"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

A Little Less Should, a Little More Rum

It's Wednesday. No rain, just chills and wind and curdled clouds. I should be mowing the lawn. Or something.

I should do the kids' laundry so Jade won't have to crouch naked at the top of the stairs again screaming,
"MUMMA WHERE'S MY CHEETAH OUTFIT!? YOU SAID YOU WOULD WASH MY CHEETAH OUTFIT!!"
and Dylan won't have to wear his undies inside out tomorrow.

I should round up and capture all the dust elephants under my bed so I don't have another asthma attack tonight.

I should mix the dough for Hallowe'en cookies because it has to sit in the fridge for four hours before I can let the kids attack it with rolling pins and cookie cutters.

I should clean out the drawer from hell that caused D to curse and violently slam it shut when he was trying to find one elastic band.

I should write a blog article.

Oh wait, I AM writing a blog article. That makes one "should" out of five, which isn't bad considering I've spent most of the morning slumped on the couch playing online Scrabble and sipping a hot rum toddy. Mumma feels like she's getting a chest cold, and that does not make Mumma happy, or motivated, or overly concerned with her ever-present to-do list. Ever have one of those days when the "shoulds" creep up and try to strangle you? Screw the shoulds. Today I love the couch.

Anyone who spends most of their time looking after an active family knows the danger of forgetting to look after themselves. A couple of weeks of that stupidity and you simply collapse. After surviving several unsavoury health issues, I've come to recognize and listen to the messages my body sends me. Today, it was the sensation of having an invisible thirty pound cat sitting on my chest that made me stop doing the dishes and retreat to the sanctuary of my couch. I've essential oiled myself, turned the fireplace on, and concocted my tried and true "I feel like crap" remedy: hot water, lemon juice, raw honey, sliced ginger, a splash of rum and a cinnamon stick. Damn, is it good. It makes the invisible cat feel lighter with each swallow, and sends my should list back to where it belongs: in the drawer from hell.

UPDATE: 2 p.m.
I just watched the Walking Dead episode where a character gets a little tickle in her throat, which becomes a nagging cough, which then makes her cough up blood and die and become a zombie. If I start bleeding out my eyes, I know the rum just isn't cutting it.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Godzilla and the Garden

Gardening is a love-hate relationship. At the beginning of the season, I can't get enough of seeds and soil, weeds and watering cans. I sing while I dig and whistle when I plant. This all changes by mid-summer, when I start to curse all creatures with six legs, moan about weeds and lapse into a state of meh regarding anything with leaves.

There's a school of thought among the all-natural parenting population that says if you engage children in growing their own vegetables, said children might begin to put these vegetables in their mouths. Since my son Dylan does not eat any vegetables except potatoes and my daughter Jade has begun turning up her nose at all things green, I figured it was time to put this theory into practice. When my kids were destructive toddlers, I’d restricted their access to the gardens, making them wander around the borders or water daintily from the edges. No wonder they were disconnected from the food I tried to force them to eat. They thought gardening was a spectator sport.

One sunny spring day, we hopped in the car and drove to Country Depot to pick out seeds. Jade picked peas for herself and watermelon for Daddy. Dylan wanted a "beanstalk" so I bought him some scarlet runner beans, which can grow up to six feet tall. I chose lettuce, cucumbers and kale for myself, and threw in some carrot seeds for D. The lady at the counter said, "Wow, you must have a big garden!" and I smiled politely while mentally face-palming myself. Like eating at a buffet, our seed appetite was way bigger than our 12x40 foot garden stomach. I'd have to improvise.

Back home, we spent a productive afternoon hoeing rows and planting seeds while tree swallows swooped and serenaded us. The kids approached their tasks with the intensity of chess players, examining each seed before poking a careful hole in the ground.

This is good, I thought as my offspring got progressively grimier. This is one giant teachable moment about appreciating the earth. I sent the kids to fill their tiny watering cans so they could “give the garden a drink.” Sitting back on my heels to draw artistic labels on each garden stake, I smiled. This had gone better than I'd expected. In a few months, I’d be able to post photos of my darlings holding up their prize produce at the Ripley Fair. I was interrupted from this pleasant reverie by the shrieks of my daughter as she ran down the backyard slope, soaking wet and wailing incoherently. I sighed. My son would need some lessons on the art of watering.

The next morning, when Dylan fled the breakfast table and ran to the garden, I was thrilled. It was working! I'd captured his interest in growing food! Soon he'd be filling his plate with raw veggies and my husband would bow before me in awe. All for the price of a few seeds. Okay, a lot of seeds.

Jade and I followed Dylan down to the garden, where we found him not so much appreciating his earthly labours as furious that nothing had grown since yesterday.

"WHERE ARE MY BEANSTALKS?" he demanded, stomping through the freshly planted rows like Godzilla bearing down on Tokyo.

"AHHH!" I screamed. "GET OUT OF THE GARDEN! YOU'LL HURT THE PLANTS!"

"I can go get him," said Jade and began to chase Dylzilla through the garden like a pink version of Mothra, at which point I chased them both out with a rake. Before "GET OUT OF THE GARDEN" could become my summer refrain, I changed it to “WALK GENTLY IN THE GARDEN!” The irony was that my kids loved being in there and I hated that they couldn’t stay out. Never mind that there was a sandbox ten feet away; they preferred to plow through the garden like relentless little backhoes. Teachable moment, I reminded myself as I ground my teeth and helped my daughter repair yet another squashed row.

On top of the near-daily destruction, it was harder than I thought it would be to convince Jade and Dylan that the seeds were, in fact, growing. I YouTubed videos of seeds germinating. They were unconvinced. I acted out the life cycle of a plant. They rolled their eyes. Every day that they went to the garden and found it empty, their interest waned. What had I done to raise two such hardened skeptics? I talked about the magic of nature and preached patience. After seven days without so much as a sprout, when I started to sing my "Have Patience!" song, Jade snapped "Earth, air, water, sun, I KNOW MUMMA, I KNOW. But WHEN are they going to GROW???" I started asking myself the same question. Maybe the constant Godzilla reenactments had smushed our poor seedlings. It would be very difficult to refrain from screaming "I TOLD YOU SO!" at my kids, which was really not the teachable moment I’d been hoping for.

Then, finally, praise Gaia, it happened. The first crinkled pea shoots poked through the earth and the kids danced around, squealing with glee. "I told you so," I muttered under my breath, then smiled. Each day, something else popped up: beans fist-pumped the air with their tiny curled hands; a green mist of carrot tops appeared; cukes and melons stood upright, flaunting bow-tie leaves. The miracle of life had survived my children’s feet. Better yet, now that the kids could see the plants, they handled them with surprising gentleness.

After the initial surge of excitement over the appearance of our seedlings, Jade and Dylan started to lose interest again. I recognized the familiar signs of garden apathy. Instead of succumbing to it this time, I doubled my efforts to keep all three of us committed to our garden project. I coaxed (and sometime dragged) the kids down to help weed and water the fruits of our labour.

“I didn’t know gardening would be so much WORK,” moaned Jade, lugging her watering can around like it was filled with bricks.

“Funny,” I said as I raked, hoed and weeded, “I thought I was doing most of the work.”

Learning to garden means learning how to deal with failure. Since I had never been particularly adept at accepting my various horticultural fails, I wanted my kids to learn how to take things in stride and not get discouraged when things didn’t go as expected. This lesson repeated itself several times: we found all six tomato plants withered beyond recognition one morning, cause undetermined. Some kind of voracious bug devoured my kale and put huge holes in the cucumber vines. Half of the peas that Jade had planted didn’t sprout and Dylan accidentally uprooted one of his beanstalks during a weeding frenzy.

