. That will give you almost 2 hours by yourself.

There were some rules. I was not allowed to do housework. Or catch up on phone calls. Or organize anything.

Just Be. In the moment.

Doing whatever it was that made me happy.

Just Be.

All Creatures Great & Small

When I was very young, we sang this hymn in school. When I was about 1o, I was given an audio tape of the James Herriot books, and must have listened to them a hundred times or more. After that I read the books, and still read the books on a very regular basis. And now, Andrew and I have got ourselves the TV series on DVD and are enjoying an hour a week in the Yorkshire Dales with James, Siegfried, Tristan, and the animals great (cattle and sheep) and small (dogs and cats).

Before I realised chemistry was not my forte, of course I wanted to be a vet. But life has a funny way of giving us what we desire most and so I find myself not a vet, but with animals that need care. I get to watch the lambs being born, catch and innoculate piglets and sheep, chase cows across a muddy field, laugh at the innumerable amusing moments that happen. and feel helpless when there is nothing else you can do. All Creatures Great...I have them in spades.

And All Creatures Small..?

I noticed last night that I can make my dog's tail wag a mile a minute just by looking at her. When I look away, it stops again. When I glance over, it wags tentatively. When I look right at her ...Wag, wag, waggity, wag.

Nice to be so loved.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


This weekend there is nothing on. No dinner party, no visitors, no hiking in the rain with the local Beaver troop. It's too late to have to do gardening, and too early to think about Christmas.

Sounds like a perfect weekend to do nothing at all.

Friday, November 7, 2008

More Haiku

I sat in the park yesterday and composed this.

Dry rustle on wind
seagull cries over water
mindful, peaceful day

I gazed beyond the park to see a church on the horizon.

Spire rises to sky
At a distance still it makes
Hearts soar heavenward

All of this from my sturdy stone bench, where so many people must have sat over the years.

Stone benches in park
Look out over still, calm lake
What truths they must know

And finally, I looked down, and was hit by a blinding truth of my own - on this beautiful afternoon, all the world was in harmony except my socks.

Nature's rich palette
Except one mis-taken pair
of jarring blue socks

Not all haiku's need to be serious!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Last Leaf

While the weather holds, I walk at lunchtime with a friend.

Down this path...

The leaves crinkle under our feet. The sound of laughing children echoes from a nearby playground. Crisp air and blue skies almost make you forget the fleeeting nature of the season.

Until today. When we saw this...

The last leaf. Clinging tenaciously to a branch.

Fall's fading glory.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Remember remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

On the drive back from Ottawa last Saturday morning, the kids hyper in the back seat from the Hallowe’en candy-laced breakfast they had, they wanted me to tell stories. Now I know Little Red Riding Hood, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, but today they wanted true stories.

So we went through Mom’s greatest true story bank. Everything from the time Uncle Barry got a nosebleed and bled all over the bathroom, to King Richard II and the War of the Roses. But finally they clamoured for something new.

So I did what any good mother would do. I told them something new. And this time as my subject I chose Guy Fawkes, and told them how (back when I was a kid…) we celebrated Hallowe’en and then immediately began preparations for the even bigger event of November 5th: Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night. I told them about how in 1605 a group of men under the guidance of the luckless Guy Fawkes tried to blow up parliament, but how Fawkes, standing guard over the gunpowder was instead caught and charged with treason.

And how we English subsequently used to commemorate the night by building great big bonfires in tiny back yards, where, with much joie-de vivre and frivolity, we would bake potatoes in the fire, set off fireworks, and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes. Even as I was telling them the tradition, it sounded somewhat sordid. Surely there is something wrong in pretending to burn a human on a huge bonfire..?

The kids of course loved the story in all its gruesomeness. And in their enthusiasm, I found myself agreeing that it would be a great idea to have a bonfire tonight, November 5th. After all the yard clearing we did last weekend, I have a nice big pile of leaves to burn.

I hope the kids aren’t too disappointed that we won’t have a “guy” to burn!

Of politics and barnyards

Woo-hoo - a double header today!

Of Politics
Barack Obama won the US Presidential election last night in an election that was both more tedious (so long) and yet way more exciting and relevant than the recent Canadian fiasco. Although I’m not American, it’s hard not to follow what’s going on in what is arguably the most powerful country in the world, so I wasn’t too surprised to hear the results this morning.

Good for Obama. (As an aside - I was also very impressed with the gracious and forward-looking speech McCain made in the wake of his defeat.)

Obviously I can’t speak for most Canadians, but as a Canadian, I feel the democrats in general, and Obama in particular, are a lot closer to our ideal of a politician. In fact, at this point, I think he’s probably closer to the Canadian ideal than is our current Canadian Prime Minister – and that’s saying something. For the first time ever, I’m more excited about US politics than the plodding politics of our own country, which seem sad and weary at both ends of the political spectrum.

Haiku for Canadian Politics 2008
No vision, no spark
To fire up our people’s hearts
And move us forward

Of Barnyards
Anyhow, that’s all the time I have for politics today – much more pressing things to think about…like how the sheep escaped this morning, which meant I had to chase them across the fields (wearing rather unsuitable shoes, I might add) and back into our meadow. More to the point, why would they escape?

I know it’s a classic case of the grass always being greener, but all the green grass, not to mention their hay and water, was on this side of the fence, and all that was on that side of the fence were old combined stalks of nothing. What were you thinking? I shouted at them, as I stumbled after them wishing (not for the first time) that we had a sheepdog and not a lazy Labrador who I knew had seen us leave and was most likely curled up on the sofa or one of the kids beds.

But the sheep just gazed back unblinking at me.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


We are all busy. Life is busy. Especially life with young children. But my friend Melissa shared with us one of the things she's been doing recently to put herself in the moment.


She claims it grounds her, makes her aware of a small moment in time, and I was so inspired I could hardly wait to try it.

She told us at a book club meeting, and when I got home to find my husband fast asleep (well, it was almost midnight), I immediately composed my first of a series.

He sleeps in darkness
Awaiting the late return
Of me, his sweetheart.

