Friday, 29 February 2008

5 generations

Colin, Caleb and I returned last night from our visit to Vancouver, British Columbia this week. I have family out west, and so I ventured out there with the kids and my Dad to visit and introduce everyone to Caleb. The flight was long, but manageable, thanks to our new portable DVD player and my Dad's incredible patience and help. I've flown four times now with babies/children, so if anyone is looking for ideas/advice, be sure to ask!

So aside from fighting the time change, we had a fantastic time. What is most remarkable is that we had 5 generations together. That's right - Colin and Caleb have a great great grandmother. In fact, when Colin was born, he had three great great grandparents! We have been blessed with good health and longevity, allowing our family to be so full these many years. When Colin was born, he had 13 grandparents (including all the "greats"). I think back to my own grandparents and feel so lucky to be close to all of them. I have memories of time spent with all of them. Here are a few of my memories, that bridge the 5 generations:

1. Great Great Grandma and Grandpa Gall - sitting with grandma on the piano bench at her home, as she played "How much is that doggie in the window" and "On top of spaghetti" for me. I recall the thrill of the glissando at the end of the latter song, the pure delight my little five year old self took in listening to her sweet voice. Grandpa's funny little tartan cap.

2. Great Grandma and Grandpa Martin - Listening to their stories of raising six kids in the northern Canadian territories while Grandma makes homemade bread.

3. Great Great Grandma Martin - her incredible gift for playing the piano by ear...I have a great love of many of the "oldies" (songs from the 30's, 40's and 50's) that she would treat us to each visit.

4. Great Great Grandma Terry - her wit at our family Christmas gift exchanges - will anyone dare "steal" that pillow from a 95 year old woman?

5. Nana and Poppy - Camping at Six Foot Bay, singing around the campfire, unhooking sunfish from fishing rods, Poppy's jolly laugh and Nana getting right in their with the kids.

6. Ma and Pa Martin - their delight in discovering the differences between raising boys and girls (they had 3 girls and no boys!) Ma's unending patience with Colin and Pa babbling back to Caleb.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Raising our children

Isn't the circle of life wonderful? I am in constant wonder and awe at the seemingly complicated and yet wonderfully simple world in which we live. With 6 billion people busying and bustling around the earth, with work and play, and economy and culture, and world events and personal schedules, filling our lives will literally take a lifetime. With the added responsibility (and full time job) of motherhood, I feel overwhelmed with the largeness of life.

And yet I heard a beautiful phrase that breaks the mountain to conquer down into one little rock which I hold in my hand. It sums up what our entire human race is doing here, what each day is ultimately about. It has to do with the family and our roles in it. The phrase was this: we aren't raising children, we're raising parents.

Isn't that a fantastic idea that captures the idea of the circle of life? We have been raising generations and generations for thousands of years, each age in charge of bringing up the next, that our race might be a little better, that we might improve the world in which we live, that we might come a little closer to a utopian idea of love and brotherhood. We should not judge our children by the accolades they receive in school or work or the world - the fruit of our labours as parents will be evident in the types of parents our children become.

How much more responsibility do I feel, having sons? In a time when the role of the father is diminishing, where children see less and less discipline, and see less and less of their own fathers; in an age where the pursuit of happiness is equated with wealth and power and fame; during an era which is seeing the destruction of the family; I know my work is cut out for me, and yet I feel the immense importance of what I am doing.

I pray for the strength and wisdom I need to raise good parents.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


Some friends of mine attended a workshop a couple of weeks ago on "love languages", based on a book by author Gary Chapman. He contends that there are five major methods of love-giving ("love languages"), and each person responds differently to each type. Each person also "speaks" a primary love language, and responds strongly to one of the types of love-giving. Chapman identifies these love languages as: physical touch, gifts, quality time, acts of service, and words of affirmation. In order to best make someone feel loved, you must "speak" their primary love language to them.