With the frustrations came the triumphs, though: handfuls of fresh peas eaten straight out of the pod (well, Dylan picked and Jade ate); a ridiculous bounty of beans and lettuce; cool, mutant carrots borne from improper thinning methods; dark green watermelon babies that lay heavy and content on the ends of their vines. The swallowtail caterpillar we discovered on one of our carrot tops was the crowning glory of our gardening experience. We took “Pippy” back to the house and tracked his transformation from a bright green eating and pooping machine to a dusty looking chrysalids, until one morning he emerged onto his stick, a velvet-winged butterfly.

It’s September now, and our garden is getting yellow and droopy. It’s littered with black walnuts and chestnuts instead of vegetables, and the kids and I decided it was now okay to let the weeds do their thing. Jade still refuses to put a carrot anywhere near her mouth and although Dylan tried (and spat out) fresh beans and peas, he still screams in horror if anything resembling a vegetable lands on his plate. As an incentive to increase my kids’ veggie intake, the garden project was yet another fail in my agricultural and parenting history. But as a chance to hang out and get our hands dirty together, to share accomplishment and impatience and success and failure, to experience the communion of earth, sun, air and water? Major win, for Mumma and kiddies both.



Friday, 12 September 2014

Welcome Back to Someday!

Phew, did that summer buzz by like a rabid bumblebee or what? Despite promising myself I'd make an extra effort to chill out and savour each day, June-July-August flowed into one another, a bright watercolour of beach and forest, meadow and park, lazy mornings and cricket-sung nights. It was a happy summer, and I'm going to tell you all about it. Soon.

Thanks for sticking around while we summered at Someday.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Adventures in Lawn Tractoring…again

Spring has sprung with a vengeance at Someday. The weather's been alternating between torrential rain and gorgeous sunshine, which means our lawn has gone from crappy to shaggy to tropical rainforest-y in a matter of days. And once again, I'm on deck to keep the grassy expanses looking civilized.

I tend to yell a lot while on the lawn tractor. I yell when I run over something that makes a horrible noise (tree stumps, branches, the kids' toys), I yell when I get a cobweb in the face. I yell when I'm on a steep hill and I yell when I get stuck. The zero turn and I don't get along at the best of times, and today it seemed like it was truly out to get me.

Mowing the lawn for the first time each year means I have to shake the dust out of my winter-addled brain and remember the intricacies of lawn tractor operation (pump up the crappy front tire, check the oil, growl at the empty gas tank, drive to my mother-in-law's to steal gas, etc.) Once all the prep work is complete, it's time for my annual exercise in humiliation: I can never turn the knob to lower the deck. Every spring I want to write a venomous letter to the creators of the JD Zero Turn, stating that I don't know how they do things in America, but in Bruce County, it's mostly women who drive the lawn tractors, so stop making the deck dial tighter than Sarah Palin's smile.

With a giant sigh of defeat, I called D. He actually answered.

"Yeah Kimmy?"

"I just want to make sure I'm lowering the deck right."

"Are you on the lawn tractor?"

"No, I'm on the couch eating bonbons. Of course I'm on the tractor! The stupid dial won't turn. Do I have to have the brake off or something?"

"It's just hard to turn. You might need some help." Here, my beloved husband paused, and I could practically feel his smirk radiating through the phone. "You might have to call my dad…"

"I AM NOT CALLING A MAN TO COME AND TURN A KNOB," I yelled into the phone. D made an inappropriate but not entirely unexpected joke about knob pulling and I hung up. I grabbed the knob with all my might, yelled "TURN YOU STUPID FREAKING THING!" and twisted. The deck lowered. I fist-pumped the air and yelled "TAKE THAT!" to no one in particular and every man in general.

The problem with a wet spring is that squishy lawns and zero turns do not mix. It didn't occur to me to check the gully before driving the lumbering beast onto it. I screamed as the zero turn slid slowly and inexorably down the gully towards the wheat field and promptly got stuck in two feet of mud. After my heart stopped racing, I managed to get the tractor unstuck, and also managed to turn a large chunk of our lawn into a motocross track. This: plus this: = This: Oh yeah. I rock.

The afternoon continued to be full of small disasters. Not only was I mowing down precious bees by the dozen, I ran over two frogs. I screamed various things like MOVE! LOOK OUT! INCOMING! but they were either deafened by the mower or resigned to their fate and I assume they all became lawn mowing casualties. (I couldn't tell you for sure because I had my eyes closed.) After that, I stopped the mower every five minutes to hop out and peer into the grass to see if a tiny movement indicated a living creature, which resulted in the rescue of two toads and a frog from my giant John Deere cuisinart. Hopefully mother nature will hold off on smiting me for a while yet.

After nearly strangling myself in the kids' swing set, I decided I'd had enough of lawn mowing for one day. As I sat on the back steps, picking grass out of my hair and bra, I said a silent prayer for rain and wondered which of D's cousins I could blame for driving their ATVs so recklessly through our wet gully.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Beneath the Trellis

**This essay was originally published in 1999 in WholeLife Magazine.**

Every Mother's Day, I wake up and I wait. I spend the entire day waiting, in fact. I go about my morning, gulping hot coffee, chatting with my husband, disciplining my wayward dog. I make the expected and not unpleasant visits to my grandmothers and mother-in-law. I call my friends who have children. I smile and do the things one does on Mother's Day, and all the while I observe myself. I watch from within, and I wait.

It's been nearly six years since my mother died, and I have accepted the fact that Mother's Day will come and go and I won't be torn apart by grief. I won't become a slobbering mess, I won't lash out at my current maternal figures for their crime of simply being alive. I won't drape myself across my mother's grave asking the heavens "WHY?"

Since her death, I've done nothing outwardly to indicate I'm still grieving her loss, and I try to feel ashamed of myself. Aren't good daughters supposed to mourn their mothers for the rest of their lives and on Mother's Day in particular? The more I analyze this idea, the more I've come to realize that grief doesn't necessarily come blasting out like shrapnel. Grief is neither art nor science. Like joy, it cannot be scripted to fit a certain scenario. The best thing - and possibly the worst thing - about grief is that it fades like an ebbing tide.

I've struggled with my worry that I'm never really supposed to recover from the impact of my mother's death. I don't know if grief can ever disappear completely, but I do know that emotional wounds like the death of a parent it can heal cleanly, if you let them. For some people, grief is healed by time or acceptance. In my case, it was healed by something as simple and fleeting as a dream. . . a dream of rebirth that broke death's hold over me before it was ever able to tighten its grip and leave a jagged scar.

Even though my mother and I didn't have an ideal relationship (and we were certainly never "friends"), we loved each other. I harboured a lack of respect for her that co-existed awkwardly beside my awe and fear of her. Her maddeningly unchangeable opinions and penchant for bluntly stating them hurt me repeatedly, yet her unflappable generosity and the genuine concern she showed for her family, friends and students still humble me. Mom was a woman of sophisticated contradictions. When it came to preparing gloriously rich meals, toasting life with the best Russian vodka, or travelling around the world, she participated wholeheartedly. When it came to keeping fit, taking care of herself and her health, she would shrug, sigh and remind me that tomorrow was a new day, which usually meant starting a new diet that would last approximately 48 hours.

When my mother was feeling well, she was a firecracker, bursting with energy and ideas. When she got sick, she disintegrated at an alarming rate into a pale, sad creature who said little but articulated miserable volumes out of her green eyes.