That felt good. Creative even. And simple (which is the true beauty of Haiku). I tried it again on the weekend, putting aside my book to watch the kids jumping in a pile of raked leaves

Coppery leaves snap
Voices echo on the wind
Racing, laughing joy

And thought I'd make one up for school council tonight:

Parents heed the call
Look to what the future brings
To our children's school

And finally, a haiku about the power of haiku, and what it means to me:

Timeless moment caught
And gilded like a frozen
Snowflake in a frame

It's addictive, actually. And simple but not easy to find the right words. But Melissa was right - it does make you aware of the moment, and I really liked that.

Re-reading books

I have been keeping track of the books I read this year to see if I can make it to 50. I just passed the 50 goal so yay for me, but what is more interesting (at least from my point of view) is that out of the 50 books I have read this year, almost half of them are books I have read before, many of them more than once, and some of them ... well, let's just say I have a problem, maybe even an obsession, with a certain character, and leave it at that.

So what's with the re-reading? I mean, there are so many books to read, and never enough time - you'd think I'd plough onward through the pages of new books, broadening my horizons and expanding my outlook. I have a list as long as my arm of books I want to read, and I add to it all the time. Yet, when it comes down to it, all too often I find myself reaching for something familiar, and what I'm wondering is what does this say about me?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My not-so-sweet daughter

My youngest is going to be a fairy for Hallowe'en, and has been dancing around the house in this...

Oh, she's so adorable. All sweetness and light.

Or so I thought.

But then..."I painted a picture for Hallowe'en," she told me.

Oh yes, what is it?

It's a bat," she said. "It's an Exploded Bat. "

Eww. Not so sweet then.

What can I say? She's five!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Taking Stock

My daughter was upset the other day because she came home from school with an interim report that was – in her eyes – not good enough. After taming the perfectionist in her, I pointed out that this report was not her report card, was not her final mark. No – it was merely an indicator to show her – and her parents – how she was doing. If you hadn’t seen this, I said, you wouldn’t know how you were doing. But now, you can look at your work and decide if you need to put in more effort in a specific area to reach the goals you set for yourself.

In short, it was her first experience in taking stock.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life came with an interim report? If the hand of God could reach down and hand you a piece of parchment every decade or so.

Family, mothering, work – all satisfactory; Health & fitness – could be improved; Household management – exceeds expectations (for a mother, that means the kids make the school bus 9/10 times); Learning to say No – way below standard. Comments: Not bad, but you need to work on achieving a better balance.

Sadly, there is no parchment in the sky. Taking stock is something we have to do for ourselves.

Some people do this automatically on a birthday or at the start of a new year. For some people it sneaks up and then one day you look closely in a mirror and say “Whoa! How did I get here? And where did those grey hairs come from?” For others it comes with, or as a consequence of, change. Change in employment, in a relationship, in life circumstances.

Whatever the catalyst, taking stock is quite literally about reflecting on who you are, how you got to where you are, and where you are going. Miss any one of those three critical steps and you’re not truly taking stock – past, present and future are inter-twined in this process.

When Socrates said that the unexamined life was not worth living, I think he meant that reflection gives meaning to a life. Too many people rush through their lives unquestioning. There is no time to ask themselves if they are where they want to be, if they have learnt something in the past, or if the path they are on is one that makes them happy. Sitting down occasionally and taking stock is a valuable and peaceful exercise. It’s not about blame It’s not about regret. It’s about honest assessment and goalsetting. About allowing your experience and your spirit to re-connect each with the other. And about giving yourself breathing space in the rush of day-to-day activities – white space in which to redefine who you are, and more importantly, who you want to be.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Morning Commute

I saw a dog this morning on my commute to work.

One of the things I love about living in the country is that the dog was the only other traffic I encountered for the first 15 km of my 18km drive. One lone dog sniffing his way down the grassy verges of the graveled roadway.

The morning commute for me is twelve minutes of serenity. Every drive gives me something new at which to marvel, whether it is the fog in the hills, the sun-tipped haybales lying in a shadowed field, or the light breaking through the copse of maples at the end of the lane.

The countryside wakes up gently and it makes me happy to be part of it all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Sharp Mind

A couple of weeks ago I got almost all the way home before remembering that I had to pick my youngest daughter up from day care. It was, of course, a day when I was already in a rush, so we sped back into town to get her, and ate at Dairy Queen before speeding back to the school for the first council meeting of the year.

How could this happen, you ask?

Easy. I was preoccupied, and was thinking so many steps ahead that I forgot one critical one.

Fortunately, I was only 15 minutes late when all is said and done, the day care was very understanding, and Grace was more than mollified by the offering of french fries and ice cream.

But it made me realize that the sharp mind I once prided myself on in university debates is slipping a bit. Maybe even unraveling. They say this happens to mothers all the time, as, let’s face it, we are usually thinking about a hundred different things at any given moment. Forgetting to pick up Grace was merely the catalyst that forced me to change my ways.

I went out and bought a notebook. Small but chubby, it fits in my purse in between my wallet and my novel-to-go . Now I write things down. Daily. Get dogfood. Book eye exams. RSVP for birthday party. Call Mom. Swimming tomorrow.

And on Tuesdays, written very boldly. PICK UP GRACE.

A blunt pencil is better than a sharp mind, after all.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dog-Gone Sheep

The dog wasn’t happy this morning. She raced happily down the steps, came face to face with our four-horned ram, Sir Poppy, and whirled back into the house. Then she sat at the French door balefully glaring out at her yard, where a flock of sheep and one llama nonchalantly grazed.

This happens every fall – Andrew lets the animals out of the paddock into the garden area for a couple of days where they clean up the juicy leftovers from summer, helpfully fertilizing the garden into the bargain before we rototill everything and put it to bed for the season. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. Except the dog, who prefers her sheep stay on the other side of the fence.

Well, Lady, you’ll just have to learn to share. They live here too.

Speaking of sheep, I read Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann recently. I like mysteries, and I have a meadow full of unusual breed sheep – two excellent reasons to read this novel featuring a flock of wooly sheep detectives – led by Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in Glenkill – trying to discover who killed their shepherd. As a mystery plot, it was engaging enough – though not without weaknesses – but the charm of the sheep was enough to keep me riveted. Delightful, quirky and entertaining.

Just don’t tell the sheep. I may let them share the yard for a few days, but I’m not planning on reading them stories on a regular basis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thanksgiving 2

On Friday night, the day before I hosted our family thanksgiving, I was a bit wound up. It has been a busy week, and I was tired and had not had time to make some of the dishes I had planned ahead of time. I took a deep breath, and relaxed, remembering an old Manx folksaying my grandmother used to say: Traa-dy-liooar, which translates as “Time Enough.”