I didn't get to attend with my friends, but hearing them converse about the evening, I was immediately drawn to these ideas. Colin most definitely needs quality time. He loves to be with people of any age. I never need to take a bag of toys when we visit other people - he's most content just to hang out with us. He has always been drawn to people, and has never suffered from shyness or separation anxiety.

Caleb, on the other hand, is completely different. Right from birth he has needed touch. He needs to be held. When he wakes, he cries with terror in his cry, that I am not near. He does not like to be put down. Someone might perceive that I cater to him; that I am fostering a bad habit in him; that I am spoiling him. But I have noticed there is a marked difference in Caleb. He truly needs the touch, instead of simply wanting it. I am not fostering neediness, I am nurturing love.

I am interested in reading this book now, to learn more in depth about each of these love languages. My friends were commenting on how they understand better the people in their lives - family, children, spouse, in-laws (notably!) - and how they have been able to reconcile differences that seemed oceans apart. We easily understand the obvious difference between spoken languages; I hope that I may apply that same knowledge to the variety in expressions of love to deepen my own relationships.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Ways of learning

I witnessed an interesting facet of Colin's personality yesterday. He has been emerging as a very bright boy, quick to pick things up and a memory to retain things instantly. I got the chance to actually witness him in his learning mode.

Tired of hearing "Baby Baluga" for the umpteenth time, I told Colin I had a new song to play for him. I turned on "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" and started to sing along. Colin turned to me and said sharply "No sing Mommy!"

I'd never been told that before by Colin, and so I stopped and watched to see what would follow. Colin stood perfectly still, staring at the CD player as the song played on. He didn't move a muscle for the entire track, just listened intently. As the last notes died away, he turned to me and said "Mountain again?"

I reset the song and then turned back to him. This time, he danced and sang along, catching all of the timing, and most of the melody and words. I was amazed that he had not only picked up the form of the song, including the actions, but that he seemed to remember in which order the verses came!

However, even more amazing was later that evening, as I was putting Colin to bed, he requested "Mountain" as his lullaby. Being short on time, I sang him the first verse, kissed his head and started to leave. He promptly sat up and said "six white horses!" I couldn't fool him. He knew there were more verses. I obliged him verse two, after which he declared "see her!", requesting verse 3. He proceded to guide me through the entire song.

Okay, so this was a bit of a mommy-bragging blog entry, but it wasn't the intelligence of my son that got me about this experience. It was that I got to witness the process of how he assimilates information. I think back to him standing there in the kitchen, eyes locked on the CD player, requesting complete silence. I could see him drinking in everything, as though this was the only chance he had to learn it. And then at the end of this process, it was all there, in his head.

There are many different ways people learn, and I'm grateful to have seen one of the ways Colin does. I think understanding him will be key for me as I try to teach him at home and help him learn throughout his life.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Helping the world

I participated in an interesting discussion today. Two women were talking about leaving tomorrow for a two-week mission to Uganda. They will be helping in small villages, administering medicine, and visiting orphanages. One woman was concerned about how heartbreaking it will be to witness first-hand the situations in which these people live, and the trials they face every day.

Then, the conversation turned to Paul (of the New Testament), and how he described himself as being saved not from poverty, but from prosperity. I had never considered that the curse of prosperity might be equal to or greater than that of poverty. We often feel the urge to help those less fortunate than us, but what about those who are drowning in their riches? We live in a world where power, fame and fortune are chased with such vigor that many lose sight of what is really important in life.

We recognize the plight of hunger, the rage of disease, the unrest of politics, and the fury of war. Our hearts collectively weep at the site of the innocent children effected by the uncontrollable conditions around them. But what for the celebrities lost in their altered reality? Do we long to help them realize the damage they do to themselves and their loved ones? Or do we simply dismiss their case with "if I had that much money..." What of those we know who are not celebrities, but suffer the same malady, chasing the same aimless pursuits, always searching and never finding true joy.