She started feeling ill around October, and I remembering feeling annoyed with her for not taking better care of her health. She drinks too much, I thought. She never exercises. No wonder she feels like shit. My self-righteousness rapidly turned to terror as the disease took hold of her body. The cancer was quick and relentless, like a flame that consumed whatever it touched, as though my mother's insides were made of dry paper. The day I understood my mother was going to die, the moment that a wave of knowing washed over me, I was slumped in a bony hospital chair at her bedside.

It was still in the fairly early stages of her diagnosis, but that night she was struggling to breathe. My mother, the victor of countless battles throughout her life, lying inches away from me, fighting the one war she couldn't hope to win. My mother! Ultimate champion of forceful opinions, the woman my friends feared yet always sought to please, fierce polka dancer, sophisticated entertainer, yahtzee queen, Giorgio perfume addict, graceful gatherer of roadside flowers, beloved teacher, thwarted wife, devoted disciple of laughter and pleasure. . . dying, dying before my eyes.

The truth flooded me and all I had were two selfish thoughts: my mother would never be at my wedding. She would never hold her grandchild. I wasn't even engaged then, nor was I interested in babies, but those were the first devastating thoughts of many. I could hardly tear my eyes away from her all night after that. I began to notice things: how she had grey hair coming in at the roots when I'd never seen her without her hair coloured and coiffed. Her real nails looked pale and wan without their tangerine coloured polish. The lines on her face were etched deeper by pain, lines originally traced by determination and laughter. She looked so small, so powerless in her hospital gown, stripped of her signature dresses and high heels.

Before she'd gotten sick, I'd never kissed my mother's forehead, or climbed into her bed to comfort her. She had always been the one to comfort and nurture. I wouldn't have dreamed of ever doing such things, of attempting to reverse roles she had taken great pains to set firmly in place. The quiet despair of the truth made me change from the one who had always been cared for to the caregiver. In that instant, I lost all fear of my mother, all anxiety about ever having disappointed her with my choices, all worry over whether I'd ever be able to truly please her. None of that mattered. I couldn't cure her, or undo the past, but I could lie beside her and provide what comfort I could in the horrible present.

She lived another few weeks, in and out of consciousness, her poor arms and fingers swollen, her face pinched in an unceasing grimace of pain. I wanted her to die so we could both move on from the horrible place we were both trapped in, but whenever I left the mind-numbing confines of the ICU for the day, I grappled with my greatest fear: she would die, and I would never know where she had gone.

Mom was a self-proclaimed atheist who, for some reason, always sent my sister and I to the Lutheran church across the street to attend Sunday school. I think she just liked having Sunday mornings to herself. To this day, I don't understand why she insisted on us being baptized in our teens (humiliating) and then in later years scorned my embrace of Christianity. Our most pitched battles were always based on my decision to join a non-denominational church and run with a Christian crowd, or my "cult" as she called it. How could this woman go anywhere good in the afterlife after mocking gods of all kinds and mine in particular?

When she finally did die, a few weeks before Mother's Day, I was strong outwardly. I wanted to be stalwart, supportive to my family and mom's many friends and not crumble under anyone's pity. Alone in my bed at night (my crazily high three-quarter bed that Mom had discovered on a triumphant antique excursion), I mourned my mother with a depth of emotion that frightened me. For weeks I wept and writhed and clenched my body in agony. Where was she now? What was she now? I made myself sick at heart thinking about heaven and hell. Christians weep, but they also rejoice when one of their own is "called back to God," or any other euphemism used to describe the death of a believer, but I'd never been taught by my church how to mourn someone who didn't share my beliefs. I was too scared of the answers to ask God any questions.

And then I had a dream. I know, it sounds trite and cliche. It wasn't. Dreaming of the dead is heartbreaking because part of you knows it isn't real, and the other part of you just wants your consciousness to shut up and stay in the dream forever. The dream is still clear to me, even now; all I have to do is shut my eyes and I can see her: my mother, as the person she was before she became my mother, walking with serene purpose through a field of flowing green. Her long red hair is twined through with a wreath of white daisies and she wears a white dress that is open at the throat and flows around her legs like water. She walks toward a trellis covered with more daisies and stoops slightly to pass beneath it, as though uncertain as to whether she'll fit. And then she keeps on walking.

There's nothing exceptional on the other side of the trellis, no mysterious supernatural kingdom, no trumpets or angels. Just more flowing green grass and sunshine. My mother never acknowledged me in the dream, but I woke up the next morning a different person than the woman who had wept herself to sleep the night before.

I've carried this dream quietly with me for almost six years. I didn't want the sense of peace it brought me to fade or be replaced by guilt or any of the other emotions attributed to faithful daughters of departed mothers. I was afraid that by telling the dream, it would make it feel false or dissolve it from my memory. As I prepare to lay down my pen, I realize that the dream is mine, for now and for always.

This Mother's Day, I will wake up and stop waiting.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Sappy

Collecting sap every day for two weeks from sixty-plus maple trees is an exercise in humility. Sure, there's the nature-loving, granola girl aspect that I so enjoy, what with the fresh air and hearty exercise and accidental tree hugging (the woods are damn slippery in the spring). But mostly I was just humbled by our feeble attempts to harness nature's sappy goodness. Oh, and did I mention the sap collection business is FREAKING EXHAUSTING?

At least I didn't have to do all the work myself. After the trees were tapped, it was up to me and trusty brother-in-law Carman to trudge out to each tree, collect the sap, pour it in buckets, haul it back to the main tank and figure out how much we'd collected.

The thing about Carman is that he never treats me differently than he'd treat his brothers, which means he lets me shoulder my share of the work. While he may raise an eyebrow if I appear to be taking on more than my tiny muscles can possibly bear, he doesn't try to rescue me unless I squeal for help. Usually, I like and respect being treated as an equal, but after lugging endless 5 gallon buckets of sap over slippery trails day after day, I started to wonder whether acting like a damsel in distress would be all that bad. My pride prevented me from trying to find out.

Have you ever collected sap before? I hadn't. First, you have to load the aforementioned empty 5 gallon buckets onto a sled. Then you pull the a sled through various muddy snowbanks, chuck it and the buckets over fences and petrified cow pats until you get to the tree line. The kids were not amused when I made off with their favourite sled.

Then comes the collecting. It's fraught with various hazards, such as treacherous snowbanks that gave way without warning, branches that claw at your eyes like angry dryads, steep hills and big holes.. And don't get me started on deer and bunny shit. Those critters are poo machines and they seem to enjoy making their deposits right underneath the sap pails.

Most of the days were mild and clear. All the trudging and lifting and pouring and pulling would make Carman and I sweat like we were running a marathon. "At least we're getting our exercise," I'd pant. "Outta shape, Kimmy?" Carm would respond. Overcome with thirst one day, I hid behind a tree and swigged ice cold sap right out of the pail. It was like drinking some magic potion. As the cool liquid spilled down my throat, I felt instantly refreshed. Later I caught Carman had been doing the same thing.

Our usual habit was to park the sleds on one side of the barbed wire fence in the pasture and empty each small pail of sap into the bigger buckets. Then we'd haul the buckets, sloshing and ungainly, back to the fence, mash them through and load them back onto the sled. Although as a kid I'd been no stranger to hopping various fences - electric and barbed included - the forty-something me was sadly out of practice. I always made sure Carm's back was turned before I attempted to squeeze through to avoid any extra humiliation. If I'd been getting any money for my labour, I would have asked for hazard pay.

