Saturday, 28 December 2013

Home for the holidays

We've been sticking close to home this past week and loving it.

The boys closed out their school days with a Christmas concert.  I led the very first school choir our school has had.  35 kids joined, which was amazing.  The school only has 100 kids, and the 35 kindergarten kids were too young to join, so I actually had one out of two kids sign up.)  It was a tough job, because I had to find music in French without religious themes to sing, and which sheet music I could find.  Which left me with pretty much nothing.  I translated one song we sing in church about Christmas Bells, found a translation "My Favourite Things," and then taught them "Betelehemu" which was neither French nor secular, but was in an African language and so they let it slide.  The kids were amazing and had a great time.

We past our days building Lego (Colin), learning to cook (Caleb), colouring (Juliette) and building train tracks (Benjamin.)  I helped the boys make presents for each other.  Benjamin cut a slot in a pretty bucket and put stickers on the metal lids from frozen juice cans for Juliette, which she thought was the best gift she got.  The other boys made homemade juggling balls from balloons and split peas.

The great ice storm left us with a couple days of cancelled plans.  We danced a lot to "Deck the Rooftop" (a new favourite song) and sat around the piano and the guitar for at least one Christmas sing-a-long a day.  I pulled out my violin again and gave myself a few new lessons.

Yesterday the boys wanted to go outside, and once I tried to shovel a little path in the backyard, we discovered a thick layer of ice.  We pulled out the skates and they had a blast.  It was Benjamin's first year on skates.  I tried to put on the double bladed bob skates, but they would stay on.  He asked for a "real" pair of skates instead.  Once I laced them up, I asked if he wanted me to hold his hand while he got on the ice.  "Don't worry mom, I got this," he assured me.  And he did.  The boy was born to be on skates.  Oh yeah - and he couldn't start skating around until he had sung the national anthem (in French), just like in hockey games.  Juliette was not to be left out either, eager to get into her winter gear every time the boys did.

We still have a few more get togethers in the next week, including Christmas with my sisters on New Years Day.  I'm still hoping that in the next year or two we can start a tradition of renting a winter cottage over New Years and all hang out together, the kids with their cousins, to ring in the new Year.  but for now, we fill our days and call in early nights, with time for James and I to cuddle up and read or watch something together in the evenings.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pacing life

Yesterday I was asked "So, how is the holiday chaos going?"

I paused, only a moment.  "It's not," I replied.  "There really isn't any chaos."

My answer made me reflect on that.  I have seen many articles written in the last month about how to simplify the holidays, make things easier, faster, and how to make time for family.  Whether you call it chaos, craziness, busyness or stress, there seem to be so many negative emotions associated with these celebratory times.

That's not to say that having a packed schedule is a bad thing; for some people it's exactly what they love about the holidays.  They love hosting and attending parties, baking boxes of homemade treats, lingering in the stores, listening to concerts, and driving through winter scenes to visit friends and family.

For me, that would be chaos, and it would leave me stressed.  And it appears that this is the case for so many others also, given the many articles out there on how to de-stress your holiday.  So what have I done this year?  What tips or secrets to getting to all those parties without children melting down, or without melting myself in an over-heating kitchen from an oven running 24/7?  It's all about pacing.

What is your pace?  Mine is a slow one.  I noticed this year that I have an aversion to writing more than one thing per day on my calendar.  No matter the length of the appointment (15 minutes or 2 hours), I don't schedule more than one.  There's a temptation that if the first meeting is a short one, then I could conceivably add two or three more.  But I don't.  There's a lot to getting out the door in my life right now, and so I leave it at one.

Baking?  I might do it, I might not.  If I was invited by a friend or family member to bake for an evening, I would probably go.  If the mood struck me one night to make a couple of batches of cookies, I would.  If Christmas Day came and went without Christmas baking, that would be alright, too.  Just like the Grinch realized, Christmas will come without ribbons, tags, packages, boxes or bags (or Christmas baking, or dinner parties, or concerts, or big presents.)

This year we didn't get our Christmas lights up outside.  That's okay.  We're going to take a drive and look at everyone else's displays.  (Christmas will come without lights.)

We do love music at this time of year, and so our commitments were made to choirs and bands and solos and other performances.  Which meant less time for other things.  Christmas gifts for teachers were not homemade this year.  (Christmas will come without those also.)

I wanted the boys to make gifts for each other.  I had some more elaborate ideas, but because most of them will need assistance (or supervision) for the entire gift, I had to scale it back.  (Christmas will come.)

Christmas will come.  The days and nights will pass and Christmas day will come.  This year, I have chosen a pace that will bring peace and joy.  It will bring books read by the tree and the carols on the violin and guitar.  It will bring time with friends, and time at home.  It will be exactly the pace I need to be calm and happy, setting the same tone in my house and for my family.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Christmas List

I heard this list the other day.  I want to make it a yearly list of Christmas wishes, goals for me to cross off one by one to celebrate the Advent.  My own little Advent calendar.

Mend a quarrel.
Seek out a forgotten friend.
Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust.
Write a letter.
Give a soft answer.
Encourage youth.
Manifest your loyalty in word and deed.
Keep a promise.
Forgo a grudge.
Forgive an enemy.
Try to understand.
Examine your demands on others.
Think first of someone else.
Be kind.
Be gentle.
Laugh a little more.
Express your gratitude.
Welcome a stranger.
Gladden the heart of a child.
Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth.
Speak your love and then speak it again.

- Howard W Hunter

Each could be a moment in a day, or a long and laboured spiritual journey.  I see a small notebook with a story, a word, a thought, or a heart poured out to capture the experience of each of the 22 acts.  I see it added to year after year, until the pages are filled and spill onto a second, third, fourth book.  I see old, crinkled eyes caressing the words of days gone by, witnessing a transformation that was too subtle to notice in the time they were actually lived.  I hear a heart speaking from the dust to generations that follow, of a name on an ancestry chart that tried to be a little better as the years rolled on.  I cling to the meaning of Christmas that, each year, falls a little further and further away from the world and entwines my heart with Emmanuel.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Preparing your sons for the "other woman"

I listened to a fantastic broadcast on Focus on the Family yesterday that has been sitting with me ever since.  It was all about a mother who raised her son with the constant thought that she was raising him to be someone else's husband.

I have my sons for 18 years.  For that length of time, they are mine.  I have their whole heart.  I am the woman they will run to with their joys, pains, loves, hurts, successes, failures, dreams and heartaches.  My arms will enfold them in refuge.

But then these arms must let them go.

Somewhere there is a girl who will one day become the most important woman in my son's life.  He will have 18 years with me, but hopefully he will have 50 or more years with her.  What am I doing now to prepare my son to love and respect the most important woman in his life?

Do my sons see themselves as heroes?  Do they have the confidence to stand for something or someone?  Am I helping them become self-sufficient, capable to care for themselves and for others?  Are they learning charity, a love for others outside of themselves?  Are they developing an understanding of the world in which they live?  Do they know the value of hard work, perseverance?  Can they read and ponder ideas, form thoughts and opinions, and then lead out in boldness?  And do they know that falling is not failing, but a chance to practice repentance, forgiveness, and moving on?

I am raising up husbands for noble women, and fathers for the next generation.  I must keep that in mind, and while I love them with my whole heart, I must also one day graciously be sure that my sons transfer their love to this new woman.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


I was in a reading slump for a month there, but no more!

A desperate turn-the-house-inside-out search (for something never found) last week yielded a treasure trove full of books.  I opened up boxes and bins of books that were packed up a few years ago in order to help maximize the small space in which we live.

Now, instead of nothing to read, I have two new piles in each of the kids' rooms, a stack on my night table, and four books I actually carry around the house to read through the day.

What I'm reading:

The Family Idea Book - this is a nifty little collection of small ideas.  Really small - each idea is about three or four sentences.  The thoughts are organized on the page like little bubbles, with only about 5 or 6 on each page.  You can literally open up the book and read for 10 seconds, if you want.  I flew through the whole thing in a day.  Topic headings are Sabbath Day, Family Home Evening, Discipline, Individual Attention, Family Traditions, Organization, Creative Play, and "What shall we do now, Mom?"  What I love most is that it is written by two moms with a whole boat-load of kids (one has 8, the other doesn't mention how many.  But the picture on the front of the book is a mom with 8 kids climbing on all the letters!)  These are real life solutions of things they've done in their homes that actually work.

The New Strong-Willed Child - One day Benjamin will have bloomed into a strong man with bold leadership skills.  Until then, he just might be the end of me.  I bought this book when I thought I was dealing with a strong-willed child.  Then I had Ben.  Now I have this book, again, and I'm seeing things in a whole new light.

Teachings and Commentaries on the Old Testament - I've been falling in love with the ancient lives, rituals, rites, and practices of the Jewish people in Old Testament times.  In our day we are so caught up in making our faith and spiritual worship "real" that we have a hard time understanding the religious rites in ancient times.  But I caught a glimpse of the beauty of it, just a flash in something someone said, and it was like a mystery unlocked.  Now as I read I'm trying to look past the restrictions of it and to see the conduit between God and our spirits.