The child living in Africa may not have many worldly possessions, but she may not feel the emptiness in her heart that many North Americans feel.

It is easy to say that I would be different if 'blessed' with fame or power or riches. But perhaps I too have been 'saved' from the trials that come with those things. Perhaps I wouldn't be strong enough to handle the temptations. Perhaps I should say: "thank you for not giving me a million dollars."

I am indeed grateful for that which I have. I do not want to fall prey to the idea that I don't have enough. I am richly blessed in so many ways. I want to make sure that I'm happy for the life of moderation I live, and that I show my thanks for that daily.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Where do they learn these things?

Although I don't have a formal learning time at home, I do spend some time each day teaching Colin new things. Sometimes we learn to count by counting the number of toy cars in his box or how many strawberries on his plate. He has magnetic letters on the fridge through which he has learned his alphabet. We sing songs to learn music or to learn body parts. We talk about how things are big and small, and what colours they are. He has a natural curiosity in him, and always asks "what's this?" for something that is new to him. We pick up toys or household machines and figure out how they work. The other day a singing bear stopped working, and I came into the room to find the bear undressed, turned over, the velcro padding and a zipper undone, the battery lid slid off and the batteries taken out. Colin promptly looked up to me and said "needs new batteries!" (sidenote: we had never taken apart this bear - he just managed to figure out how to get to the route of the problem!)

So today on a long car ride home from a morning trip out, calling started to meow like a cat. I jumped at what I thought would be a great learning opportunity. We have talked about cat's meowing at home before, because we have a pet cat. But animal sounds isn't something I'd covered.

Mommy: What animal says "meow", Colin?
Colin: A cat!
Mommy: And do you know what a dog says?
Colin: Woof!
(Mommy is totally surprised and decides to take this further)
Mommy: And what does a cow say?
Colin: Cow says moo.
Mommy: What does a pig say?
Colin: Pig says oink oink oink. (Apparently pigs are chatty creatures)
Mommy: What does a horse say?
Colin: Neigh.
Mommy: And a duck?
Colin: Duck says quack.

I won't bore you with all the animals we went through (you know what they all say!), but I was blown away that somewhere along the way, with no specific learning time, Colin managed to pick all this up. Yet another reminder how quick kids are, and even if you don't think they're learning anything, they are absorbing the environment around them like little sponges.

(Sidenote: The other day James, trying to be funny, turned to Colin and said "Est-ce que to me comprends quand je parle en francais?" [Translation: "Do you understand me when I speak French?"] Without blinking an eye, Colin replied: "Nope." In time, Colin, in time.)

To Each Artist His (or Her) Own

I was born an artist. I have been an actor, a musician, a poet, a novelist, a sketcher, a playwright, a director, a filmmaker, a photographer, a graphic designer, a dancer...I don't think any artist ever pursues just one art. We have a need to express ourselves through these mediums; we have messages and beauty we want to share with the world. Those of you who are fellow artists innately understand what I mean.

So for those of you who are artists, or those of you who appreciate art, here is a story for you. It's a little on the long side, so make sure you've got a few minutes before starting it, but I found it truly charming. Here's to following dreams, and finding the artist in each of us.

"Diva of the Desert"

In the scorched wasteland of Death Valley, California, lies one of the most unusual theaters in America: the Amargosa Opera House. The quirk is that no opera is ever performed there - only ballet. And there is only one performer: a prima ballerina named Marta Becket, who at 79 years of age still performs her solo show in the desert, as she has for the last 38 years.

In 1967 Becket, a dancer and artist from New York, was on a camping trip in the desert with her husband. When they had a flat tire on their trailer, a local park ranger told them they could get it fixed in Death Valley Junction. The town had been built in the 1920s by the Pacific Coast Borax Company to house its mine workers...Aside from the old company offices, there was a 23-room hotel with a lavishly painted lobby, still open for business, and something that really caught [Marta's] eye: a rundown community center known as Corkhill Hall.