As winter reluctantly loosened its grasp and allowed spring to finally unfurl herself, the snow gave way to mountains of mud and the crisp, fresh air turned damp and pungent. We abandoned our sled in favour of the kids' little red wagon. Carman and I made trip after trip across the fields, hauling gallons of sap in the wagon. "There HAS GOT to be a better way," I would gasp every time, feeling like an abused mule. The boys forbid me to drive a tractor on the tender fields for fear of wrecking the soil, but I was sure that even Pa Ingalls wouldn't have worked THIS hard. Finally Carman took pity on me and hooked the wagon up to...the lawn tractor. Embarrassing yes, but not nearly as exhausting. And I did not allow photos.

Tromping around in the woods gives you the chance to experience moments of exquisite beauty: a pure blue sky with a slice of moon floating in it; velvet mosses clinging to tree trunks; the creak and song of tree limbs moving in the wind. There's also the unique sensation of being slapped in the face repeatedly by branches, falling knee-down in cold mud and putting your hand into a pile of raccoon poop. That's what I love about nature; it's a study in contrasts. Sometimes you just have to take a moment and savour the experience, even when it's smelly.

This is me, up in a tree, savouring the moment.


Next up: how to make syrup and burn your eyebrows off.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

What a sap...

It began, as these things so often do, with a thought foolishly spoken aloud in the presence of Lowry men.

A few years ago, the boys and I were at my in-laws' kitchen table, inhaling breakfast after chores. As I poured some nasty Aunt Jemima goop on my pancakes, I said the words that would come to haunt me later: "How come you guys never make your own maple syrup?"

My husband and his brother Carman nearly choked on their eggs. My mother-in-law let out a soft chuckle. Plenty of eye-rolling and head shaking ensued. "What?" I said, miffed. "You make your own cider, why not syrup?"

"Oh Kimmy," said D, wearing his "aren't city girls cute" smirk. I wanted to throw a pancake at his head. "We used to make it with my Grandpa. You have no idea how much work it takes to make a little syrup."

"You know much sap you need to make one gallon of syrup, Kimmy?" Carm chimed in. "A helluva lot."

"Oh, come on. How hard can it be?" The minute the words were out of my mouth, images of corn smut and sunflower rashes flashed before my eyes and I decided to shut up. The boys, however, had been stoked into a rare fire of conversation. They went on and on about chopping wood and endless bonfires and lugging milk cans and where Grandpa's old sap pan had gotten to. My mother-in-law thought she might still have some syrup from their last harvest (circa 1985) in her freezer somewhere. I kept quiet and glared at Aunt Jemima. She seemed to be laughing at me.

Flash forward to March 2014, where I entered our garage to find twenty-five sap buckets the colour of a winter sky lined up like cheerful soldiers along the wall. D shook a cardboard box at me. I peeked in to see lids and spiles. "Holy crap," I said.

"Happy birthday," said D with a big smile, thrusting the box into my arms. "You're not working, right? Well, this'll keep you busy for a while."

"My birthday's not till April," I said, twirling a spile in my fingers. 25 buckets was a lot. I had been thinking more along the lines of 5. This meant finding a lot of trees. I suddenly had an urge to run in the house, find my copy of Little House in the Big Woods and re-read the syrup-making chapter. If Laura Ingalls, my childhood hero, could do it, why couldn't I? It might actually be fun. I loved maple syrup and I loved being outside.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

To my darling girl


Rose Marie Lowry
April 3rd 2008

Silently a flower blooms
In silence it falls away;
Yet here now, at this moment, at this place,
The world of the flower, the whole of the world is blooming.
This is the talk of the flower, the truth of the blossom:
The glory of eternal life is fully shining here.

- Zenkei Shibayama

Friday, 28 March 2014

Some Days

Alarm warbles.

6:45 a.m.

Ugh.

Crawl out of bed. It's early for me. Gotta shower. Gotta get Dylan ready for daycare. Gotta walk Jade to the school bus. Gotta make some freaking coffee.

Jade is cheerful until she's not. Soon there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. She can't find her sock. Where is her sock? Dadddy picked out these socks ESPECIALLY for her. SHE CANNOT FIND HER SOCK. She slumps on the floor and wails.

The sock is beside you, I say. Look.

The wailing stops. She pulls on the sock. I want to crawl under her turquoise and lime flowered duvet and sleep. She merrily hops down the stairs. I follow, less merrily.

Dylan needs a new diaper; Jade needs juice. I need coffee. I change Dylan's diaper and pour Jade's juice. I make Jade's lunch. I drink two sips of coffee. Now it is snowsuit and backpack and where-are-your-mitts-child time.

Jade and I walk to meet the bus. The winter morning is sparkly clean. Our breath puffs as we stroll down the lane way, hand in hand. The sun rises behind us, unhurried. Dylan watches from the upstairs window, knocking and waving. He is not wearing pants.

Jade leaps on snowy crags, tells me they are mountains. Gifts the snow plow has left. The bus pulls up. I give the bus driver a chocolate bar. I was so late last Friday. That's not necessary, she says, but smiles and takes the chocolate. I hope I'm not THAT MOTHER. I hope she likes Jade. I hope Dylan doesn't drive her crazy in September.

I walk back to the house, sunrise on my face. Finches rush into the sky at my approach. In the back porch, Dylan peeps at me through the mail slot. Pudgy fingers poke out and wave. Hi Mumma. I waiting for you.

Where are your pants? I ask. Where is your diaper? My diaper is gone. His eyes are the colour of the lake in autumn. He runs away and jumps into the beanbag. Toopy and Binoo are on. I will wrestle with him later.

I check the time and sit down at the kitchen table. Flip open the laptop. Click through my email. I pour fresh coffee, close my eyes and let the aroma drift into my brain. Dylan climbs up on my lap. Demands his favourite show. He pats my face with his hand. I smell poo.

Were you playing with your bum? Tell me you weren't playing with your bum. He attempts escape. I grab his hand, lead him to the sink. He screams and flops around like a fish on a hook. I wash his hands with difficulty. He flails. Water is everywhere. I want to go back to bed.

I get a diaper. I find pants. Dylan runs away, squealing. I chase him, cajole, joke, beg, then finally, threaten. No TV, I say. Corner, I say. He relents, sobbing. Snot and tears, little chest heaving. I don't want pants, Mumma.

It's a Nina day, I say. We have to go to daycare. Daddy will pick you up. NO! He wants to go to the grocery store. He wants to go to the post office. He wants to go to Grandma's. Not today, I say through clenched teeth. My mother used to talk like that when she was mad. I squish my son into pants and socks, give up on the shirt. Fine, I say. Wear dirty pyjamas. Dirty pyjamas, he agrees and crawls into my lap, thumb in mouth, mollified. For the moment.

Get your hat, I say. I turn off the TV. I close the laptop. Dylan goes purple with rage. TV! I WANT TV! No TV, I say. Get. Your. Hat. NOW. More clenched teeth. I am going to throw something. I need more coffee. He gets his hat. He puts on his boots. He sobs. He needs his mitts. Mitts Mumma! My blue mitts are GONE! I find the mitts shoved behind the door. He needs his blankies. Where are your blankies, honey? Where are they? My blankies are gone. I check upstairs. I check the bathroom, the bedrooms. The blankies are in the tent, downstairs. I drape them over his little head. He pulls them off and beams. You found my blankies, Mumma! You found them!

I help him with his coat. I grab keys, sunglasses, purse, snow pants. We head for the car. My phone. My phone is upstairs. Dammit. I buckle my son in the car and backtrack. Damn phone. I get back in the car; start the engine. I have a doctor's appointment later. Do I have money for parking? Do I have a toonie? I check my purse; nickels and pennies. One quarter. Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT! Back upstairs. I take change from Jade's piggybank. This is not bad parenting. She has stolen most of the money from me.