God's Word (NIV) - Because reading the Old Testament in the King James version can be really tough sometimes.  I love the poetry of the KJV, and I love that it's the most accurately translated, but sometimes I just need to know what the heck they are trying to say.  The NIV is great for that.

Little Women - When the snows falls and covers the ground and all I want to do is curl up with a book and a blanket, the book must be Little Women.  I couldn't count how many times I've read it, but I can add one more to the tally.

(These are in addition to the two book clubs to which I belong, one of which is reading Cutting for Stone and the other Raising up a Family to the Lord.)

Monday, 9 December 2013


Juliette is learning her body parts:

"Nose" (nose)
"Eyes" (eyes)
"Bite" (mouth)

Friday, 6 December 2013

Peace and joy

Peace and joy.

These are two words often associated with this time of year.  I've been reflecting on the epic ideas that lie behind the tiny doors of these little words.  I cling to these words because I yearn for an aura about myself and my home that reflects peace and joy.

There is a beautiful image in my mind (that I often associate with Little Women) of my peaceful, joyful home.  There is joy in laughter and gathering and family and friends and food and stories and song.  There is peace in quiet reading beside a fire and snuggling up in blankets and writing and prayer and contemplation.

While my house filled with three young boys and a toddler might not exude peace and joy in every moment, there are certainly enough glimpses of it that I have hope for the future (and common sense enough to know it will be fleeting right now with these young children.)  But I do have peace and joy within me.  And that is a blessing I have taken for granted far too often.

This year I have seen much sadness.  Glimpses into other people, families, and situations.  I'm not talking about great catastrophes or tragedies set upon people's lives that are out of their control (although there has been more than one heart can take of those also.)  This year I have witnessed the turmoil and depression of wrong choices.  I have seen the prison of addiction.  I have seen the hurtfulness of selfishness.  I have seen the rolling stone of greed.  I have seen the suffocation of lies.  I have seen good judgment come down against people who have made poor choices, and I have seen them suffer the consequences.

I have seen what it looks like to live without peace and joy, and only in that contrast have I recognized how blessed I truly am.  For me, this freedom has come because of direction I received from the church in which I was raised.  While developing a spiritual relationship with God, I was also taught how to avoid certain behaviours and habits that might lead down dark roads.  As a teen, these rules seemed restrictive, especially in light of my many peers who did not adhere to such.  In my twenties, they became rules that were rooted in good common sense.  But now, just now, am I coming to realize the great blessing of peace and joy allotted to me because I have avoided decisions that might end in heartache.

Over this Christmas season, I am pondering a little more on peace and joy.  My heart is full of gratitude for these beautiful gifts in my life.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Make Something

My friend posted today about production/consumption.  But it wasn't about the incessant product consuming culture in which we live today.  At Christmastime, we are often more aware that we surround ourselves with things.  We have two coats where one would do.  We have a shelf full of shoes.  We have toys overflowing from the shelves and still we get more gifts.  There is always a rancid piece of food left forgotten in the back of the refrigerator or the endless piles of "food scraps" that are dumped into the compost.

I had a wonderful moment last week when I confronted myself about how much stuff fills my house.  A parent from the kids' school was raised in the Philippines and is preparing to ship a large container of any donations she can collect.  We received a letter home from school encouraging anything we could spare.  I keep a tight ship on extra clothing, since we don't have a lot of space in our home.  What we have is what we wear, or what one child will grow into in a couple of years.  What doesn't fit goes out in bi-monthly purges.  I found a shirt here, a sweater there.  Then I thought about some of the clothing that fits but aren't favourites, and I tossed them into the bag.  Then I opened my summer bins and saw two skirts on top, in different colours.  And the thought hit me hard:

Do I have two where one would do?

Yes, yes I did.  And so I tossed one in.  And then I tossed one of the summer dresses.  Then I tossed in some things that I love but never seem to find a place to wear them to.  Then I threw in some of James' shirts that he hasn't worn in years.  Then I went through the boys' bins and tossed in one out of every two items.  Then I tossed in half of the towels we have, and half of the sheets.  It was wonderful.

So I had a moment this season when I battled the consumer trap in which I find myself.  Then my friend wrote about consuming creations.  We read, we listen to music, we watch TV, we play games - we consume items other people have created.  But do we take the time to make something ourselves?  Do I write what I have to say?  Do I play the music within me?  Do I tinkle the ivories and strum the guitar?  Do I encourage creating in my home?  Not as much as I should, not as much as I would like to.

Thank you, dear friend, for pumping me full of excitement.  There is a creative dream in me, one that has been neglected far too long.  By simple virtue of the fact that I am an individual, unlike no other person who has ever been or will ever be, I have a unique view of life and its experiences.  Only I can create something that conveys the unique collection of ideas that have formed within me. It doesn't have to be for public consumption or even for close friends and family.  It can be just a way to pour out my own personality into something tangible (for posterity?) It's time to find my voice and make something.

Monday, 2 December 2013


Caleb turned six last month, and he grew up a whole bunch overnight.

A couple weeks back he announced to me, early one morning, that he was going to be much more serious about life now.  He wants to try harder, work harder, read more, learn more.  "I don't have as much time for fooling around," he stated.

This morning, when I woke up, he told me not to worry, that he had already had breakfast (including a piece of fruit) and made his lunch for school.  What did he make?  Exactly what I might have put in: his half sandwich of ham and butter, an apple, and a yogurt, with a spoon.  It was all packed up in containers and ready to go.  He told me that a friend from school was in charge of making his own lunch, and if the friend didn't make a lunch, he didn't have one for the day.  "It's time I started making my own lunch, too," Caleb insisted.  "And if I don't make it, then I don't have one."

So grown up, just like that.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Seasons in learning

(Ideas from Oliver and Rachel DeMille's book Leadership Education)

We have four seasons in our natural world.  In the past, almost everyone was tied to the agrarian cycle of the seasons.  Spring meant planting, summer meant tending, fall meant harvesting, winter meant resting.  While my family is not involved in planting and harvesting, there is something to be said to adhering to the long-standing tradition of seasonal shifts.


"Winters are for stories."  Temperatures plummet, making long hours outside uncomfortable.  Daylight hours are shortened, lessening the working hours of our natural circadian rhythm.  Instead of feeling cooped up and tripping over family members, embrace the idea of togetherness.  "Winter is the time to tell the old stories, sing the old songs, and for the younger generation to learn the wisdom of the elder....Winters are for stories.  Not just any stories - but mainly the stories of family, ancestor, founder and pioneer past.  In short, winters are when we pass on that which is classic.  Winter is a time of family closeness."


Spring is for renewal.  After a season spent trapped indoors, it is time to embark on adventures.  Spring naturally lends itself to the study of science, nature, experiments, and the world around.  Goals, plans, and dreams that formed over long winter nights have the chance to take wings.  Try something new, take a risk, stretch yourself physically, mentally and spiritually.  Shake off any winter blahs and boredom and renew yourself.


Summers are for family, especially work projects, evening work, and family activities.  In our modern return to nomadism, there is a real need for summer connections with extended family."  We no longer live in multi-generational homes, with grandparents and cousins part of the fabric of every day life.  Summers is a time when we can reclaim that closeness.  Travelling, vacations, sleepovers, extended stays, cottage weeks - any opportunity to knit the extended family closer.

Summers are good for work - real work, done together in families.  Hard work, sweat work.  Work that means something, that contributes in a real way to the family or community.  Equally, summers are for languishing with good books, when temperatures soar and the air grows thick with heat.


"Fall is for Beginnings."  I've never bought into the idea that the new year begins in January.  The dark days of winter don't lend much excitement to starting new things.  Instead, the advent of the crisp air of fall cleanses the body and soul and invigorates the mind.  Out with the old, in with the new.  Find the structure and schedule that has been missed over the summer.  Make inventories, purge the house, organize. "Set goals, raise the bar to a new level of study, make plans for the months ahead."

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Bean Counter Game

As parents, we have been falling down over and over in the area of disciplining our little imp, Benjamin.  Defiant to the core, nothing seems to be working.  We take away privileges, we withhold rewards, we send him to cool down on his own, we remove him from the situation, we clearly explain expectations, we allow natural consequences...but there seems to be a real disconnect most of the time.

Benjamin doesn't seem to be connecting behaviour with consequences.  Once a consequence happens, he becomes so focused on it that he forgets what behaviour led to the consequence.  Then all we have is a 4 year old melting down because he doesn't get something and he can't for the life of him remember why. 

And so, two years after the "terrible twos" kicked in, we are still facing many battles every single day, with the result of many tears, much anger, yelling, battles, and contention.  Two proverbs come to mind:

The definition of insanity is doing the same the over and over again and expecting different results.

If the student cannot seem to grasp the concept, then the problem is not with the student, but with the teacher.