Peeking through a hold in Corkhill's door, she saw a small stage with tattered cotton curtains. Trash was strewn between the wooden benches that faced the stage. Marta said later, "Peering through the tiny hole, I had the distinct feeling that I was looking at the other half of myself. The building seemed to be saying, 'take something with me...I offer you life.'"

Marta...rented the hall for $45 a month. Six months later, on February 10, 1968, she gave her first performance. There were 12 people in the audience, all of them locals curious to see what the peculiar lady from New York was up to. Occasionally, curious tourists would wander in. Sometimes no on was there at all. Marta always performed no matter what. One night she had just begun her performance to an empty house when four people came in. They sat quietly, applauded politely at the curtain call, and left. Becket thought nothing of it until a few months later, when an article about her appeared in National Geographic magazine. After that, audiences grew. Locals kept coming back; at first they came to gawk and laugh, but left strangely moved by the sight of this intense woman following her muse wherever it led her.

Although age has forced her to cut back the number of performances she gives each week (she only performs on weekends now) she still begins promptly at 8:15pm.

"I am grateful," she says, "to have found the place where I can fulfill my dreams and share them with the passing scene...for as long as I can."

Friday, 8 February 2008

My son the sculptor

Okay - this is totally a bragging-mom entry. It starts this way:

"My son is so smart..."

Yesterday Colin and I were building with the megablocks. I would build something (castle, house, helicopter, etc) and then he would randomly add blocks to the creation until he pronounced it finished (usually once all the blocks were used up). After a taking a photo, we would dismantle the item and start again. At one point, I made a giraffe. The giraffe went for a ride in the train and ate some food, and then was dismantled. About 15 minutes later, while building a castle, I hadn't noticed that Colin was building on his own. After a few minutes, there was a little tap on my shoulder. Colin proudly held out his creation, announcing "giraffe!"

I was amazed. He had searched through the blocks to find the ones I had used for the giraffe, and done a fairly decent job at re-building the one I had done! okay, so it's missing legs and the neck grows into it's mouth - but for a two-year-old's first attempt - I'd say he's pretty amazing!

Here are the photos (hopefully you can tell which one is mine!)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The family in the community

Isn't this a beautiful image of how families and communities could be? This excerpt is pulled from a book I'm reading about life in Judea around 30 AD. The characters are about to embark on a two-week walk to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles, along with numerous other families of their town:

"Once they started on the march, there would be no effort to keep individual families together. The group was like one large family anyway. The children would gather into rough age groups to play and be together. Whichever family was closest to a given group would keep an eye on them. Most of the men would move out to the head of the column, watching for problems and setting the pace. The women would likewise gather in groups to visit as they walked. The caravan was really much like a rolling village, with family groups taking precedence only at meal times and at night."

I hope that, come the good weather, we'll be able to meet many more people in our neighbourhood and spark a little bit of this spirit in our own community.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008


I am growing weary of the winter. The snowflakes still fall and gracefully blanket the ground; the sun still rises into the clear blue sky that signifies a deep chill in the air; none of the beauty of the season is lost, and yet I grow tired of it all.

I am a hibernating creature. For whatever physical reason, I feel the cold in my body deeper than most. When I step outside, I am bundled in layer upon layer upon layer. (I am often mocked for my obvious lack of Canadian blood. I tell them I have Australian blood running through me.) No matter my positive outlook or clothing preparation, it's only a matter of minutes before every bone in my body is chilled to the point of giving up my attempts to enjoy this beautiful season. Not even my love of hockey, skating and sledding can conquer my body's natural reaction. For the most part, I spend these months inside. Which grows tortuous for one like me who needs to regularly commune with the natural world outside.

I usually sit at my kitchen table to write these entries, which means I'm gazing out our back window. This makes a lovely frame onto a winter vista. It also feels like staring out a prison window, the bars of the frame casting a shadow onto my table. Each day I look out and feel the weight of being inside bear down.