Back in the car, roaring down the driveway. Off we go, I say. Like a herd of turtles, says Dylan. Like a herd of turtles, I agree. Turtles who need more coffee.




Wednesday, 26 March 2014

5 Things…I really suck at


1. Buying anything related to technology
It all started when I bought D an iPad for Christmas. He keeps stealing my much-adored MacBook to check boring stock prices and look up hockey plays, which is annoying. I mean, I bought that thing as a tool for my writing, and for keeping our family photos updated and…okay, I use it mainly to play Scrabble. But still! It's MINE. So I though it was a stroke of brilliance when I decided to buy him a gadget of his own, something that wasn't too expensive (he hates it when people spend money on him), something portable enough for him to take to the bathroom if he so desired. I bought a reconfigured iPad off the internet and lo and behold! IT. SUCKS. Apparently, it's one of the first versions that was released, which means that it won't play NetFlix, or take photos, or basically do anything other than allow you to search Google. Very. Slowly.

"Didn't you do any research before you bought this?" asked D, trying not to act like he hated it, although I could tell he did.

"It was on sale! I thought I was buying something good! I thought you'd be glad I didn't spend too much money!" I wailed.

"Kimmy…just, wow," said D.

He still steals my MacBook and the iPad is gathering dust somewhere. I tried to redeem myself by buying a charger for Jade's LeapPad (seriously, who makes an expensive children's toy and sells it without a charger?). Once again, I thought I'd save money and make D proud. So I went on the internet and bought a knock off. Which didn't work. So I tried again, and ended up with pretty much the same gadget, which…also doesn't work.

D has made me solemnly swear that I will never again buy anything remotely electronic.

2. Cooking Meat
I suppose it's because I lived with someone who did the majority of my cooking for ten years, but I've never learned how to cook meat so that it tastes…you know, edible. Ground meat is no problem. Who can screw up hamburger? Big cuts of meat, on the other hand, like pork chops, roasts, even steak, turn into very unhappy meals in my vegetarian-inclined hands. I can whip up any type of chicken and make it taste heavenly, and I have been known to do lamb chops to near perfection. But anything else? You're looking at dry, tasteless disasters. Bake, poach, grill, microwave, doesn't matter. I get the same disgusting result. And do NOT tell me I need a crockpot, because…

3. Crockpots
I hate them. That is all. Need proof? Here: and here:

So there.

4. Finishing a cup of anything.
At any given time, on any given day, you can travel through my house and find at least one (but probably more like four) unfinished cups of coffee, half-empty glasses of water or mugs of stagnant tea. I am incapable of drinking anything to the dregs, unless it's a glass of wine. Even beer falls prey to this habit, and I love beer. I think it has something to do with the time my sister Sissy told me never to drink the last bit of beer in a bottle, because it was just backwash. So really, this is all her fault. I'm not sure why, but this little habit of mine drives D completely bonkers. I am pretty confident that 33 years from now, on our 25th anniversary, he'll be yelling at me across the nursing home: "HEY KIMMY, YOU FORGOT TO FINISH THIS BOTTLE OF ENSURE!"

5. Wrapping Stuff
There are about a squillion Pinterest posts (pins? pings? pints? See, I suck at Pinterest too) on how to wrap a present so gorgeously that the recipient of said present will squeal and then faint in awe. I wish I was artistic enough to figure out how to do even one thing on Pinterest, let alone wrap a measly box of whatever. Don't get me wrong. I want to be that woman, the one who uses bits of ribbon and stray buttons and dryer lint to create a unique and gloriously gift wrapped present for every member of the family on Christmas. But I'm not. I can't wrap to save my life, and I know why: it's because I am not patient, and I am a jammer, and I leave wrapping until the last minute because if I didn't, my children would seek and destroy all the gifts before they even made it under the tree. I can't even wrap a fajita. I made my little niece a vegetarian wrap for lunch when she was here a few weeks ago. As I put it in front of her she looked at it unfurling on her plate like a bizarre, slow-motion film of a really ugly flower blossoming, then looked up at me. She did not say a word of complaint, but her big brown eyes said it all: "Auntie Kim, you suck at wrapping."

Monday, 17 March 2014

A walk in the woods


Today I walk by myself.

The cold is glorious; the sun is bright. The woods beckon, and I am so happy to be on the trails for an hour of solitude that I want to shout and dance. The labyrinth is covered in a duvet of snow and I feel like a giant when I notice that the packed snow on the trail has lifted me up to the level of the aspen branches.

Cardinals whistle and chickadees swoop, sure signs of the new season ahead. The river has cracked open and sings a joyful song before it dives beneath the crusty ice. I run my hand over the rough bark of an elm, scrunch fragrant cedar between my fingers. Strange dogs stop to nuzzle me as red-cheeked owners nod or smile before they whistle their companions back to obedience.

The snow sparkles and dances, drifts down from tree branches in puffs and clouds that twirl lazily in the sunlight. My boots plunge steady and sure into ankle deep powder. I take the looping trail past the gnarled oak with the face of a praying mantis and head for the second bridge.

Just around the curve before the darkness of cedars swallows up the trail, I see a young couple. They have stopped to adjust their young son's scarf and hat. We exchange hellos and as I pass, I am hit by a wave of sadness. I meet the brown-haired mother's eyes for a moment and it's as though I've been pricked in the heart with something sharp and cold. I cover my surprise with a nod and keep walking.

I am not psychic; I'm not even all that intuitive. I don't know what has pierced my soul in that moment. Maybe nothing. Maybe imagination.

But maybe not.

As I pass out of earshot, I close my eyes for a second, mutter a quick prayer to the trees and the snow and the sun and the birds, asking for healing, for a lightening of the burden of hurt the family seems to carry like boulders on their backs. Because we all carry our own invisible stones of sadness; sometimes in our pockets where they weigh us down, or in our shoes where they punish us with each step, or inside our heads where they rattle around for only us to hear.

I think we can drop the stones one at a time on the paths we walk; I think the best way to relieve our burdens is get outside, and keep walking.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

About Oscar...


My favourite event of the entire frigid, non-holiday season has come and gone: THE OSCARS! If you read this blog with any regularity, you'll know I have a slight predilection for lunacy on Oscar night, which includes dressing up real fancy and serving yummy nibbles with a bottle of something bubbly. I've been meaning to post this for over a week but I think I had an Oscar hangover. Am I getting too old for my annual, stay-up-till-the-bitter-end-and-drink-2/3-of-a-bottle-of-champagne-by-myself ritual? Egads.

The Prep
After nearly eight years of marriage, D has accepted my Oscar-related eccentricities, although he continues to look bewildered when I flounce down the stairs in my gown and heels. He never dresses up, but he never drinks my champagne either. Plus he could care less about movie stars so he barely talks during the show. He's a perfect date.

One thing he finds especially bemusing is my insistence on making rich, indigestible hors d'ouvres to eat during the show. "Whatcha making tonight?" he asked as he got ready to go to the farm and help with chores. "Let me guess. Olives and eye of newt." I ignored him and continued to stuff mushrooms with parmesan-infused cream cheese. D had promised to be back in time to let me watch the opening number unhindered by children; he was welcome to his sarcasm provided he kept up his end of the deal.

Miraculously, I made the hors d'ouevres, fed the kids, and tucked them into bed and donned my Oscar finery just as D stomped through the door at 8:24 p.m. I think this was due in part to the fact that I treated myself to an extra-special dirty martini while the kids ate supper, but he doesn't have to know that.