Early on Saturday, as I took the turkey out of its brine, popped it in the oven, and turned to face the pile of carrots and potatoes for peeling, I got to thinking how easy it was to forget that the things we complain about are the very things for which we should be thankful. And I began to restructure my thoughts in a way much more in tune with the holiday we celebrated. By the time I was done, I felt not stressed but blessed, and sat outside with a mug of tea listening to the happy shouts of the children.

I am thankful for being too busy all week to prepare, for it means I have an active, healthy family; I am thankful to be hosting a great feast for it means we have loved ones coming to share our day; I am thankful for the pile of potatoes and vegetables to peel for it means we have plenty to eat; and I am thankful for the wisdom of grandmothers and their ancient proverbs for putting everything in perspective. Time Enough for everything, indeed.


Thanksgiving might just be my favourite holiday of the year. Not just because of the beauty of the season, but also because it seems so natural this time of year to get together with family and share a meal.

We had two thanksgivings this year. Lucky us.

One last weekend at my brother Paul’s cottage up near Madoc with my family. I think there were 20 of us jammed into the cottage with its lovely view of a lake, but if it was chaos it was the best sort (See picture - Where will we all sit?).

My favourite part was sitting on the dock with my two sisters-in-law, Jasmine and Melissa, sipping a glass of red wine and talking about – what else? – the kids (My three, Jasmine’s 16 year old son, Peter, and Melissa’s 8 year old daughter, Emma), while back at the cottage, my sister Michelle and sister-in law Marion supervised their babies (with the help of Nana), the kids ran riot outside with the dogs, and the menfolk gathered around the barbecue where Paul rotisseried a quartet of chickens for dinner.

The other Thanksgiving was with the other half of my family at our farmhouse on Saturday. Andrew’s parents and grandmother came down, along with his brother & family – Dave, Bronwen and my adorable 2 year old niece, Orria. We had a traditional turkey with all the trimmings, and went on a hay wagon ride (See picture - Gram and her great-grandchildren)down nearby Butternut Lane, which was awash in colour. We spent the afternoon outside flying kites and running around, before heading back inside for dessert and coffee.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I am Elinor Dashwood

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

It was a weak moment.

I saw the quiz and pshawed it.

Not ten minutes later I was back taking it

Which Austen heroine am I?

According to the quiz results, I am Elinor Dashwood.

This is what it said:

“You are Elinor Dashwood of Sense & Sensibility! You are practical, circumspect, and discreet. Though you are tremendously sensible and allow your head to rule, you have a deep, emotional side that few people often see.”

As she happens to be one of my favourite Austen heroines, I’m quite pleased with the result. But it makes me wonder if I like her character because there are similiarities between us? Or whether I subconsciously painted myself as Elinor in the quiz, choosing responses that she would choose. I did the quiz again, trying to be more subjective, and still got the same answer.

So it must be true. I am Elinor.

And I’m glad. I wouldn’t have minded being Elizabeth Bennet either. But I’m glad I’m not Fanny Price –never liked her much.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Fall, Glorious Fall

I know I already blabbed on about why I love fall, but let me add a few details.

Like this...
And this...
And this - fall hikes are the best.

Why I Love Thursday!

All week it's Go Go Go.

But on Thursday, there's one thing I don't have to do...

This is the view of the inside of my oven. I have just walked in the door, and dinner is already done.

I love to cook - but have to admit it's nice sometimes to come home and have nothing to do but fall into an armchair with a cup of tea.

Farm Fries

  1. Scrub potatoes and slice thickly . Cut into wedges.
  2. Toss with some oil.
  3. Sprinkle with Chicken Stock mix/cube
  4. Bake 350 degrees for 30-40 mins, flipping over occasionally.

*Note: When I make these, I skip the chicken stock mix/cube, and instead add rosemary or thyme to the oil before tossing the potatoes. It seems healthier, but the stock mix is addictively good, especially if you follow a belgium tradition and dip the fries in mayo. Mmm. (Warning: This method is not recommended for health nuts, dieters or people with high cholesterol)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Attacking With Bitterness

I get my news off the internet. CBC. The Times Online. Other sources I come across. It’s much better for me than a newspaper – which half the time I couldn’t read – and I don’t have TV. I do listen to the radio, but find the sound bites never quite enough.

Although sometimes the quality of the reporting seems lacking – the blame of which lies, I believe, in the nature of the internet where getting news out fast sometimes gets in the way of getting it our accurately - overall, I feel pretty well informed.

The comment sections are something else though. Not just comments about news stories, but comments on various forums that I sometimes view.

Vitriolic. Angry. And often ill-written into the bargain. There is no intelligent exchange of ideas going on; nor is there even a spicy debate. It’s just badmouthing what someone else says and violently spewing your own views as gospel.

Charles Darwin once said (in a letter to J Brodie Innes in 1878) that, “there is no reason why the disciples of either school should attack each other with bitterness.” He was talking about science and religion, but he could as well have meant anything. Climate change versus a natural cycle. Conservatives vs Liberals. Even mundane news items like recommending children under 4 not take certain medication seem to bring out opposed spit & foam parties that hurl verbal abuse at one another with contempt and, yes, with bitterness.

Surely the benefit of a forum like the internet provides is to can learn from each other, hear different opinions and grow our understanding of issues that are important to us. And there are those out there who do just that. Unfortunately the bile and fury of others make reading the comments something I prefer not to do anymore. Which is a shame, as it’s a lost opportunity for all of us.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Piling Up The Grocery Cart

I was reading this blogpost about the rising cost of food. ET says she spends $700-$800 monthly on food for her family of 7, and wonders what she’s doing wrong, because so many people seem to spend less than that.

Just so you know, ET, I’m not one of them.

We easily fall into that category. For our family of five, I shop weekly and spend on average $150-$180 per week. Which may not seem too bad until you consider two things:

1. We raise our own beef and lamb, and buy our chicken and pork from local farmers, so I don’t buy much meat; and
2. In the summer we grow most of our own produce too.

So what am I buying?