"I'm dreaming of a green spring, just like the ones I used to know-
With the treetops budding, and children playing
And birds flying to and fro
I'm dreaming of green spring, with every blog entry I write
May the days be warm and bright, and may my toes not get frostbite."

Actually, I'm dreaming of my new fence, a beautiful green lawn, Colin spending his energy running about in the fresh air, Caleb sitting out on a blanket and me stretched out with my book. I'm dreaming about planting my first garden (!) and sipping lemonade and grilling hamburgers and vegetables and corn and fish on the barbecue. I'm dreaming about getting to know my neighbours and having my friends and their children over to play and eat in the backyard. I can almost feel the sun beating down on my skin, that warm hug that envelops you with its rays.

But for now, I hibernate. It's not all that bad. Usually hibernation involves food also, and so I take comfort in some delightful snacks - my two greatest weaknesses being chocolate cookies with milk, and fruit salad. I know come summer I'll dream again of white winters, rosy cheeks and frosted noses, hot chocolate and softly falling snow. Ah, why can't we ever be completely satisfied with what we have?!

Monday, 4 February 2008

Mommy Time-Outs

Today my friends (fellow work at home mothers) and I were talking about the need for time to ourselves. I am blessed to have my own mother come by once a week to take Colin for a few hours in the evening, so that I can have a break. James handles Caleb and I am able to do all those things I wish I could do during the week but can't. Sometimes I go out, sometimes I stay in (locked in my bedroom or in taking a bath); I run errands, or do the accounting, or scrapbook, or escape to a coffee shop to read a few chapters of a book.

My friends were saying how rare it is they get time away. Granted with a newborn, it's a little harder, but I still believe it's important. I don't believe I can be effective as a wife and mother if I'm not taking care of myself. It's an important chain, where one link must be strong enough to support those underneath it - and that first link is me.

So to all mothers reading this blog - be sure to take time for yourself. Ask your husband to have a "Daddy-kids night". Buddy up with another work-at-home mom and take each others' kids once a week, even for an hour. Call up your family for a little extra help - it's a sign of strength, not weakness - they will probably love a chance to hang out with nieces and nephews.

And don't forget - while a date night with your husband is important to have, this one is just for you!

Friday, 1 February 2008

Cooking in the Kitchen

I think I've missed my other calling in life. I have recently found that I love to cook. I dabbled in this hobby growing up, usually because cooking a meal once a week was a chore in our household. I think back then I probably made a lot of spaghetti, or maybe threw some frozen meat in the oven and added a can of vegetables.

Now, I'm reveling in it. Each week I take a half hour or so and browse through different recipes, choosing some favourites, adding something new, and crafting a balanced, healthy, adventurous and yummy menu for the week. I love the challenge of having something different each day, mixing up vegetarian meals with meat, traditional English dinners with exotic stir-fries, French or Spanish or Mexican or Indian or Asian cuisines.

I love to take time to cook. I often leave myself an hour to prepare dinner, so that I can do it leisurely. (I have become quite adept at tuning out the noise of a family during this time. This is James' time to be parent to both kids).

Aromas fill the house as things cook up on the stove. My fingers browse through the spice rack, pulling out this or that to add into the pot. Little bowls fill with ingredients, freshly chopped or sliced or peeled. One pot boils as the skillet hisses and the oven warms up. A symphony of colour begins to build around me. Plates are carefully (and sometimes skillfully) created to be served up to waiting mouths.

I find true pleasure in preparing to feed my family physically. It is enchanting to see their smiles of joy when I've cooked their favourite foods, or to hear their decisions on a new meal idea. I revel in the successes (Empanadas) and laugh at the failures (Pad-Thai). I have found I'm even coming to the point where I can create my own meals - most meeting with success.

I know in a few years it will be an important learning experience for my children to help me cook and prepare meals, but for now I'll use this time as my own little daily escape.