Tipsy Toodles
The kids had experimented with all my ice cubes during the most recent stormy day, so after I measured the gin, opened the jar of olives and found the ice cube tray tragically bereft of ice, I was forced to think faster than an Oscar host after a winner drops an F-bomb. The only thing worse than a luke-warm martini was no martini. Then I remembered the smug hipsters giggling in snowbanks in an old Baileys TV commercial:

Screw you, ice cubes! Icicle martinis from now on! (Well, in the winter, at least.) At least the Prosecco was cold.

Nibbles
For some reason unknown to me, nearly all my hors d'ouvres were cheese-based this year. Maybe all these years of living within a 2km radius of my dairy farming in-laws is warping my taste buds.

Similar to the Oscar broadcast, my nibbles weren't anything spectacular, just some tried and true recipes from the Alisa Feick school of entertaining, along with a few of my own creations. I even made extra in case Carman showed up, which he didn't, because he still remembers the time I yelled at him for eating the Nacho Dip right off the serving plate. It was the one and only time Carman ever tried to watch the Oscars with me. I guess getting yelled at in his own living room by a crazy lady wearing an evening gown wasn't his cup of tea. Oh well. Nacho dip is always good for breakfast.

Who are you Wearing?
It's been a very happy winter for me for a change, which means I am also fatter than usual. When I'm unhappy or ill, I tend to look like a skeleton, all bones and angles. The better I feel though, the plumper I get. Squishy and happy or skinny and miserable? Hmmm…I think I'll take squishy. There's a treadmill around here somewhere, right? Anyway, being happy and squishy means my wardrobe choices were somewhat limited this year. I allowed the children to have a say in my choice and did a fashion show for them, which ended up, as it usually does, with both of them naked nudie and clomping around in my high heels. I went for a classier look this year, donning my silk jacket from San Francisco Chinatown and my favourite black pants. I finished the look with my mother's antique jet beads and tarted my face up considerably with more makeup than I wear at Hallowe'en. Jade was impressed; Dylan looked scared.

I know. I'm a bit silly. But couldn't everyone's life benefit from a little more silly? Oh, and I cut all my hair off. JUST LIKE J-LAW! It's totally going to get me in People magazine. Or at least the Kincardine News.

The Flicks
I managed to see several Oscar movies this year, and I'm glad that Dallas Buyer's Club was honoured appropriately, and that Sandra did NOT get best actress for Gravity. The movie itself rocked, but ugh to her performance, which was pretty much just heavy breathing and whimpers. And what's up with perfect waxing jobs in space, anyhow? Nebraska was a lovely, quiet little film and it deserved to get something just for being so hilarious and heartbreaking in such a non-explosive way. And June Squibb made me howl. With Nebraska, Alexander Payne created a handful of meaty roles for actors of a certain age, something I didn't see in any of the other films, and I'm glad he did.

Oh yeah, the Actual Show
What can I say? It was a rather mellow affair this year. Ellen was her usual pleasant and benign self. She's like the labrador retriever of hosts: kinda goofy and eager to please, hoping to get asked to sit on someone's lap. Like Douglas Adams might say, mostly harmless. I don't dislike her - how can you hate that face? - but I wasn't thrilled by her either. I suppose she's the middle ground between Billy Crystal's ancient schtick and Seth MacFarlane's acidic barbs. I just thank the Oscar gods that Anne and James will never, ever, ever be asked back.

Well friends, another year, another Oscars. See you in March 2015! Hopefully I can fit into a fancier gown by then.

PS: For a hilarious, spot-on review of the show, including fab photos and witty commentary, check out Hick Chic: http://hickchic.blogspot.ca/2014/03/2014-oscar-blog-report.html

Thursday, 27 February 2014

5 Things About…a highly unsatisfactory day

Today was what I (borrowing freely from L.M. Montgomery) like to call a Jonah day. It was one of those days where I wished a big fricking whale would just come along and swallow me up. Because sometimes, being confined in a dark, smelly mammal stomach is actually more appealing than living in my own reality.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad. I think it just felt that way because I didn't have any wine or chocolate in the house. In no particular order, here are five of the many things that made today A Highly Unsatisfactory Day.

1. I rolled in raccoon poop. That's right: I got POOP ON ME. I had taken the kids to the hayloft to play since it was -25 outside and we were all on the verge of going batshit crazy inside the house. As they jumped from bale to bale and rolled squealing through piles of straw, I warned them repeatedly to watch out for raccoon poop. Then I plumped myself down in the straw, stretched and and rolled directly onto a big plop of 'coon doodie. The kids thought it was hysterical. Jade, ever the comedian, yelled, "WATCH OUT FOR POOP MUMMA!"

2. Last night I bought two little chickens, rubbed them all over with herbs, olive oil and good mustard and roasted them to delicious perfection. Roast chicken is not part of my usual repertoire, especially since D informed me that those cute, inexpensive birds are likely ONLY TWO MONTHS OLD!? But D has been doing double duty, working at the office and then heading to the farm to do evening chores and I thought it might be fun to make something a bit different for supper. Afterward, I cleaned up most of the kitchen, but was too tired to deal with the gross pan of chicken grease and decided it could wait until morning. Have you ever seen what ten hours of air does to chicken fat? GAH. As if to drive the point home, I somehow managed to dump an entire pan of said fat mixed with hot water all over the counter, the draining board full of clean dishes, and, of course, myself. I really hope D enjoyed that chicken because it's likely the last one I'll be cooking - or cleaning up after - for a while.

3. On Tuesdays, I take Jade to skating practice. Parents are asked to take turns at "manning the booth" to sell coffee, chips, sour keys, and all that other arena goodness. This week it was my turn. I like being in the booth, because it means I don't have to chase Dylan around like a madwoman, plus I get time to chat with other parents and watch Jade swish around the ice from a perfect viewpoint. I've volunteered a few times, but this was the first time I got hit on. By two ten year old boys. Have mercy. What is this world coming to?

4. Saran wrap: 3. Kim: 0 Lord, how I hate that stuff...

5. Around 7:45 p.m., I sent the kids upstairs to undress and get ready for bed. I slumped on the couch to check Facebook and recount the the wreckage of my day. The house was a disaster; I had lunches to make, dishes to do, laundry to fold but all I wanted to do was lie on the couch and fantasize that the children would somehow put themselves to bed. It dawned on me that there was a whole lot of crazed giggling going on upstairs. I dragged myself off the couch to investigate, expecting to find them playing tickle tag or short-sheeting my bed. I did not expect to find an entire roll of toilet paper ripped into pieces and strewn about the bathroom floor while my naked children pranced through it singing, "A-rah-cha-cha-cha-CHA-cha!"

"WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!" I demanded. "WHO MADE THIS AWFUL MESS?"

"Dylan did it," said Jade immediately. "Dylan took all the toilet paper off the roll, Mumma. I did not do it." Dylan had wisely taken his naked dance party into the bedroom the moment I walked upstairs, so since he was well out of stink eye range my glare fell squarely upon my four-year-old daughter.

"So you had nothing to do with...this?" I asked, waving my hand at the toilet paper carnival.

Jade looked at me with the innocence of a baby seal."For true Mumma! I didn't take it off the roll. I only ripped it up."

At least she's honest.

I gave them both a big lecture about how every time we waste paper, a tree cries, and that seemed to leave them sufficiently chastised. At least until they discover the next household item to destroy and dance on.

So that, friends, was my day. I can only hope that yours was better. And thank my lucky stars that tomorrow is a brand new day, without any mistakes in it.