It’s a good question. We certainly don’t skimp on food, and Andrew has a good appetite after looking after a dairy herd all day (he borrowed my pedometer once and clocked something ridiculous like 28 km in one day). But I am not an impulse buyer, and always go to the store armed with a grocery list created from my weekly menu plan. Nor do we buy much processed or prepackaged food.

Still, I manage to load up a cart without any trouble, and have even considered the implications of having to push two carts around now that my active 8 year old son is starting to appreciate food more.

We do eat lots of dairy. And bread. I ran into a single friend at the store one day this past summer who saw me coming out of the bread aisle and remarked, “Oh, you’re having a party?”

No. Actually, this is just the amount of bread/buns we go through in a week.

For fun, I am reviewing yesterday’s grocery bill. Because like everyone else, I have noticed the cost increasing over the last year quite dramatically. And here’s some prices for comparison (Canadian dollars)

Coffee $8.99 (large can – lasts 1 week)
Milk 4L 2% $3.97 (I buy 4/week = about $16.00)
Old Cheddar $5.99 (large block – barely lasts a week)
Bread $2.22 (I buy 6/week = $14.00
Eggs medium $2.39 (2 carton/week = $5)
Cereal Weetabix $4.49 (I usually buy two boxes of various cereal per week)
Apples 4lb $3.99
Box KD $1.29
Butter 1 lb $5.39

It all adds up. Don't even get me started on the cost of gas. When you live in the country, there aren't many options!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Works For Me: Three Minutes to Peace

Trying something new - a blog carnival. Check out the link...Works For Me Wednesday

Three Minutes to Peace

I’m sure you’ve been there. You walk into the kitchen and lay down the mail on the table next to your purse while you pop the kettle on. The kids come in dropping book bags and rummaging through their agenda for a mountain of paperwork for you to read and sign. They plunk it on the table and spread out their books for homework. You sit with your tea and make a grocery list while your youngest draws 200 pictures of purple cats. Before you know it, the kitchen table has vanished, leaving only a pile of paper. This happens to us all the time. And as we eat at the kitchen table most nights, I’m just glad we have a 6 foot long solid pine table and, in an emergency, can just plough everything down to one end and still have enough room for two adults and three children to sit and eat.

Emergencies are one thing. But if there is one thing I have learned through trial and error it’s that a cleared kitchen table and uncluttered counters can change your day, maybe even your life.

Now I can almost hear those eyes rolling, but the kitchen is the centre of a home, and a sense of order in the centre radiates outwards. The kitchen is the first room I see when I come down the stairs in the morning to get coffee, and again when I walk through the back door at the end of the day. Coming downstairs or home at night to be met by a pile of dishes on the counter and a table containing magazines, discarded mail, and the contents of someone’s pockets (no names, darling) causes stress – the mild kind you can’t put a finger on but that builds up and makes you feel fidgety and overwhelmed. Whereas, when the kitchen is relatively clean and clear, life feels more peaceful and this has a calming effect on the whole family (because if mom’s not happy….you know the rest). I’m not talking shining-spotless-not-a-crumb-on-the-floor kind of clean – just generally clean, in order and tidy.

It takes me three minutes twice a day:
- 1 minute to clear away the accumulated paperwork and general debris (even if it’s just to put them in a bin in a closet to deal with later);
- 1 minute to wipe down the table and counters (I keep a spray bottle of vinegar & water and a cloth under the sink); and
- 1 minute to sweep the floor.

It’s habit for me now. Even though we have to be breakfasted and out the door by 7:30 each morning, those three minutes are somehow found. And after lunches are packed and dishes put away at the end of the day, I take another three minutes. Even the sitter who comes in sometimes knows the secret. And when my husband is home for the day, he knows too. So whenever I walk through the door, the kitchen awaits, clean and tidy and serene. Organized.

And seriously, it makes everything else in your life much easier to deal with.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


This is the time of year when living in the country means the possibility of scurrying mice trying to sneak past the cats and get inside.

Perhaps I wouldn't mind so much if they were all as cute as this...painted by Grace, who sees mice through the rainbow-coloured glasses of a 5 year old.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fall Rituals

Seriously though, fall is my favourite season. And more than any other season, there are certain rituals which must be entertained before the leaves drop.

  1. Broccoli and Cheddar Soup – when I was younger I’d make a big batch on a sunny Saturday and then head out for a walk through the old streets of Halifax where the big trees and stately homes made an enticing backdrop. Then I’d come home to my flat and eat the soup with some warm crusty rolls and real butter. Today, I go for a hike through my own fields, or walk down nearby Butternut Lane under a maple canopy. The soup just tastes better after a couple of hours in the fresh air.
  2. The Library – I do go to the library the rest of the year, but my visits pick up in earnest in the fall (mostly because I am in town waiting for cubs or beavers to finish at least once a week). I used to live in a small town where I could walk to the library and loved that feeling of walking home, a stack of books under my arm. Now we drive, but when possible I like to take a walk around the village afterwards.
  3. Garden Detritus – Putting the garden in is a delight; tending it is rewarding; and there is something very satisfying about putting it to bed too. Cutting back the flowers, dividing where necessary, and tilling the vegetable garden under into clean dark rows. An afternoon of this is always followed by a cup of coffee – liberally laced with Baileys) outside in the lawn chairs before they too are put away for the season.
  4. Bonfire – the kids love this one. Piling up all the straggly pieces left over from the yard clean up and having a family bonfire complete with potatoes baked in their jackets and liberal sprinklings of salt. Because it’s dark earlier, it’s great to sit and watch the sparks fly, until it gets too cold even with a blanket.
  5. Games Night – Sunday evening. Dinner cleared away. A log on the fire. A family game of Scrabble. Or any game. Or a jigsaw puzzle. Just not – please – not Candy Land. (Thankfully even Grace has outgrown that one for the most part. Who says 5-year-olds can’t play Scrabble?)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fighting a cliche ... and losing!

I can’t help it. I’ve steeled myself for days not to say it. It’s trite. It’s cliché. But it’s impossible for me not to say…

… isn’t this a great time of year – the crisp air, the rich colours, the smell of woodsmoke in the evenings…I love fall, all of it, even the thin frost that came and saw off what was left of my tomatoes and basil (thus putting an end to my nightly bruschetta snack). Fall is the season when I feel alive again after the heat of summer, a time to don colourful chunky knit sweaters and cozy up to a sweet apple log fire on a Saturday night. It’s a short season (in this northern part of the world), and perhaps all the more glorious for that.