Something has to change.  I don't want to battle my child every day.  I don't want him to constantly live in a state of distress and unhappiness.  I don't want him to be in danger because of disobedience (like running into the street, which he thinks is quite funny.)

I came across the Bean Counter Game in Oliver and Rachel DeMille's book Leadership Education.  (Much, much more on the ideas in this book to come.)  Looking for something new, I think we are going to try it.

The Bean-Counter is simply a jar of [dry beans,] a nice vase, and another jar to put them into.  Whenever someone does anything correct, noteworthy or admirable, beans go from the jar to the vase.  When the vase is full, an agreed-upon reward is meted out.

When anyone succeeds, all benefit.  No one is resentful or jealous one [someone gets a bean] because everyone gets closer to the Bean-Counter goal.  It is fun to be totally subjective in the awarding of beans so the game is never taken too seriously.  Beans can be awarded for having shoes on the right feet or for clean ears.  Beans can be awarded for being not-as-grumpy-as-one-might-have-been after too little sleep, or for exactness in obedience.

So, as all parents often do, we are shifting around, trying to find something that will work.  And please, please, please - if you have dealt with something similar, do share your tried and true techniques!

Thursday, 28 November 2013


Our darling little girl is nearly 18 months and I still can't believe it.

She's starting to gather more and more words.  She has always "talked" a mile a minute, gibberish words but in complete sentence structure, with inflection and everything.  Now she says "mommy," "daddy," "nurse" (breastfeeding), "doggy" (all animals), "dance" (for music), "yes," "no," "Ben," "shoes," "go," "gagget" (blanket.)  She understands everything we say now.

She loves to read.  I have a little green bucket of board books that sits on the step down to the play room.  She has two little plush chairs there, and she loves to wander over and read through her books on her own.  She doesn't have as much patience if you try and read a book to her.  Her favourite books right now are a little set of board books my sister gave her, with the lyrics from Christmas carols.  "Fa-la-la!" she exclaims, which used to mean "Deck the Halls," but that book went missing, so now it just means any book that is a song.

She loves to dance.  "Dumb Ways to Die" (thank you, Australian metro, for that gem) is a favourite, as well as the remix of "Once There Was a Snowman."  But her absolute top choice is a new CD I have that has scripture verses set to music.  The first one has a beautiful piano part that she loves, and every time a child or children's chorus sings she stops and stares, mesmerized.

She is finally starting to sleep longer chunks.  She does a solid 2 1/2 hour nap every afternoon.  She usually does one 4-5 hour sleep at night, which is a vast improvement.  We only lose that on the occasional times (less than once a week) that my willpower is too weak to avoid a little chocolate (one Hallowe'en chocolate) and then I pay for it because she's up all night having got the allergen through the breast milk.

She has discovered what I term "girl pitch," which is a shrill shriek that none of my boys ever used, but I've heard many times from my friends with girls.  And now we have it in our home.  She used it when she wants something, so I've been firmly teaching her to say "please" ("eez" - with an adorable grin) instead.  It seems to be working.

One of my favourite things she does right now is when she waves "bye."  She's usually such a large personality, jumping right in with the boys, yelling and shrieking.  But when she says bye, she waves her hand back and forth and says in a small, sweet voice, almost a whisper, "bye-ee."

We are having so much fun, just the two of us at home.  We read and dance and colour and sing and it's absolutely lovely.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

If I was homeschooling this week

(I feel like writing down these moments, because one day I really do want to homeschool.  I can remember these times and know that I can do this.)

If I was homeschooling this week:

Colin would be splitting his time between three things: math/logic problems (a boy after my own heart!), Lego building (he's currently designing and building a bi-plane with movable parts) and art exploration (he's nearly through an intro to different art mediums at the local art store.)  We would also be going through his Cub book and working on at least one badge a day.

Caleb would be writing away.  He's filled page after page of stories so far, and would love the endless hours to write and illustrate tales of aliens and pirates and adventure and exploration.  He would be sitting at the piano going through song after song.  He would also tag along on our cub badges, even though he's two years too young for the official program.

They would both be getting some geography with our "find the country" game on our wall world map, and some daily application of our current scripture verses.

(Reality check: Benjamin would be tearing apart any progress we made.  Juliette would be preventing me from spending even two or three uninterrupted minutes with the boys.  And I'm dreaming again of a country property, a space with a least one quiet corner for readers to curl up and retreat from the craziness.  And wide space to hike and explore and build.)


So it turns out that Caleb is our little musician.  I started piano lessons with Colin and Caleb in September.  Lessons have been sporadic, due to James' long work hours and Juliette's desire to scream at us every time we try and sit down.  But Caleb has a real natural ability and affinity for my beloved instrument.   We are flying through his music book.  He can play most of the songs after a couple times through.  He has all the songs he's played so far memorized.  He doesn't spend hours and hours in front of the keys, but he does wander over at least twice a day, just to sit, play, and then bounce off again.

This week he was asked to participate in my friend's Christmas piano recital.  She has a few small recitals over the year and always invites students being taught by parents, who wouldn't have the opportunity to play in a teacher recital.  I arranged a simple version of Jingle Bells, that I now realize is probably too simple, since he can play the whole thing already and he only learned it last night before bed.  Four times through and he's got it.

I have a dream that down the road we'll all be able to pick up our instruments and play together as a family.  Maybe a little too picturesque and idealist as it appears in my mind (think "Little Women") but I still hold to the dream.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Cleaning your room

If I asked my son to go clean his room, what is it that I expect?  Do I expect he will go upstairs and sit in the room and contemplate ways he could clean it?  Do I want him to go with his brother and discuss the merits of cleaning?  Do I want him to journal and illustrate a picture of him cleaning his room?  No, I just want him to go and clean.

I have had this analogy floating in my head for a few weeks now.  Every day I wake up and teach my children.  Every Sunday I have a group of 60+ children to teach.  Every day I try to learn a little more myself.  And yet, too often, we get caught up in the teaching part and stop one step short of what really counts: the application.

I read about the gospel.  I discuss the ideas in the scriptures.  I dissect others' dissertations on the subject.  I engage in philosophical conversations.  I write and ponder and write some more.

I teach about the gospel.  I read scripture passages and help children memorize verses.  I strip away the difficult language and share simple concepts.  I encourage understanding and help them remember what they are learning with visual aids and interactive games.

But this...all a dead gospel.  It is the study of ideas written thousands of years ago.  It is reading a book and knowing its stories and becoming a scholar.

It is not the gospel in action.

There is life in what I believe, if I remember that that is the most important part of it all.  My personality is such that I would happily lock myself away in a dusty library to learn Hebrew and Greek and read scripture passages until I knew them by heart and be able to give lectures on the historical figures.  My mind comes alive in this kind of debating, but it makes my heart die.

Each morning I want to wake up and metaphorically "clean my room."  I think it might be a new mantra for me, something to whisper to my soul throughout the day.  "I don't have time to read scripture because 2 minutes isn't enough to really get into it."  Just clean your room.   "I can't stop what I'm doing because this must get done right now."  Just clean your room.  "Walk briskly so you don't have to deal with the anxiety of talking with people you don't know well."  Just clean your room.  "I could implement this idea, and that, and more of this, with my family and my children."  Just clean your room.

I am more blessed than I can really understand.  I have so much, while others have so little.  I know joy and peace woven throughout the daily moments of my life, while others have heartache, pain, anger, loss.  I literally have no wants.  None at all.  The things that I set myself to worry about aren't worth the effort it takes to worry about them.  Instead, with a little perspective, I can slow down and stop being this little ant running around, moving small bits of dirt back and forth.  I can just clean my room.

Sunday, 17 November 2013


Colin had a math problem for homework the other day:

Emma has 7 flowers.  She picks 16 red ones, 4 green ones and 34 blue ones.  How many flowers does she have now?

He had to answer four questions to help him arrive at the answer:

1.  What do you know?
2.  What are you looking for?
3.  What is the equation?
4.  What is the answer?

I hovered over, watching him work on the equation.  He was thinking, writing, erasing, thinking and writing more.  I looked more closely, knowing that this kind of math is quite easy for him.  For the equation, he had written:

18 x 2 + 40 - 25 + 10 = 61.

I inquired what sort of equation he was writing.  His answer: Well, when I looked at those four numbers I knew right away they made 61.  So now I'm trying to write an equation that equals 61.  It pained me to have to inform him that actually they just wanted a simple addition of the four numbers in the problem.  He looked at me, confused.  "But I can add that in my head in two seconds.  Why would I wrote all that out?"  I know, I know, I reassured him.  It also made me cringe a little inside because unfortunately his teacher would not recognize what he was doing, or that he was doing it because the work is too easy and he's trying his best to make it more interesting.  She likely would just mark it wrong.

Friday, 15 November 2013


I was going to post today about my personality, and why I have certain tendencies.  Then I was going to post about how I have a yearning lately to bake cakes instead of the usual muffin and cookie fare.  Then I was going to post about report cards and parent teacher night and where the kids stand right now.  Maybe in the next few days I'll still post about all this.