Sunday, 23 February 2014

Double or Nothing…the conclusion

My sister and I had lost the second Euchre game to the Brothers Lowry. Now we were on our second round of dirty martinis and starting to feel desperate. There was entirely too much Feick losing and Lowry winning going on for our liking. I think of myself as a liberated woman who doesn't need to prove herself in the company of men, but there's something about playing against my husband that makes my blood boil with a seething desire to win. Unfortunately, I suck at Euchre.

It was Carman's deal. The boys made smarmy remarks about expensive bottles of wine as I poured another round of drinks and shook the last of the Goldfish Pretzels into a bowl (emergency snacks - we were out of chips). Apropos of nothing, D held up Tanzi's new bikini, which she'd left out on the counter for my inspection. "What the hell is this?" he asked, holding it arm's length like it was a dead rat. When informed it was Tanzi's new bathing suit, he snorted and told her it had way too much material. Having bought seven of them for me over the years, D considers himself something of an expert on bikinis, and is of the "less is more" school of thought.

While my sister and D debated appropriate bikini sizes, I sucked on an olive and tried to think of the Euchre cheating signals my sister and I used when we were kids. That's when Tanzi proposed the most outrageous bet in the history of Someday.

"Okay boys. How about double or nothing?"

Everyone rolled their eyes.

If we win," she continued over the rim of her martini glass, "you guys have to put on my new bikini and get your picture taken in front of the Christmas tree."

A hush fell over the card table. The Lowry brothers eyed one another. I grinned; my sister was suddenly a genius. At least, three martinis made it seem like she was.

"D'you mean the outside tree?" asked Carman, looking dubious. It was -20 with the wind chill.

"Yup," said Tanzi.

"You're on," D said immediately. Clearly, he feared no loss. Carman did a kind of half-nod, half-shrug to signal his reluctant assent, then held up a finger. "Wait. What do we get if you guys lose?" he asked.

"Nothing," I said. "It's double or nothing. Get it?" I wasn't really sure that's what double or nothing meant, and I could tell Carman wasn't sure either, but for reasons best attributed to cider, he went along with it.

By now I'm sure you've guessed the outcome: the Feick girls smoked the Lowry boys and won the fateful bet. I'm proud to say that my husband and his brother said not one word of complaint, although they wore a look similar to the one they have when the Leafs fail to get into the playoffs.



I've been forbidden from posting any incriminating photos here ("Kim, I have a JOB.") but suffice it to say the boys followed through. Carman took the bottom half of the bikini, D took the top half and out they went in the frigid weather to pose with our wooden Santa in front of the Christmas tree. They were excellent sports and gracious, if humiliated, losers. Best of all, Tanzi and I have the proof to hold over their heads in all Lowry/Feick tourneys to come. Double or nothing has never been so sweet!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Hurray hurray, it's V-DAY!!!!!!


Say what you want, Valentine's Day is a happy little holiday in my books. I can't wait till the kids fall asleep so I can creep downstairs to make the kitchen table especially special. We've managed to decorate almost every room in the house so far, but I want to surprise Jade and Dylan with silly heart plates, my special red juice glasses that Jade not-so-secretly covets and heart-shaped pancakes in the morning. I blame my mother for spoiling us rotten with Valentine treats every year; even if you don't have kids or a significant other, there's gotta be SOMEONE in your school or work or life that's worthy of a little extra love on the 14th.

Here's an old post, which made me giggle a bit. As my dear old Babushka used to say, Happy Valenschtines!

Double or Nothing?

Every Christmas, my sister Tanzi comes up to Someday for a visit. This year, she was on vacation from her teaching stint in Bali, so it was extra special to have her stay over on Christmas Eve and wake up with us to witness the kids'Christmas morning frenzy.

Whenever she visits during the holidays, invite D's brother Carman over for a night of junk food, booze and euchre. Carm and Tanzi get along well, and D and I don't get many opportunities to indulge our competitive natures, so it's something I look forward to: a little brotherly/sisterly fellowship, a little marital one-upmanship. It's also a perfect opportunity to make bets, win bragging rights and generally be obnoxious to whomever loses. This year, double or nothing took on a new meaning.

Carman dutifully arrived after chores on the chosen night, freshly showered and wearing a nice sweater, which I took as a discreet compliment to Tanzi and a possible indication that my usually reticent bro-in-law actually enjoyed getting together for our social evening. Then he slumped onto the couch and asked D what the score of the Leafs game was.

"Guys!" I protested. "We're supposed to be playing cards!"

"Yeah!" Tanzi chimed in. "You're supposed to be visiting with me! Hello - I'm going back to BALI, you know."

The brothers Lowry didn't even look at us when they answered in eerie unison, "After the game."

Nonplussed, my sister and I cracked open a bottle of champagne (one of our Christmas holiday traditions) and broke out the Yahtzee dice to bide our time until the hockey was over. The Leafs were ahead by a couple of goals, then by one goal, then tied, and the boys winced and groaned as their favourite team's chances of winning diminished.

"Wanna bet on the game?" Tanzi asked D during a commercial break. The score was 3/3. D swivelled in his chair and stared at her while Carm looked skeptical. "What?" Tanzi asked, all wide-eyed innocence. "Whoever wins has to buy the other person a really expensive bottle of wine."

"Hardly a fair bet" I mumbled as I rolled the Yahtzee dice. "Leafs suck."

"I heard that," said D. "Okay, you're on." He set his mouth in a grim line, and turned back to the TV where the Leafs proceeded to win the game in a shootout.

"Whoo hoo, did I just win?" yelled my sister. She had maybe drunk a little too much champagne.

After correcting Tanzi's perception, D strutted over to the kitchen table to begin our euchre tourney with more swagger than usual. Oh great, I thought. Now they'll be extra cocky if we lose. I tried to telegraph a "let's kick their asses!" message to my sister as Carman divided the deck but she wasn't paying attention. As the cards were dealt, D uncorked a bottle of the boys' famous apple cider. The sisters Feick would need liquid courage of our own to face the smug brothers Lowry at euchre, so I made dirty martinis.

Martinis are not a common occurrence at Someday, as D loathes olives and gin with equal fervour and I'm not much for hard liquor. I seem to only drink martinis when my sisters are around, probably a throwback to watching our mom and her friends drink them by the gallon. Mom, ever the good Russkie, would take a bottle of Stolichnaya out of the freezer, pour a slow glug into one of her antique glasses, toss in a curl of lemon peel and Nastrovia! The Martini of champions was born.

I'm more of a gin-based, dirty martini kinda girl, which means pouring equal parts gin and olive juice into a martini glass and chucking a handful of olives in at the end. My sister oohed appreciatively as I set our martinis on the table, while Carman and D recoiled in disgust. They couldn't understand why anyone would refuse a glass of their beautiful cider, much less drink a glass of alcohol mixed with salty brine. At any rate, our poisons of choice only served to fuel the flames of competition as the euchre tourney of 2014 got underway.

Tanzi and I quickly and unceremoniously lost the first game in a devastating 10-3 score.

"Gimme another martini," commanded my sister before turning to Carman and D. "Okay, boys. We let you have that one."

"That's two bottles of wine," said D with a smirk as he shuffled the cards.

Tanzi waved her hand as though D was an annoying fly instead of an annoying brother-in-law. "Whatever. Quit stalling and start dealing." D obliged and we proceeded to lose the next game, which called for more cider, another round of martinis and an even more daring bet by my reckless sister.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to this startling tale of pride and debauchery...

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Siren Song

Sometimes (usually in the middle of the night after my son has crawled into my bed and is snoring two centimetres away from my ear), I think about all the freedom I had before I became a parent. I remember the glorious mornings of sleeping in, the nights full of pillow talk with D; going for motorbike rides or spur-of-the-moment ski trips; salsa dancing at the club till the wee hours; eating wine and popcorn for supper and to hell with dishes. And random naps. Oh, how I miss random naps. It's pretty wild to think about how much life has changed in nine short years.