Whew. Got that off my mind. I’ve been deliberately not blogging because I knew I wouldn’t be able to not say a word and nonchalantly write about other things while my mind screams out “Autumn, Autumn, Autumn.” So the decision to just go ahead and say it was a relief.

Why make such an issue of it? Because everyone says the same things this time of year, and frankly it drives me nuts when everywhere you turn writers are churning out messages of autumn splendour. I vowed never to use the terms “crisp air” or “rich vibrant colour” again, and swore not to rave on about apples, sweaters and fireplaces.

What can I say? I am no match for Mother Nature, and she wins.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The End Of Summer

And what a nice summer it was.

From the Medieval Festival in Upper Canada Village...
To picnics in the back yard...

And don't forget lazing in the hammock...

Goodbye, summer. Until 2009!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

World of Possibility

We were all up early to catch the school bus this first day of school. The bags were all neatly packed yesterday, names marked on binders and supplies, lunches made, and clothes picked out. Anna was excited, Erik accepting, Grace ungracious about the beginning of a new year, but they were all up and ready to go well before 7:25, and I think they’re secretly pleased to be heading back to their respective grades (2, 3 and Senior K) after a summer of fun and freedom. And as they planned and organized for this morning, I hid a few smiles. They each wanted things to be perfect in their own way for their first day back, and I had to remind myself that this is a big deal for them. A new year. New teachers. New opportunities.

With everything ready I went to bed reasonably early – and found myself unable to sleep. Not so much due to excitement, though I was excited for them. But the first day of school is a big deal for parents too. We want everything to go well – the year ahead will change and grow our children in so many ways, and some of it will be beyond our control. And so we focus on what is in our control – we buy the duo-tangs in trendy colours, splurge on that great outfit, and pack their favourite lunch for the first day back. In short, we do all that we can to make their first day perfect.

And on this last evening, with everything done that can be done, we lie awake hovering at the door of opportunity, knowing that tomorrow anything is possible.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Lunch Box

In my dreams, I pack my kids off to school with nutritious lunches and snacks - whole wheat pitas they can fill with individually wrapped (to keep the pitas from getting soggy) turkey couscous; fruit kabobs with honey dip; layered sandwiches with lean chicken, lettuce and tomato – perhaps cut into shapes to enhance that coolness factor.

I gaze at glossy magazines featuring Back To School recipes – all of which feature snazzily dressed kids in coordinating outfits happily spooning up such fare as three-bean soup and looking ecstatic about the chickpea salad that awaits them.

Here in the real world, where I am sad to say life is not colour coordinated, things are a little bit different. We started out last year with the best of intentions, but somehow by October this had degenerated, and by Christmas, I was sending ham sandwiches, yogurt, fruit and a cookie every day because that’s all we could agree on.

This year, knowing the parameters for the kids (nothing that looks like, contains, or has the word beans or chickpeas in the title can be served), and my own parameters (no, you can’t have potato chips for your snack), I thought we’d try for some acceptable lunch box compromises. And after a little chat around the kitchen table we came up with the following.

Cheese, tuna and ham sandwiches – on bread, or in wraps are all okay.

They want yogurt. Every day.

Carrot sticks are acceptable. They agree to try celery sticks again.

All fruit is acceptable. Cherries and green grapes top the list as something all three enjoy.

Homemade muffins or cookies are nice – especially if they’re made with oatmeal – the perennial favourite around our house.

And the big coup – they agree to try something new (not beans or chickpeas) every week as long as I remember to put Friday jokes in their lunch boxes.

I can live with that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Garden Bounty's Miracle

Gardeners talk about the miracle of growth and the satisfaction of growing your own food.

I’m there with that. But there is more to it for me.

You see, every day now, the kids and I venture into the garden to pick vegetables. They like to dig up potatoes and pick tomatoes and beans, while I get to harvest the chard and spinach and later turn them into freezer bags of produce for the winter.

We bring it all in and we clean it, splashing in the sink and fighting over whose turn it is to use the rinse hose. Some of it gets put away for winter, and some of it goes directly to the table.

And here’s the miracle. The kids who wouldn’t touch a green bean for their life, or allow spinach to touch their plate, let alone a vegetable with a name like chard get near their mouth are suddenly piling veggies on their plates and enjoying them with gusto. Or – in the case of chard – at least trying it before making faces and declaring it inedible (That’s okay – I’ll add it to tomato sauce later and they’ll never even know!)

The kids helped plant the seeds, water the seeds, weed the garden, pick the veggies and now, like an inside-out version of The Little Red Hen, they want to have their share of eating the food.

Works for me.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sharpened Pencils

The real new year for me starts in September. I am not alone in this – whether a hold over from so many years of school, or just the change of season this time of year, many of us see September and not January as the month for new starts and open possibilities.

Even before my children were in school, I liked September, and found myself out buying new notebooks and pens to herald in the fall season. September is a month of getting organized, of sharpened pencils and the smell of new leather shoes. A month to think about trading in the summer uniform of crop pants, t-shirts and sandals for something crisp and elegant. I always get my hair cut in September: it is the perfect time to go trade in summer’s casual ponytails for something with a little more style.

Now I have three school aged children, there is a real purpose to September. A transition that is both good and bad. Good because the kids thrive on routine. Bad because – well, let’s face it, summer is a good time.

Seasons change, and while I don’t mind winter, like spring, and enjoy summer, I love and have always loved fall in the northern hemisphere. The leaves. Wearing gaily-patterned knits. Tidying up the gardens after the harvest. The smell of hay being put away.

We change our eating habits in the fall too. Goodbye for now to everyday barbecue and salads. Hello heartier fare. Nothing says fall to me more than an afternoon walk on a cool bright afternoon, and coming home to a simmering bowl of fresh broccoli and cheddar soup with crusty rolls warm from the oven.

So as September approaches, we are buying our books and pencils, our new corduroys and sweaters. We are planning ahead – what badges does the oldest want to work towards in cubs? Do the girls want to take dancing or not? What new things are on the horizon that we want to try? September is a new start.

And anything seems possible.

Monday, August 11, 2008


The kids got to spend a few days with their cousins from BC who flew in for my sister’s wedding, and it was great to see them all getting along so well and having fun together. We haven’t seen them for 3 years, and that is a long time when you are 6 and 4 (their ages) and 8, 7 and 5 (our ages).

