View From The Glen

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.