As I made the kids' beds this morning, bleary-eyed from yet another night of broken sleep, I surveyed the happy wreckage of their room. I uncovered a layer of toy tractors under my son Dylan's comforter, and fought to find my daughter's pillows beneath a landslide of stuffed animals. A princess crown, a pair of flippers, sixteen stray blocks and a kaleidoscope were stuffed under Dylan's bed. Under Jade's I found her precious pink piƱata from her birthday party last May and three pairs of crumpled pyjamas. Sitting on the edge of my daughter's bed to untangle the inside-out arms and legs from her PJs, it struck me just how empty my life would be without her and her brother in it. Which, considering I never wanted children for most of my adult life, is saying something.

In my experience, life with two kids under the age of five vacillates wildly between predictable routine and utter chaos. Most days, it's all about the cuddles and giggles and teachable moments. And then there are the days I want to run screaming down the lane and beg the first motorist to please give me a ride to ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HERE. I don't know if that's typical for most parents, but it's my normal. My kids are bright, hilarious, challenging, willful creatures who teach me every day how to be a mum, in good times and in bad.

I'm lucky, because thanks to school and day care and Grandma Lowry, I get lots of me-time every week to do the typical hausfrau stuff and write a bit, which preserves my sometimes tenuous hold on sanity. I'm aware that this is not typical, as most parents don't get the type of breaks from parenting that I do, let alone the opportunity to take a two-week break to an exotic locale sans children.

A few ladies from my Mom's Group got together last night for supper at the local Chinese place. We were celebrating an early Chinese New Year (aka making up an excuse to get out of the house and drink wine), and our conversation bubbled and swirled around a whirlpool of topics, punctuated with splashes of laughter. The stream of talk came to rest, briefly, on the subject of my younger sister, Tanzi. She's teaching at an international school in Bali for the next year, living in a glorious house with marble floors and a pool, learning to drive a motorbike and having supper at the beach every night. It's not all paradise, but it's a lot more exotic an experience than life in the Bruce is for any of us Moms.

"You should totally go!" one friend said, eyebrows raised.

"Of course you should!" chimed in another. "What a perfect opportunity to travel!"

"Well, I couldn't really take the kids," I began.

"Duh, of course not," said the first friend. "Go by yourself! They have an awesome Grandma to take care of them, they'll be fine." (Clearly, my mother-in-law's reputation is well-known.)

"But I'd have to go at least two weeks," I explained. "It's a 24 hour trip just to get there. I couldn't leave the kids for two weeks."

"Oh, yes you could," they assured me. One girl stabbed her finger on the page of the magazine another Mom had brought featuring our Chinese horoscopes, which we'd been reading aloud to each other. "Look, it says right here in your horoscope: 'World Travel.' You have to go!"

There are lots of people who travel with their kids to other countries outside of North America. Several of the women in my Mom's group have done it. I see photos on Facebook of parents in amazing locations with their kids and marvel at the sheer courage and fortitude it takes to pack and load up children, sit with them for hours on a plane, then have adventures together without the comfort of home and familiarity of routine. I applaud folks who do it - I think travel is magical for adults and kids alike. And I applaud equally loudly for the parents who leave their kids in someone else's capable hands and go on a vacation unencumbered by diapers and strollers. For a few days, maybe a week, it would be heaven.

But two weeks? Overseas?

Without a career ladder to climb, or even a regular job to clock into, my main focus when the kids are home is being Mummy. And I like it. On the days when I'm not writing (or trying to write) or volunteering at the school or being a hausfrau, and my children are at home, I don't try to pay the bills or blog or do anything that requires a lot of my attention. Those days are theirs, and as much as possible, they have my undivided attention to play, read, build, paint, bake, bathe, have dance parties, frolic in the snow, whatever. As much as my 25 year old self would recoil in horror, I often feel that I'm at my best when I'm with Jady and Dyl. I'm getting pretty good at this mothering thing, most of the time, even when I'm doing the not-so-fun stuff like wiping bums and getting barfed on at 3 a.m. It's more of an art than a science, and hey, I was an Arts major!

Right now, I don't need two weeks off, which is ironic because there's been plenty of eye-rolling on my part when D tells me he can't afford to take time off work on a certain day or week. But now I get it. Bali would be cool; I just can't afford to take the two weeks off from my kids' lives right now. Their crazy little siren songs are too strong.

Friday, 10 January 2014

The morning poke

This morning, after shuffling Jade down the lane and onto the bus for the first time in three weeks, I did something sneaky. Once Dylan was absorbed in his BBC kids' show, I tiptoed outside and sat on the back stoop with a hot cup of coffee, flavoured with the last of the eggnog. The air smelled fresh and melty, instead of frigid and manure-y like it did last night. Breathing it in gave me more satisfaction than even that first sip of coffee. I watched a cloud of finches burst into the air and settle with a chorus of chirrups in the naked branches of our red maple. An irate blue jay soon scattered them, but they whooshed their way onto the black walnut tree instead in a cheerful, fluttering rush. I could hear a distant snow plow scraping its way along our road, but other than that and the chatter of finches, there was delicious stillness. Then faintly, I could hear a voice through the open kitchen window hollering the one word with the power to shatter any zen moment: "MUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMYYYYYYYY!?"

It was five minutes of solitude at the most, in weather that's finally warm enough to pause in without six layers of protective clothing, but it was all I needed to give me the poke in the brain I've been waiting for: it's time to write again.

We've been housebound since Sunday, thanks to the "arctic vortex" that descended on most of our area over the past week, bringing nose-hair-freezing, bone-cracking temperatures and wind that slices through you like a samurai sword. You know it's bloody cold when a winter lovin' gal like me starts to shiver in her snow pants. And before the deep freeze, we had my sister and nephew's arrival from Australia to celebrate, the my other sister's arrival from balmy Bali, then a wave of sickness at Someday which postponed Christmas to Boxing Day. Throw in a few Lowry Christmas celebrations, travelling to and from my Dad's cabin, New Year's, one sister's departure and enough laundry to choke an industrial washing machine, and life was full to the brim of…well, life.

Not that I'm complaining, or making excuses. I just decided that it was time for a sabbatical from writing. After all the edits and drafts and proofreads and reorgs of my book, I'd had enough. When I played Candy Crush or pretended to be a kitty for sale for my daughter's enjoyment or sat on the couch and read a pile of books under D's disapproving eye, I was conscious of my blog and my notebook and my new purple pen staring at me balefully. "Yeah, you can wait," I told them, and refused to feel any guilt whatsoever. Instead of writing, I cooked soups and stews and baked biscotti and smartie cookies. The kids and I decorated the house to within an inch of its life. I hung out with my sisters and nephew, hurt my knee tobogganing, played "Coffee Monster" and tractors and Sneaky Snacky Squirrel with the kids, re-read three of my favourite Game of Thrones volumes and uploaded a squillion photos onto Facebook. I didn't read any blogs, I didn't write any blogs, and I didn't care. The nice thing about being a writer (to me, anyway) is that even when you're not physically putting stuff down on paper, you can write stories in your head until finally there's no room left and they have to burst out onto the page.

This morning's five minutes of gorgeous, snowy peace reminded me that it's probably time to end the sabbatical and get back on the ol' writing horse again. I'm ready now. I've had a good rest, a very full winter of joys and irritations and the ideas are starting to leak out of my ears. Hopefully you're all still interested in hanging out with me at the Someday Diaries again.