Yeah – it was also nice seeing my brother and his wife again. They got married the same summer we did 10 years ago, but because they live in BC we don’t get many chances to really get together, so this was great. The kids played on the trampoline; Barry and I drank red wine together; Sarah and I discussed books – she was reading The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I loved too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Medieval Wedding

My sister had her medieval wedding this past weekend and it was amazing. Perhaps I told her too many knight stories when she was younger, but she has always said she’d have a medieval theme, and she pulled it off beautifully, right down to the minister in monk’s cowl, medieval vows, and the inclusion of a handfasting ceremony. It was busy for our whole family – my two daughters were medieval flower girls, my son was a knight who had to guard the rings with his sword, I was Matron of Honour, and even my husband was dragged in to MC the whole event – looking splendid and rugged in his kilt I might add.

All the guests managed to show up in some sort of period costume, the rain held off, and the reception went without a hitch. I thought we were in for some trouble when my youngest daughter started scowling after dinner, but the music began and the band played her favourite song – Fly Me To the Moon – and the next thing you know she and her sister were up on the dance floor (dragging any unsuspecting uncles, as well as their dad and grandfather with them) for the rest of the night.

According to my sister, my hairdo made me look like Princess Leia. At least she didn't say Chewbacca.

Congratulations Lord Stephen and Lady Michelle! (The adorable little boy is their son, who along with his two cousins and a toy dragon, came down the aisle in a wagon pulled by two of his cousins, and insisted on sitting on his mom's knee for dinner.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action

A television crew is coming to our farm this week. The host of a local cooking show is doing a segment on local food, and wants to talk to us about the whys, hows, ins and outs of growing our own beef and lamb. She also wants to film our garden where we grow a variety of vegetables and herbs.

But Keitha, I said to her, we don't exactly have a manicured garden.

But a slightly messy garden turned out to be exactly what Keitha wants. People are too busy to be Martha Stewart, she told me. It will be inspirational for them to see what a real garden looks like.

Real people. Growing real food.

I looked at my garden through new eyes after that. Unkempt garden as status symbol. I like it.

Summer at the Cottage

Does anything say summer more than the smiles of children hanging out at the cottage? Swimming in the lake, shucking corn with Grandma, staying up late giggling with cousins, listening to the loons, and just hanging out on the deck in the adirondack chairs.
Even though we live in the country, there is something so freeing about heading down for a weekend on the lake with the family. Leaving behind the routines of everyday life for a couple of days is good for the soul. At the cottage there is nothing more important to do than spend an hour tossing sticks into the water for the dogs, or watch the kids show off their swimming skills. Watch me do a starfish, Mommy! I can swim out to that rock, Mom! Look at me dunk my head, Mom, look!
I feel I have all the time in the world at the cottage. It's a fallacy, but a nice one. Time certainly does seem to slow down at the lake. The days are long, sun-drenched, and tiring. And at the end of the day, when the kids are all dried off and tucked into bed, there is still a sunset to watch, a bottle of wine to share, a conversation to have.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Oh Great Caesar!

For a few years, off and on, I've aspired to creating the perfect caesar salad dressing, and never does this seem more important that in the summertime, when the romaine lettuce is growing madly in the garden and caesar salad every other night seems a necessity rather than a luxury.

I have a couple of versions including a quick one for emergencies, which is okay but not great, and a lower fat version, which is fine for weeknights when you're trying to keep it light.

But I have long aspired to create the kind of dressing that Caesar himself could be proud of, and here it is. A Ceasar Dressing both authoritative and seductive. Often requested by friends and family who try it - and what more proof of success can you ask for than that?

Note: There is some debate as to whether caesar dressing requires anchovies or whether the Worcestershire sauce imparts enough of a flavour all on its own. The jury may still be out, but having made it sans anchovies for ages, having now added them I believe them to be the magic ingredient that gives this dressing it's tang. My verdict: Add the anchovy paste!

Caesar Salad Dressing:
1/4 cup oil (vegetable or olive)
2-3 tbsp Parmesan cheese (grated)
1 tbsp wine vinegar (I usually use white, but red works too)
2-3 tsp Dijon mustard (grainy if possible)
2 tsp anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp mayonnaise (light is acceptable)

Whisk together all ingredients except mayo. Whisk in mayo last. I usually make up double the recipe.

Caesar Salad
Tear up a head or two of Romaine Lettuce. Cook 2-3 strips of bacon until crunchy and crumble into salad. Toss Salad with Homemade croutons (Cut up stale bread, drizzle with oil and bake at 350 until crisp) and Salad Dressing to taste. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan Cheese if required.

If making ahead, take croutons and dressing with you and toss just before serving otherwise croutons will get soggy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Oh, How It Sparkles...

I came home last night exhausted. Actually, I feel I’ve spent most of the week in that state. An early night, I told myself. But once the kids were in bed I thought a glass of white wine would be a nice treat first. I opened one (Gazela - Spain) that’s been sitting in the fridge for six weeks now, only to discover it was a sparkling wine.

Usually I’m a fan of hearty reds. A cool refreshing pinot grigio is always tasty too. But sparkling wine hasn’t been my wine of choice since high school (baby duck, anyone?). Still, I’m an environmentalist so “waste not, want not.” I dug out a flute and poured a glass.

It was delicious. Light. Fruity. Bubbly, but not popping like a newly opened can of cola. I sat on my serenity couch in the dusk and savoured my drink. After the heat and humidity of this rainy day, it was a heady moment, like slipping into a cool and refreshing lake. You could drink this all day, I thought to I poured a second glass. It made me feel quite hedonistic drinking sparkling wine on a weeknight (oh, the thrilling life I lead).

DH came in from stacking hay and topped my glass up. I think Gazela is Spanish for sparkling, I informed him, feeling witty now that I’ve had a couple of glasses. And when that went down – so smoothly, so easily – I had another. Sparkling wine, after all, needs to be drunk while it’s still, well, sparkling.

I did not drink the whole bottle. Neither did I have that early night I had planned. But relaxing – oh my, yes.

I joke with my bookclub pals (also mostly mothers of young children) that no matter how tough a day you’ve had with the kids, there’s nothing a glass of chardonnay won’t cure once they’re all tucked in.