But today, it all feels frivolous.  I can't put my finger on why, but I feel like sometimes I'm just rambling here, pouring out words without filter or forethought.

I want to write less.

I love writing.  I don't want to stop.  I don't want to post less, or cover fewer topics, or skim over in-depth subjects.  I do want to choose my words more carefully.  I want to be clearer and more concise.  I want to write when I actually have something I want to record.

I don't write for the masses.  I don't have a huge audience.  I'm not expecting to alter the mindset or outlook of those few who do take a gander through my brain.  I write so that one day my children, or daughters in-law, or grandchildren or great grand children might peruse through these pages and find an honest look into someone who went before, someone who struggled and triumphed and lived.  I want one of them who is a young mother to find comfort that someone else dealt with a screaming baby or a naughty toddler.  I want to inspire them to pursue new ideas and take roads less traveled.  I want to encourage them in friendship, partnership, marriage, and parenthood.

But to do this, I feel like pages upon pages on one subject or another would be a hinderance rather than a help.  The more you talk, the more likely you are to convince someone of your position rather than inspire them to consider the matter on their own terms.  My favourite writings are not ones that are long essays on their subject, but rather short glimpses through a window at a world only knowable if I choose to enter in.  I don't want to take my readers on long tours of great big buildings, but instead walk hand in hand down a street, peering into the windows, and stepping in when something peaks our interest.

And so, I will try to practice the art of less.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Tuesday mornings I have been gathering with a small group of women/mothers to study and discuss motherhood.  This morning, more than any other, I realized how precious this group is.  We are challenging each other, not just batting ideas around.  We are trying to move to higher ground, to improve ourselves and our relationships with those in our families.

The book we have just begun is called "Raising up a family to the Lord."  This week, in chapter one, a list popped out at me.  It listed a number of ways of "helping fathers stay on target."  (Which made us laugh, because while the book is not specifically written to women, we have often noted that we as mothers devour books and then our husbands "read" them through us!)  I started the discussion on this list, because I struggled with some of the ideas in it.

One item firmly stated that the father is the "presiding authority in the home."  "The mother is the helpmate, or counselor."  Now, while I have acknowledged this concept in the past, I asked myself if I really believed it.  I found myself leaning toward the next point: "The role of the father is inseparable from the role of the mother."  Yes, that sounds more like the equal partnership in which I believe.  So how to reconcile the two ideas?  In what way should a father lead is household?  Is the idea archaic?  Is there any benefit or merit to it?  CAn you have an equal partnership if one person is the head?

The questions tumbled out of my mouth, without any answers to follow.  I let them hang in the air, gazing questioningly at my friends.  What did they think?  Interestingly enough, the women in this group are all very much like me - strong, leaders, and without a doubt the powerhouse in their homes.  I have some friends who are softer, but none to be found in this group today.  What did they think?  We are all mothers who are staying at home with our kids, and so of course our primary work every day is to run the house.  How can we not have the most insight into decisions regarding our children, family and homes when we are the ones here every single day?

We discussed it a bit, and then this thought formed in my mind: there are two things at play here - the family, and the home.  Yes, as a stay-at-home mother, I am the head of my home.  But my husband can be head of the family.  We have come to fuse these two concepts, that home and family are one.  But they do not have to be.  I can run an efficient household, without subverting the authority of my husband as father.

I know this has been some strong language here: power, authority, head, leader.  Certainly in some circles it might be viewed as anti-feminist and archaic.  And while I strongly believe in the women's movement that allows us to stand out strongly as never before, I wonder if in craving that independence we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.  So let me take a turn for a moment.  In Shaunti Feldman's book For Women Only, she talks about interviews she did with hundreds of men.  A very high percentage of these men affirmed that it was more important to them to feel respected than to feel loved.  It is inherent to the make up of a man's nature that he longs to be respected by those around him.  So imagine if a man was to walk into his home after long days away at work and feel like just another child, being told what to do and when, and how.

I catch myself more often than I'd like to admit falling into this trap.  I nag about tidying, I instruct on child-rearing, I determine scheduling.  The times when I make gestures of conversing are nothing more than paying lip service to the idea of equal opinions.  What I really want is to convince him that my ways are the best ways.

Then we come to moments where we really want another opinion, and we get frustrated that our husbands are not really listening or contributing.  Are we surprised?  If we spend 90% of our time trying to tell them how things go, they probably aren't sure if we really want their opinion or not.

While men and women can (and should) have an equal partnership as parents, there is something to be said for the traditional role of mother as nurturer and father as leader.  Generally, women have a more tender heart, more patience, more ability to soothe.  Men are protectors and providers.  The way I view a man as "head of the family" is not that he is ruling over his wife.  I see it as a way to teach and guide his children and set them on a course of good character building.  A mother's influence is gentle because she is there more often.  A father's influence is stronger because he has less time in which to do it.

As we wrapped up the conversation, I posed another question that we left open-ended for each of us to consider on our own.  In what ways are we subverting our husband's authority as father?  In what ways might we be holding back some of the respect he desires?  What can we do to shore up his confidence as the leader of our family?  How can I successfully run my home without making my husband feel like another person I have charge over?

Monday, 11 November 2013


This Sunday, I was called to be the Primary President, the person in charge of leading the children's ministry program at our church.  For the past year, I've been helping a good friend (as her counsellor,) but now they have asked me to step up and fill that role.

It's an interesting process.  I've never led an organization in our church like this.  It's a very fast transition process.  I was asked earlier in the week, and within 6 days I was stepping in, with two new women I chose to serve with me.

I can assuredly say there was an emotional and spiritual shift within me.  I have loved and worked with these children over the past year, but as I accepted this role, I felt a burden rest on my shoulders.  Suddenly I wasn't just creating lessons and offering ideas, I am now responsible for their spiritual learning in a church setting.  It's hard to articulate, and I'm not sure I would have understood anyone trying to put this feeling into words before having experienced it myself.

I have been flooded with inspiration over the week.  With no formal training (like Seminary or Bible College), those who volunteer in a lay ministry like those in our church must rely heavily on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  If I plow ahead trying to make decisions on my own, while some things may work, some things will fail.  Human beings learn through experience and failure; it is the path to true success.  Only in this area, I don't want to fail at the expense of the children under my charge.  But if I patiently wait and ask God, then I can make the right decision every time.

I must keep reminding myself of my life scripture at this time:

"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not onto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
     (Proverbs 3:56)

This has been a reminder again that what I'm doing isn't about programs.  It's about people.  It's about helping these children and their families come to know and love God the Father and Jesus Christ.  Our family scripture time this morning led us to John 17:3: "And this is life eternal: that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." In the end, everything that we do should be lifting up this one purpose.

It's an exciting time, and I have wonderful women who have love, joy, and experience to help me along the way.  I pray for wisdom, guidance, patience, and most of all holy inspiration as I move forward on this journey.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A little geography over breakfast

I love, love, love our kitchen map.

It's a lovely antique-looking map, almost 4 feet by 3 feet, that is laminated and mounted behind our kitchen table.  We use it in conversation all the time.  Plus, because it is laminated, I often use sticky-tack to hang other things I want to display, like our Articles of Faith memorization chart, and our Thanksgiving turkey with scriptures about being thankful for his tail.

I came up with a new game this week, and the kids are eating it up.  Each morning I post 3 the names of three countries for them to find.  I don't give them any hints.  When they find those 3, I post 3 more.  Not only are they finding those countries, but they are asking questions about others along the way.  Is this in Africa? Is it bigger or smaller than Egypt?  What is that country that starts with a "U?" (Uzbekistan.)  As they scan the map, they remember the countries they found in the days before, and really start to understand the world in which they live.  My favourite comment to date is "Iran" must be somewhere near India and Afghanistan, because it has the same kinds of sounds in its name.

Sunday, 3 November 2013


At 16 months, Juliette is nursing twice an hour through the day, and every two hours at night.  75% or more of her nutrition is still coming from breast milk.  And now we have realized that her allergens found in my breast milk (after I eat those foods to which she is allergic) are really affecting her.  Over the last month I have been eating her diet (only fruits, vegetables and meat, with the occasional almond flour patty.)  Unfortunately, I have been starving and irritable and miserable.  It's hard to grab a quick meal that is filling, so I have sometimes gone without.  More often than not, I've accidentally consumed something that contained something bad and she's been affected.

So finally yesterday morning I came to the conclusion that it was time to wean her.  This was after a very obvious confirmation that she is being affected by breast milk (I caved the day after Hallowe'en and went down in spectacular fashion as I gobbled up about 10 little chocolates and chased it with a small bite of pizza.)  Juliette woke up with puffy, dark eyes (known as allergy bruisers) and was awake for 3 hours during the night with a gut attack.

I prepped James (who would have to take the night shifts) and myself (I have to keep her occupied out of the house during the day to distract her) and was ready to begin last night.  Then, as I drove home from a band concert last night, I started bawling in the car.  Thinking about weaning, about not nursing, about not sharing that with Juliette, was too much.

Instead I've decided to hang in a little longer.  The naturopath we are seeing says there is a good chance that Juliette will be able to tolerate small amounts of these allergens within the year, so I'm hoping that she'll be able to take it in breast milk sooner than that.  So maybe, just maybe, I can hang in there for another month or two and then see how it goes.


(My friend Erin was watching Benjamin.)

Erin: Would you like some water or milk to drink?
Ben: I'd like ice cream.
Erin: Well, we have water or milk.
Ben: Ummm....okay, I'll have milk.

(Erin pours a glass of milk. Benjamin studies it carefully.)

Erin: What's wrong?
Ben: This isn't how I usually drink milk.
Erin: How do you drink it?
Ben: On cereal.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The one standing in front of me

These days of my life are about the one standing in front of me.

My head whirls.  My ears hurt.  My days are filled with little people yelling at me and crying and whining and demanding things of me.  No one wait their turn or heeds the fact that I'm already engaged in something.  The laundry piles and the fridge empties and the clock ticks towards dinner with nothing planned.  The commitments and appointments are scrawled across the calendar.  My stomach is empty and my head is full and my patience is short.  I am in a lull, without a spark, void of inspiration.

These dips happen.  The landscape of motherhood isn't a rolling meadow but rather a rugged journey over mountains and valleys.  The highs are soaring, the lows are deep, and everything in between is a climb and descent that takes its toll mentally and physically.

If I let myself get overwhelmed trying to multitask it all, I won't make it.  Burnout might not be a spectacular crash, it might just be a loss of interest and joy in this work.  I don't want my days to roll forward missing that joy that I want to have.

And so I have a new outlook.  I will serve the one standing in front of me.

When I was in university I had a friend who looked at you when you spoke.  I mean, he really looked at you.  He didn't break eye contact, he didn't look away, he wasn't distracted by someone else walking by or a honking car or a cell phone or his fingernails.  At first, it was a little disconcerting, because we are not used to being looked at so intently.  But while our conversation endured, he gave me his 100% undivided attention.  I have long thought about that habit of his.  It made me feel as though he really wanted to hear what I had to say, that I was important enough to give his attention to.  That feeling has stayed with me a decade later.  It was a small, brief contact that left a lasting impression.

I am going to experiment with being less distracted when one of my children, or my husband, are standing in front of me.

I see it in the bible also: Jesus was busy.  He had places to go, plans he had made, journeys to make.  And yet, on the way, he was constantly being interrupted.  Pleas for healing, helping, teaching.  Requests for detours: come to my house, go see my child, don't leave us.  And yet we have all these little bible stories, some are only mere verses or lines, that constituted Jesus stopping and serving the one standing in front of him.  It may have taken him 6 hours to journey a 2 hour trip, just as it takes me 6 hours to do 2 hours worth of laundry.  He may have gone hungry as meal times came and went and still the people pressed.  His plans and visits were waylaid time and time again.  But for those two or three verses, he let the world melt away as he served the one standing in front of him.  For Jesus, it was moments, maybe a couple of hours.  But for the one mentioned in that verse, it was a lifetime changed.

Imagine!  How radically would your life be changed if you were suddenly healed of a disease that kept you from entering the cities and towns?  How different if the lifeless child in your arms suddenly sat up?  If your lame legs could take you places?  If you saw the sun for the first time?  These are pivotal moments in these characters lives, moments that likely changed the way they lived their lives forever.  All in a few verses.  All because Jesus served the one standing in front of him.

My friend left that kind of impression on me, albeit much less dramatic.  And yet, it opened to me a better understanding of how to love.

I want my heart to open even more to that kind of love.  I want to lavish it on those around me, especially those little ones and loved one in my own home that deserve the very best of my attention.

Monday, 28 October 2013

That darn big red brick building

I've decided that school is getting in the way of our learning.

Last week I had another epic conversation with Colin.  His best friend's brother just joined the army, so he wanted to know what one does in the army.  So we talked a little about war, but mostly about Canada's role as peacemakers.  Then we talked about Afghanistan and Iraq, and the decision to send troupes to other countries.  Then we talked a little about why there is fighting in Afghanistan, and the difference between civil wars and oppression.  We covered about how rebels get weapons, and why innocent people are caught in the middle.  (All very delicately, of course, given Colin's age.)  Colin's last question: do we have the right to send armed troupes into other countries to fight there?  I left him with an open-ended answer, admitting that that is the moral question we all have to answer ourselves.

Yesterday Caleb insisted on pulling out Monopoly, and being taught the "real rules."  Three and a half hours later, he bankrupted both Colin and James.  By the end, both boys were multiplying to collect rent and pay for houses, and doing large sum addition and subtraction in their head to make change.  It took mere seconds for them to do problems like 500-320, or 10x the roll of the dice, or 2x $18.

Caleb can't get enough time with me sitting beside him at the piano as he whizzes through his book. Benjamin hasn't had time to learn the letters he wants to write.  Caleb insists there is much more to his story he's writing (he's only 16 pages in.)  And Colin would benefit from experimental time with the new art mediums he's learning in art classes.  Then there is skating and cooking and guitar...

I'm so grateful for the school system that my kids have been able to attend during the years when I was laid up in bed during pregnancy, or (like right now) sleeping about 2 hours a night.  I have had 4 high energy babies/toddlers who all required so much attention I have barely been able to get to the feeding of the family, let alone the cleaning or educating.  But I wonder if, as Juliette and Ben both grow more independent, if homeschooling might be on our horizon yet...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


I love sunrise.  It's a new day.  Overnight we have slept (maybe) and we are beginning again.  Maybe yesterday I lost it more than once, but today is a chance to be completely different.

This morning, I rocked this mothering thing.

I was up all night.  Juliette had another inconsolable fit from midnight to 1:30am.  Then when she finally went down Benjamin was up.  Suffice it to say, when everyone awoke at 7am I was bleary-eyed from zero sleep.  It could have been a sluggish and yelling kind of morning.

But it wasn't.  I descended with the boys, James saying he would be five minutes behind.  By the time he came down, I had served breakfast and the school lunches were made.  I packed everything up and informed the boys that when they were done that bowl of cereal and platter of fruit, they would dress and get ready for school.  Then they could return to eat more, or use the time to play.  (We've been late to the bus all week.)  What is usually an everybody-drag-your-feet morning routine was in ship shape.  Everyone was ready with 40 minutes to spare.  I folded laundry, did the dishes, jumped in the shower and dressed with 15 minutes to the time we had to leave the house.  I called everyone together to get in winter gear, which took 5 minutes instead of the usual 15.  So with everyone in hats and coats and gloves and backpacks, we had a 5 minute devotional, standing at the front door.  We left the house with plenty of time and walked at a normal pace to our bus stop, at which we arrived well before the bus.  Three happy boys hopped up the bus stairs and off they went.

There was no yelling or fighting or crying.  There were clear expectations and schedules.  There were full tummies and minds and spirits.

Yes, this morning I rocked this mothering thing.

Celebrate the victories, because who knows what the next sunrise might bring.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


Sunday night, Juliette slept four hours in a row.

Monday night, after a complete mid-night meltdown, after she screamed and writhed for an hour and a half, after I held her wrapped in a blanket in my arms and walked the circle of our main floor for a solid hour, she slept for six hours in a row.

She also slept through two hours of a nap two days in a row.

There is progress.  Which, up until this morning, scared me a little.  Because maybe it means that me being on this diet is actually helping.  (Or maybe it's too early to tell.)  Her daytime behaviour isn't much improved, but one thing at a time.

But this morning I spent with a lovely group of women, women with whom I've been meeting for six weeks as we read scripture and see how relative it is to motherhood.  Six weeks of trying to push ourselves to new levels as mothers.  Six weeks of being open and honest and revealing our triumphs and our trials.  Six weeks of gathering new ideas.  As we spoke, I realized just how similar Juliette's case is with all three boys.  My friends helped me remember how bad Caleb's tantrums were, how little he slept, how much he head banged.  I remembered how we switched Colin to soy formula because he cried because of the breast milk.  Someone noted how bad Caleb's eczema was, and how both he and Benjamin had terrible eczema on their cheeks to the point that it bled.  And now, after eight years, I'm finally recognizing all these symptoms as likely allergy reactions.  I just didn't know it then.

The most reassuring thing in all this is that they have outgrown it all.  I didn't know it might be food related, I didn't know to try and take myself or them off these foods.  I just waited, endured, and eventually the tantrums and head banging and crying and screaming and rashes stopped.

With Juliette, we have both the blessing and the curse of information.  It's a blessing, because if she was still eating directly all these allergens, days and nights might be absolutely unbearable.  They still are, when she is exposed.  But it's a curse, because maybe we're overdoing it.  It makes the problem seem so big and so permanent and insurmountable.  Now I can tell myself that, even though I didn't know it, I've been through this three times before.  And we've come through it.  And we'll come through it again.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Knock knock

The boys have been discovering jokes the last couple of months.  Knock knock jokes seem to be the favourite, maybe because the timing is fairly easy to get.  When Benjamin tells a knock knock joke, he actually knocks with one hand in the air when he says "knock knock."