I’ll amend that now. Sparkling wine is the new cure.

Today is grocery day. Also my wine rack needs replenishing. And among the cabernets and melots, I think I’ll slip in another bottle of Gazela. For a rainy day.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Adios and not goodbye?

The CBC is taking away my favourite morning show, Music and Company. It’s in reruns for the summer, and come fall, will be replaced.

I’ll miss it, dreadfully.

Music & Company plays a range of classical music, but the real treat is that the music is punctuated by the witticisms and commentary of the show’s host, Tom Allen who offers up anecdotes and turns of phrase both droll and informative.

The good news is that Tom will be back in September in the same time slot. But the music will change and that is not necessarily good. I’m withholding judgement for now, but I fear CBC is on the same path as some mainstream churches – and in trying to appeal to all, will end up appealing to none. For the most part I like my music –– like my religion - straight up. Evolving with the times is one thing – but changing mid stream is just plain annoying. And so while I like a wide range of music, when I want classical I want classical, when I want country I want country, when I want Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, I want Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. And in the mornings, I want classical, not a diluted version of what the CBC thinks will appeal to the masses.

For the summer, I’ll enjoy the reruns. And in September…I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

50 Books - New Favourites So Far

I joined the online chapters group to try to read 50 books in 2008. So far so good. At least, I'm just starting #33 as we head into month 7, so I'm at least on track.

Some on my list are perennial favourites that I read regularly and always enjoy. But of all the new ones I have read this year, the following are the ones I have enjoyed most:

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston – This story of Joey Smallwood was a library book I picked up not sure it would be my cup of tea. I loved it, especially the first half of the book, and especially the story of Joey, Joey’s Newfoundland, and Joey’s (fictional) foil, Fielding (who I so wanted to be real). I’m a Canadian history fan, but think this book appeals on many other levels too.

The Law of Dreams by Peter Behrens - Betrayal, Passion, Loss, Hope, Survival – they are all in here…the law of dreams is to keep moving, not to stop and allow yourself to give up. The writing is phenomenal and striking, with words and phrases that jump out and hit you long after you have moved past them. Some great quotes (“Sometimes your heart cracks and tells you what you have to do.”) and imagery (a moving train described as “a promise of everything you could leave behind”).

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – I loved this book and found it a really compelling read, though I would probably not have picked it up if I’d realized it was about vampires – specifically the legend of Dracula and the history of Vlad the Impaler. Oddly, it makes me yearn for eastern Europe and reminds me of the taste of strong black coffee with cream and sipping raucous red wine on red clay patios.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill – I enjoyed this book very much. The life of Aminata, skilled midwife and African slave, is simply recorded against a historical background full of vivid detail and rich imagery that made the book very compelling while telling a powerful story of slavery and freedom and one woman’s lifelong attempt to make a difference.

Addendum: Must also mention Marley and Me by John Grogan which had me laughing and crying. I have a lab, not that it's necessary.

Also The Road by Cormac MacCarthy, which I didn't enjoy because it depressed me, but which I have nonetheless been recommending as something people should read.

Both these last two are being made into movies. I'll see Marley, but may take a pass on The Road.

Clean it up!

What is the worst part about school being out for the summer?

Easy - the house is a disaster.

During the school year, we leave the house at 7:30 am to catch the school bus, and I picked them all up from the sitter at 4:45 pm, and came home to a clean home. Clean because I make it my morning mission (5 mins - tops) to put breakfast dishes in the dishwasher, and wipe down the table and counters and sink before heading out the door. If there's time, I even run a broom over the floor. And then nobody touches it again until we get home.
But in summer -- whole different ball game. No matter how clean the house is when I leave it, DS (8) and DD's (7 and 5) spend all day in and out, mud on the floor, making crafts, making juice, eating lunch and snacks under the care of our wonderful teenage sitter. The first two weeks school was out I thought I'd go insane.

And then I figured it out.

It's not the mess that gets me. I'm used to soccer cleats on the floor. It's coming home to the clutter that causes my eyes to boggle and for mom to be grumpy mom instead of fun mom.

So I made a daily routine and posted it on the fridge for the kids and sitter. Every day in the morning they have to make their beds and put their own dishes in the dishwasher. And every afternoon before I get home - they have a 10 minute chore (See below) and they (as a group) have to wipe off the counters and the table and sweep the floor. Now when I walk in, I am met by a clear kitchen, and that makes all the difference. Not perfect. But manageable.

For more housekeeping tips, check out:

Daily 10 minute Chores
Monday - Book roundup: Put them back on shelves in library
Tuesday - CD/Movie ROundup: Put them back in cupboard
Wednesday - Toys and Games: Put away on shelves & toychests in rooms
Thursday - Garden: Pick a basket of whatever is ripe
Friday - Make Mommy Smile Day: Pick a chore and surprise me.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Great Es-Scapes!

Last night I went out and cut the curly tips off some of the garlic plants. Chopped up or grilled, these curly ends (called scapes), add a wonderfully subtle garlicky flavour to all kinds of dishes.

By cutting off the scapes, you prevent the seed head from forming, which in turn allows the garlic bulb, growing underground, to get bigger. We harvest scapes from about 3/4 of the garlic patch, leaving some to form seeds which we can then use another year.

Burgers were on the menu last night. I just added the chopped scapes to the burger patties for extra taste.

Cheeseburgers with Scapes

For each pound of locally farmed, lean ground hamburger, add one beaten egg, a handful of cracker crumbs or oats (I've even used cereal in a pinch), finely chopped scapes, and seasoning to taste (I use pepper, sometimes an herb or two). Form into patties and grill over medium-high heat. Top with old cheddar for the last couple of minutes of grilling, until melted. Serve with garden-fresh salad.

Perfect soccer cleats

There were muddy soccer cleats in the middle of the kitchen floor when I got up this morning. Striped soccer socks and shin pads too - carelessly lying where they were dropped by DD, aged 5, in a rush to get her share of freshly picked strawberries after the game last night.

I stepped over the cleats, twice, on my way out the door to work. And thought nothing more of it, until overhearing a conversation at the deli counter at lunch time.

Two women, in their 30's, obviously mothers, talking about all the clutter in their homes - toys, sporting equipment, clothes and books. I found myself smiling at their conversation, nodding my head absently as if they were speaking to me. As they bemoaned the lack of domestic organization that seems part and parcel of raising children, I heard echoes of conversations I've had with friends along similiar lines, and mentally took stock of the clutter in our home.