Here are some of the boys' favourites:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Boo hoo?
Don't cry, it's only a joke.


Will you remember me next week?
Will you remember me next month?
Will you remember me in five years?
Knock knock.
Who's there?
You forgot me already!


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow.
Interrupting c-


Here's my new favourite:

Me: I have a knock knock joke for you.
You: Okay.
Me: You start.
You:  Okay.  Knock knock
Me: Who's there?
You: (awkward pause as you realize what's happened, then giggling together at its hilarity)

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Training the eye

I think there is too much emphasis placed on raw talent or natural ability these days.  Yes, there are a small number of people in the world endowed with such an effortless ability in their craft that it should rightly be defined as "genius."  For the rest of us, it's about work.

When a novel moves the soul, when a song touches the spirit, when a photograph becomes a work of art - it is because an artist has humbled themselves to realize that artistry takes practice.  It also takes learning from others.  You cannot write a book if you do not read.  You can not compose a song if you do not listen to music. You cannot frame a photograph if you do not study composition.

I have learned this lesson because of my desire to jump into things that are completely new to me.  When I wanted to build a clubhouse for the boys, I had no experience in doing such at all.  So I read and I watched.  I watched YouTube videos and read how-to books.  And I watched constructions sites.  Yes, although it might seem odd, there were many walks that I slowed the stroller down and stared at how the house frames were being assembled and the order of materials.  Then I invited someone who knew what they were doing to mentor me, assist me, guide me in the steps to take and the tools to use, and then let me go at it myself.

Right now I am training my eye in photography.  Sadly, I did not take as much advantage of my university education in the camera as I should have.  Ten years ago I was caught up in writing, directing, producing, casting and assistant directing.  There were some very talented professors and students around me from whom I could have learned a great deal.  I don't blame myself, though, because I was not wasting my education - I was simply learning from different masters in different areas.

Now, however, I am dusting off what I did learn, what is tucked away in the reaches of my memory.  I'm surprised at how much is there, at how much I recall, at how much more I understand those lessons now.  I remember some photographers talking about the different qualities of light, and my untrained eye simply didn't understand.  "Sun is sun" I thought, other than the obvious differences between daylight and sunrise/sunset.  Now, each day when I look outside, I see the more subtle blends and casts of the sunlight.  Then, when I was preoccupied in framing a scene, I wasn't thinking of each frame as a painting.  Now, I understand just how important the scene around your subject is, and how difficult it can be to find a perfect backdrop.

Now I am starting to really see photographs and have an instinct for those in which all the elements come together to create a work of art.  I find myself studying these images, dissecting them, asking where the light comes from and what kind of light it is, what to include and exclude in a frame, how to choose the colours and objects for your setting.  I don't feel empowered by my craft, I feel humbled by the works of others.  Each set of photographs I take are leaps and bounds from the previous set, and I often wonder how I could have loved my past work so much when I see how lacking they are.  I have far, so far to go, but I am enjoying the training beyond measure.

(This winter I also hope to train myself further in writing, however this is a much more daunting task for me, and one in which I am not nearly humble enough to begin yet.)

Friday, 18 October 2013

When it takes it out of you

It's been a roller-coaster of a week.  I feel like I'm teetering on the edge of a vast, dark, unknown chasm that might be amazing once I step off the edge, or might be disorienting and wrong.

I have almond milk in my fridge.

Let me explain.  While I have been embracing the idea of eating healthier over the last few years, I never thought I would be the type to buy almond milk.  I like cow's milk.  I like white bread for french toast.  I like chocolate bars.  I like to eat healthy, but I also like to eat foods that many strict diets gape in horror at.

But today I have almond milk in my fridge.

I have a toddler who has a temper that won't quit, and a 4 year old who is irrationally defiant.  And the more I think about it, the more I'm linking it with the foods they have in them.

This week I also ventured into a naturopath's office.  She gave Juliette a muscle based allergy test through me that much of modern medicine would not acknowledge.  I hardly know what to think myself; I was there, I experienced it personally, and yet I second guess myself constantly.  I feel so far out of my element.  Medicine is an area in which I have no experience or knowledge.  The people in this field stand so far apart, so staunchly critical of each other, that I feel that someone must be lying, or at least not giving quarter to other possibilities.

Juliette is getting harder and harder to manage.  She sleeps little, broken.  She screams and yells and throws tantrums and bangs her head really hard.  It's so reminiscent of Caleb it's eerie.  Colin too, to a lesser degree.  Maybe it does run in the family after all - Juliette just has the most severe case.

And now, for at least two weeks, I've moved to eating the same diet as Juliette - fruits, vegetables and meat - to see if taking it out of the breast milk will improve her behaviour at all.  Diet and behaviour have been linked in many different situations, and it's possible that she is lashing out because her gut is constantly in pain.  I know that if I have a migraine, or I'm tired, or sick, or hurting, I get cranky and irritable and short tempered.  So right now I'm literally walking in my daughter's shoes, and it is really, really hard.  I don't like meat very much, but I'm trying to eat more because I'm so very hungry.  I cut it all out cold turkey Wednesday morning after the doctor's meeting, and while I haven't physically broken down and eaten something, it's hard not to eat my evening bowl of cereal or a toasted egg sandwich or a rice stir fry.

I'm hungry and I'm tired and I'm worn from hanging around a toddler who screams all day and a 4 year old who is wreaking havoc around the house with everyone around him.  I feel like maybe, maybe I could manage Juliette, or Benjamin, or the boys, or the house, but not all of them - not even two of them.

These are the times as mothers that it takes it out of you.

These are the times I am driven to my knees in a hazy mixture of rest and prayer.

These are the times I feel like the walls of our house are a little too small.

These are the times that push me farther than I have been before, that make my heart beat faster and my lungs ache and my legs wobble and my muscles burn, and yet it is only through this test of endurance that I can achieve progress.

This will be one of those times, short term and long term.  In a string of coincidences, I will have to do 21 days with the kids in a row, without the much needed weekend break.  I will need some emotional strength to get through that.  And while I felt a glimmer of hope with the naturopath, it is still too early to know if this course of action will change anything for Juliette.  There is nothing on the horizon yet that speaks of change.

With God's grace, and only His grace, I will move forward.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Hockey anthems

The boys have been playing ball hockey all morning.  Every game they play (about every 30 minutes or so) they start with the national anthem, in French and English.  LOVE IT!

The rebel

I'm currently hosting a small women's scripture study group each Tuesday morning.  I selected a few chapters and wrote down some journal prompt questions to help us apply what we are reading to our actual, every day lives.

This past week we talked about rebellion, and we thought about any of our children who are currently rebelling against what we have taught them, or children who are young but seem to have rebellious tendencies in them.  (Yes, I have at least one.  Juliette is too young to discern as of yet.)

My friend noted this sage piece of wisdom: today's culture is completely counter to what we are trying to teach our children.  If we have a rebellious child, let us hope and pray that they decide to rebel against society, not against us.

I love that.  We always assume rebellion is bad, but really it is about being counter-cultural.  And isn't that what we actually want to be?  If we can plant a good seed deep inside, then they will see through the facade to the ugliness of the world's promises and run good and hard in the other direction.  Now that's the kind of rebellion I want in my kids.  In fact, I'm finding myself hoping for a little rebellion in all of them.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

God's grandeur

I'm currently doing a bible study that was filmed in the great Canadian Rocky mountains.  It got me to thinking about the absolute majesty of mountains, rising up from the earth, towering above us, so powerful and strong and mighty.  I got to thinking about the grandness of all of nature, the vastness of oceans and the endless acres of forests.  Everything in this beautiful world around us has been created on a scale so vast it dwarfs us.

I thought about man's greatest attempts to build something large and beautiful.  I pictured Notre Dame de Paris, stone carved with great detail, its towers casting long-reaching shadows on the city below.  I thought about the years and efforts it took to cause such a great structure to come to be.  I considered the feats of engineering our largest and most ambitious buildings needed, the pain-staking decades of labour.  There are some buildings which took so long to construct I bet there were men and women who worked their whole lives just to complete them.

I think of all that effort, and realize that even those grandest structures are nothing, nothing in comparison to the grandeur of God's creations.  Nothing we have ever built can take our breath away like jagged rock reaching heavenward, wearing a cloak of snow and crowned in mist.  How tiny and small our little bodies next to the mountain.

How tiny and small our bodies next to God.

"Thou art the God that doest wonders."

Are you ever struck by the wonders of God?  Wonder struck?

Monday, 7 October 2013

A little dinner conversation

It started with the cub pledge.

"Who is the queen?"

So we talked about the queen.  Which led into the commonwealth and a look at our wall map at the countries included in the commonwealth.  Which led into emigration from England and France and the war of 1812.  Which led into the difference between a monarchy and a democratic form of government.  Then onto voting and elections which moved naturally into lines of succession and kings and queens.  Onto the birth of Prince George, and who can become king or queen.  And what happens if every son, grandson, aunt, uncle and cousin in the royal family dies.  Why people like the queen, and what she does, and what it means to be a figurehead and the parliament and the house of commons.  Why it is called the house of commons, and who can be prime minister.  Back to voting.  Then over again to the royals and what it means to be a celebrity and why millions of people watched a wedding and waited for a baby to be born.  Back to geography, and why some countries want to still have a queen and why some don't.  To the differences between Canada and the United States...

Yep - just a little dinner conversation at the Gawthroupe table with a five and seven year old :)

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Some days are hard

Some days are just plain hard.  I could write here about silver linings, and "one day when they're grown," and learning and growing and gaining experience.  But some days are just hard, and today was one of those.

Juliette woke every 30 minutes last night until 4am.
I started the morning at the walk-in clinic getting a tetanus shot from the carpet I ripped up.
We went to a morning breakfast at the church where Juliette got a black eye and I couldn't keep track of the boys.
I ran around like crazy trying to buy what we needed for our family portraits, because the weather that had predicted gallons of rain today changed its mind.
The house gradually descended into utter chaos with every hour I was away.
James had to bring the kids home from the General Broadcast conference at church because they were beyond disruptive to the others.
The boys couldn't keep off of each other all day, with a never-ending battering of each other.
Juliette didn't stop crying.  At all.  All day.
Including at our family portrait appointment.  She screamed and hit whenever I tried to bring her into the picture.
The boys all ran around at the orchard instead of staying in one spot for the picture.
James dropped us off after the photos and took off for the men's broadcast, but not before throwing out that the house looked like a tornado had ripped through it and he can't live like that.
Instead of watching the opening Hockey Night in Canada with the boys, I desperately tried to clean.
While trying to clean, Caleb and Benjamin ended up locked in a wrestle on the floor, screaming and hitting each other.
I had to physically spank Benjamin (the first time I've ever had to do that) because he had bit down on Caleb and I couldn't pull him off.
The spanking caused him to open his mouth and let go, but only long enough to turn around and smack me on the back as hard as he could.
I lost it and, yelling, sent both boys upstairs.
I pushed through the bedtime routine in record time and flipped off the light.
Thankfully the end of the routine involved a scripture story and a prayer, which at least calmed everyone enough to give hugs and "I love yous" before the light went off.


Some days are hard.  I'm sure glad this one is over.  I'm sad because we had planned a lovely weekend full of spiritual nourishment from the conference.  Instead I read Facebook statuses about how inspiring the talks were and how renewed everyone feels, and I'm left wondering why my children always seem to lose it when I try to do everything to make a day lovely for everyone.

Piano methods

I've been a piano teacher for over 15 years now.  People often ask me what method or book series I use, and it's a question that's hard to answer: I use so many different ones that I can't pin it down to one thing.

I've used the Royal Conservatory of Music.  I've taught children using the Bastien, Alfreds and Adventure series.  I've taught adults out of hymn books.  I've taught teenagers with popular and Disney music books.  I've taught by ear and by sight.  I've let students pick their own style and music and I've used their interests to teach music basics.   I guess if I had to sum up my theory to this point, it would be teaching my students not perfection in music technique, but simply to enjoy making music.

This year, I've subconsciously started something new, with the challenge of teaching my own children. I've only had one boy in all my students, so maybe it also has something to do with the different learning styles of boys to girls.  Whatever the reason, I slipped into something new without even realizing it.  It wasn't until I was trying to explain my method to a friend yesterday that I realized how radical, but hopefully effective, the method is.

When asked if I was using the regular children's books series (Bastien, Alfreds, etc) I replied no.  I'm using a book by John Schmidt that has the student playing 3 different songs each day.  The goal is to learn to read notes by interval, not by note name.  I'm teaching rhythm or fingering or italian terms.  The student does not have 2-3 songs per week that they practice over and over until they master that song and associated skill.  This is not like most music teachers.

This is the analogy that I used yesterday explaining it to my friend, and it was completely spur of the moment, but totally true.  We don't teach children to read by giving them 2-3 books and making them read them over and over and over until they can read each word perfectly, until they read with appropriate inflection and rhythm.  Instead we provide a mountain of books for them to look through, encouraging as much exposure to as many books as possible.  We teach the sounds the letters make, or we teach whole words by sight.  If they don't know a word we might cue them, or let them jump over it.  We don't insist on perfection, and yet somehow they learn to read, and generally quite quickly.

So I'm teaching piano the same way.  I'm providing some basics without overwhelming them with note names and fingering and rhythm and staffs and markings.  I really think that as they have exposure to more and more music, they will start to see that the notes look different, and then I'll explain that some are long and some are short.  They will start to see markings and terms and we can talk about interpretation.  But I have a feeling this will be a much more organic way of learning music, and instead of forcing things they aren't ready to learn or understand, they will inquire on their own about unfamiliar marks on the page as they become familiar with sheet music.

It's all new right now, but I'm not in a rush.  Caleb is only six and Colin only eight.  I figure in two years they'll be playing full songs and you'd never know the difference between my method and the traditional one.  (Which, coincidently, is what they also say about letting children learn to read when they are ready and in their own way - after two years you can't tell the difference!)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The results of being calm

"If you are calm and peaceful, you can slow time down, and do and see more and better."
(Shawni Eyre Pothier)

While I might work at the wording of the above statement, I love what it's trying to say.  I have discovered the truth of being calm these past 8 years of being a mother.  Before children, I would whip around from one project to the next.  I walked with a quick gait; in fact, a pre-requisitite for shoe buying was the ability to run in them (even my black dress shoes with big fat square rubber heels.)  I piled my plate with projects.  I easily ran down to-do lists.

Now, in the chaos that is young children, I crave calmness.  I centre myself first so that I don't add to the noise and busyness around me.  And in the process I have discovered that I am more productive at a calmer, slower pace.  I reduce the amount of errors, I lower time-eating stress, I start with a clear vision and move through it step by step so as not to repeat or go back to something I miss.

You'd think that doing things more slowly would result in less time, less accomplished.  But the ever-true axiom "haste makes waste" will swirl around someone rushing too quickly.  Besides, what am I rushing for?  If I must move in a hurried manner just to get everything on the list done, there is too much on the list.  If I never seem to get to important things then my priorities are out of line.  If it takes forever to do something then I'm probably doing about it the wrong way.

Our own nature will overflow from within us and touch all that is around us: our tasks, our children, our family, our friends, our projects, our jobs, our homes.  I am convinced more than ever that the mood of a mother will set the tone of her home and those who enter.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The ancestor book

If you are a parent, you must, absolutely must, check out this blog entry from Shawni Eyre Pothier at 71toes today,

I am inspired.

Shawni writes about and includes photographs from her father's old notebook.  There are stories about their ancestors, where their last name came from.  There are lists and goals by year and season.  There are common threads that appear year after year.  Now that is parenting with a purpose, with a vision.  No wonder her father and mother wrote so many successful parenting books.  The thoughts and ideas in this notebook flow so naturally I felt like I could see them bursting from his mind every step of the day.

I want to parent with more purpose.

I am an idea person, but I have trouble with follow-through.  I start things with much gusto, but peter our quickly before getting to the end.  I get things nearly done or good enough and then move on to something new.  I know this thread runs through my parenting days also, and I want to lick the bad habit.  I wish I could get my hands on a copy of that ancestor book, to be inspired by the different things on each page.  I have a feeling, however, if I gave myself to more quiet reflection and journaling then perhaps I might access those creative and purposeful ideas in my own mind.

Nevertheless, I am inspired to start my own ancestor book.


I have given up chocolate.

This is the first time I've had to give up something while nursing.  I realize that after 3 kids, I'm probably pretty lucky that this is it.  I'm also lucky that it's "just chocolate."  Yes, I realize how dire that can sound (even to me!) but I can't imagine trying to give up some of the other major culprits of nursing woes, like dairy.

I'm not one who craves sweet food or junk food normally.  However, during these days of so very little sleep my body seems to be craving the energy chocolate provides to get me through.  Juliette is still waking at least every 3 hours through the night, sometimes more often.  I average about four hours of sleep a night, but that's not straight through - it's usually in 90 minute chunks.  After 15 months of that, I'm probably as close to the walking dead as you can get.  Hence the mid day craving of chocolate to get me through.

However, because I don't keep sweet or junk food in the house, I have been resorting to a handful of chocolate chips as a substitute.  (I know there must be at least a few of you out there who have dipped into the chocolate chip jar out of desperation!)  Last week, with Juliette's play-dough episode (there is wheat in play-dough - oops!) she was up every 45 minutes every night for 5 days straight.  I think I nearly emptied my jar of chocolate chips.

As I came to the end of the week, I was lying in bed at night, stomach churning from the chocolate and it suddenly occurred to me: chocolate is part of the problem.  I knew that the play-dough incident had run its course, and yet still Juliette was unsettled, mostly at night.  I realized that through the night she was nursing more, and there was a good chance the the extra chocolate combined with the extra milk was making for an even more sore tummy for her.