Art & craft supplies and artwork on the desk; journals and paper beside the computer; books on the coffee table, lego in the oddest places, beads and toys and games and puzzles that don't always make it back upstairs after being used, and yes, cleats and socks and shin pads on the kitchen floor.

I should have picked them up, I thought to myself. And that's when I had an A-Ha! moment. Because the truth is, while I have visions of spotless perfection, they are visions fostered by unrealistic expectations and television ads featuring homes that real children obviously never set foot inside. The truth is that deep down I like the everyday clutter. It speaks volumes about our family life - that the children are active, interested, artistic, happy, enthusiastic, messy, imaginative - and very, very normal.

To everything there is a season, and all those things do get put away eventually. When I get home it's quite possible that DD, prompted by DH, will already have picked up those cleats and put them in the mud room where they belong. But if not, I hope I can step over those cleats once again, give big hugs all round, admire some more artwork, and - if any are left - enjoy a few of those juicy strawberries.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Oh Canada

I took the children to the RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa on Friday night to see the mounties in their famous musical ride. We had a fabulous time. In addition to the Mounted Police, the Canadian Armed Forces were there, represented by the Sky Hawks, and that impressed my 8 year old son so much he has decided to join the Sky Hawks when he gets older. My daughter, who is 6, was swayed by the red uniforms and the horses, and decided the RCMP was for her. And my other daughter, aged 4, still really, really, really, wants to be a bagpiper.

There were hundreds of people there crammed into the hillside to see the show, from all walks of life: a true multi-cultural cross section of the Canadian population. Mine weren't the only children excited by what they were seeing - almost all the children visited the kiosks and had posters, tattoos, and stickers galore. And when the sunset ceremony began and we rose to sing Oh Canada, nobody sang more loudly or enthusiastically than the school-aged kids present.

Sometimes, it is easy to get cynical about our country. Sometimes it is easy to focus on the negative side of human nature, or fall into the trap of taking sides - one group of Canadians against another. The sunset ceremony reminded me of all that is good about Canada. People laughing together, sharing together, enjoying a very Canadian moment together without judgement and without agenda. It was a great way to kick off the July 1st long weekend. And if the children of our country are any indication, Canada will be just fine.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tip of the Iceburg

I've been concerned recently. Watching the price of oil going up. Even as the environmentalist in me welcomes the 40% price increases and thinks maybe a carbon tax will do what people seem unable to do of their own volition, as CFO of our household, I recognize that this will have an effect on our life come winter when we have no choice but to fill up the oil furnace. We're already noticing a difference as we fuel up to go to work, soccer, and the grocery store - I figure without changing any of our current habits, we'll spend an extra $4000 on oil/fuel this year (this includes two cars, two tanks of oil, and fuel for the tractor for hay/snowblowing), which is pretty significant.

What I find really frustrating though, are the smug commentators on various web sites. Ha ha, they gloat. Glad I don't heat with oil. Too bad, they say. You should change your behaviour. Drive less. Use Natural Gas. Turn down your heat. Move closer to work. Take public transport.

Must be nice to live in their ideal little world.

For the rest of us, we'll do what we can. Some people will modify their behaviour. They'll find ways to drive less and will wear extra sweaters in November, or they'll compensate by buying less commodity items, and this will have a slight - but positive effect - on the environment. Some people won't do anything at all - there is a definite group of consumers who have the money and feel they deserve to drive SUV's. Nothing will change that sort of conspicuous consumption.

The effect on us personally will be negligible. It will definitely mean less disposable income over the course of a year, but we already try to tread lightly. We keep the temperature moderate, minimize our use of electricity, grow our own food, are making energy efficient improvements to our century old farmhouse etc, so we won't be modifying our behaviour too much. The children will still be able to go to soccer, dance or Beavers because I think those things are important; I will still drive the 20 km to work and hit the grocery store on the way home.

But what happens, I wonder, to those who have no options? Those on fixed incomes who bundle up in sweaters not because of idealistic environmental concerns, but because they already find it a struggle to make ends meet? What effect will the price of oil have on families already feeling pinched? To whom that extra $400 to fill the tank with oil (and we do live in Canada - heat is not an option!) is not disposable income that might have been spent on a weekend away, but a month's worth of groceries.

We need to find ways to mitigate these issues. The increasing cost of oil will affect us all. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On Book Lists

I noticed the Globe & Mail is getting on board the latest fad - creating a "Best Book List" - in their case, the 50 Greatest Books.

As if.

The problem I have with book lists in general is that they can never be anything but narrow. Whether you like or dislike a book is a very personal choice that depends - as much as anything - on your mood at the time you read it. I have read books that I loved that I would hesitate to call great, and books so well written that didn't really move me at all. And who defines great anyway?

Take any "great" work and you will get two opposing viewpoints on it in a heartbeat. So lists just stir up a whole lot of yays and nays from the two camps who either agree with, or are vehemently opposed to, the author's choices. When I read a list I either: a) agree and feel smug or b) disagree and think the list is obviously flawed.

You could argue that lists at least give readers some new suggestions, but as most lists are just that - a list - with no edifying background or comment as to why a particular book merits inclusion in the first place, they really don't provide much help. Personally, I'd rather read a review.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Summer Starts (or Working Mom Woes)

Today is the last day of school for ds (8) and dd's (6, 5), and the time of year when I regret my decision not to go into education....the thought of 8 weeks off is really appealing when the weather warms up and the long days stretch out playfully, calling my name.

I love my job, but heck, who am I kidding - of course I miss those 6 years when I got to be home with the kids all summer. Now it feels like I have to pack the activities into weekends, and that isn't always easy to do while trying to maintain summer's laid back pace. Already I'm regretting the Saturday swimming lessons and noticing that we're missing lots of them because of important events such as the Medieval Festival - held two weeks ago in Upper Canada Village; a trip to Grandma's (this weekend), and my sister's wedding shower (next weekend). As dh always says, "There's time for anything, just not everything." He's right.

On the up side, long summer evenings allow for leisurly dinners under the ash tree (at least on the nights when there is no soccer), and after the garden is weeded and the kitchen cleared, there is still time for a glass of red wine on the veranda while watching the sun set.