Sigh.  Goodbye, chocolate.  I will miss you, but our parting is only temporary.

Thankfully it has not been as hard as I thought it might.  The very evening of the first day I attended an event that had fruit and chocolate fondue as the refreshment.  I piled my plate with strawberries and pineapple without even a second thought toward the lovely melting milk chocolate sitting by.  The line on the chocolate chip jar has remained steady.  I'm not tempted to toss in a chocolate bar in the grocery checkout line.  I am grateful for being filled with a strength and resolve beyond my normal capacity to try and help Juliette.  And hopefully, if chocolate is a culprit to her sleeping patterns, then we might actually both start sleeping through the night and I won't need a mid-day chocolate kick!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Big Picture

It is so important in life to keep the Big Picture in mind.

Sometimes we get caught up in the little things.  We make them huge, monstrous, terrible things.  They stress us out, keep us up at night, shorten our patience and tempers and grind at us every minute of every day.  They might seem important, but when you look at the big picture, they really are insignificant after all.

Sometimes we get caught up in big things.  Life throws us a curveball that knocks us down flat.  The road we were travelling suddenly ends and we can't even see a fork in the road, just thick, heavy brush that is going to need a machete to cut a path.  The task ahead is so daunting and scary that we freeze up.    It might seem insurmountable, but when you look at the big picture, the days will pass and life will move on after all.

Sometimes we might get hit with something that really is tragic.  These are the life and death matters, the illnesses or accidents that permanently alter our lives.  These are events that really can't be worked through with determination or changed with a different perspective.  These are times in our life when emotion takes control and in order to continue you must alter the way you looked at life.  It might seem inconceivable, but when you look at the big picture, the terrible things fade into nothing and only the joys remain in memory.

I am learning that life is not a straight line.  That might seem safest, but it is rarely the case anymore.  But change is not failure.  Each event in our life serves a purpose, and who we are at the end of our lives is the culmination of each of those events.  I am not a filmmaker, but that doesn't mean 4 years of film school were a waste of time; that's where I met my husband.  I was let go unexpectedly from my job in advertising just after I was married, but that doesn't mean I failed at my job; it's just that I was done spending time in that corner of life.  I'm not teaching piano right now, but that doesn't mean I'm not an excellent piano player or that I don't love music.  When life hiccups, you don't have to stand still, frozen, until something aligns in front of you.

I like the analogy that life is like those little wooden blocks that babies love to play with - you know, the ones with the painted letters and numbers on the sides?  Each block is some area of your life, some person you know, some job, some stage, some hobby, and each one is added to the next, building a taller and taller tower.  Some blocks are big, the ones that are always a part of your life.  Some blocks are small, something that is in your life for but a short season.  Some blocks are repetitive, things that come and go, but always seem to find their way back to you.  Each of these blocks is an important part of the culmination of who you are.  You can't wish any one of them away because the whole tower would topple.

So what do these musings me for me?  I want to embrace life's changes.  Whether it's moving houses, moving cities, moving countries, new jobs, new careers, new education, new friends, new family, new interests, new hobbies, new stages of life - be it exciting or scary or, more likely, a little of both, embrace it.  Endings are just the start of new beginnings.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Soother woes

Out of four kids, we've had one who took a soother as a baby, one who never took one, and two who were totally, completely addicted to it.  By the time Caleb entered junior kindergarten he was easy going enough that when daytime naps were eliminated, so was the soother.  Up until that point I never fought it, because without the soother he didn't nap; with the soother he would sleep 3 hours in the afternoon.  My plan had been the same with Benjamin.

However, Benjamin gave up naps about three weeks before school began.  Sleep deprived from night nursing Juliette, I left him with the soother because every day I hoped he might nap again.  Now I find myself one week into school for him, and he still uses the soother at night.

I tried a few different things.  I tried telling him that as a big boy he didn't need it.  I tried telling him we would throw them all away and go buy a special treat. I tried telling him we could gift them to a new baby (who, Ben insisted, would trade them for chocolate.)  I had that last one all worked out.  Benjamin chose a little baby, his friend's baby brother, and I bought little chocolate bars to trade, one for each soother (yes, we have a stash!)  But no matter much we talked about it and agreed upon it during the day, come nighttime Benjamin was too emotional to remember the rational conversation from earlier in the day.

So I've let it go, for now.  Sometimes using major life events are a great way to transition.  Sometimes it's too much all at once.  Benjamin is tired come dinner time, and although he doesn't nap after lunch, he still can't quite make it (pleasantly) all the way to bedtime.  I plan to give him another month or so and see how he's doing, then maybe try again.  Or not.  The thing you realize this far into parenting is not to sweat the small stuff.  And this, this is small stuff :)

Friday, 20 September 2013

Work, training, schooling

One of the cutest things the boys do right now is pretend to work where Daddy works.  James owns and operates a small family business, a moving company that specializes in helping seniors move into retirement homes.  It's a far cry from the film degree he earned in university, but he is a real life president of a real life company that is pretty successful.  For the last 7 years he has put his nose to the grindstone and built it up into a thriving company.

So the boys love to play "Senior Moving."  They pick furniture up and move it around the home.  If I need something toted to the car, or in the backyard, they always come together and pick it up and chatter about how they are moving like they do in Daddy's company.  James came up with a little jingle for the business a few years back, and the boys sing it as they go.  Priceless.

They also talk about one day doing what Daddy does.  There has been some talk lately about jobs, careers, and also university and schooling.  What university did Daddy go to?  Then comes the conversation about how although those four years taught Daddy a lot, they didn't have much to do with owning and operating a moving company.  What university will we go to?  Well, that depends on what you want to do.

I realized that while some professions and careers will always require higher education schooling, training, and certification (the medical profession, for example), I wonder if by the time Colin is college-age if post-secondary education will hold the same level of importance it holds today.  Already you can see in some job postings "university degree or equivalent experience."  Employers are recognizing two things: 1) that most of the real-world learning you do doesn't happen in a classroom and 2) anyone can learn the specifics of an industry if they have a strong work ethic, critical thinking skills, and an ability to learn and be taught.  The result, I believe, is that universities and colleges will return to their original purposes: the former to experience and engage in ideas, and the latter to train for specific trades where a mentor is unknown or unavailable.  We will lose (finally!) this idea that we must attend school in order to be ready to work.  We will acknowledge (finally!) the knowledge of experts within the field and years of experience rather than the authority of textbooks.

So, for now, I tell my boys that if they want to do what Daddy does, then they won't need to go to university.  Instead, they will work alongside their father, watching, learning, (failing,) understanding, engaging.  In seven years James managed to figure most of it out on his own, and learned the rest from his own entrepreneurial father.  In the four years the boys would spend in university, they would learn much, much more from working day to day actually running a business.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Piano lessons

The time has come: we have started piano lessons.  I wasn't sure when, or even if, I would ever teach my kids piano.  You'd think that after 15 years+ of teaching other people it would only be logical to take my own children on as students.  But I have heard from many people that it is next to impossible to teach your own children piano lessons.

I had considered the idea of swapping lessons with a friend of mine who wants her children to take lessons, but is equally reticent to take on the challenge.  But in trying to simplify our schedule this year, it was looking like another night to try and rush out the door, another night that seems entirely eaten up with just a one hour time block.  So I thought I would at least give it a go.

One of the main challenges of teaching your own children is the temptation to just "fit it in" when you can during the week.  That is the easiest way for it not to happen.  Because finding an extra quiet hour every week hasn't happened in 8 years of raising kids yet.  Also, our piano is on the main floor of our home, which is a huge wide open concept layout.  Plus the piano is in the playroom, which has all the toys, and which also serves as the gateway from the house to the backyard.  There is no way I could keep everyone out for a solid hour of uninterrupted music lessons.

So here is our solution: we've chosen Tuesdays right after dinner.  Tuesday nights our local Early Years Centre is open late, so James can take Benjamin and Juliette there to play.  Then I do a half hour lesson with each of the older boys.  When they are not in lesson, they must sit in their room and quietly read.

First night...success!

Both boys are uber excited to start.  I have two new lesson books that I've never used before, each one geared to the type and age of child.  Caleb has a strong desire to get on there and get his fingers moving.  Whether the notes and rhythms are right or wrong, it doesn't matter so much as long as he's strengthening those finger muscles and showing enthusiasm for making music.  Colin's mathematical brain is going to make him a quick sight-reader.  His program is based on sight-reading the notes, which means you are playing real songs right away.  The book asks the student to memorize where tow notes are on the keyboard, and then read all the other notes in relation to those two.  At first, I was fighting Colin on this method...all he wanted to do was read the notes in relation to the one he had previously played.  Then I realized that what he was doing is exactly what this method is heading toward, and he had jumped a bunch of steps to get there.

I am so excited to start the kids on their musical journey.  Yes, we will very likely be one of those families where everyone plays multiple instruments and we perform together.  And I love that idea.