Kids by hand

There’s snow in the air

There’s snow in the air… and on the ground. Just a dusting, barely enough to cover anything for more than a short time, but it is there. I keep reading status updates on Facebook and Twitter where people moan and groan about the white stuff falling from the sky, but I cannot find myself sharing their sentiment.

No, I don’t like the cold all that much. Nor do I like how slippery the ground gets underfoot. But I do like how readily the kids go outdoors to play. Snow is, after all, a perfectly wonderful building material and my children are prolific builders and crafters. Winter merely lets them move their crafting and building from being a small thing done at a table to being something that can grow even bigger than they are.

Maybe it’s crazy, but winter makes me happy, at least for a little while. Or maybe it’s the fact that I find snowflakes to be fascinating crystal structures that are at once so delicate and airy, and yet so heavy and dense.

Perhaps it is the change of it all. I don’to mean the passage of time and movement of seasons and freshening up of everything around us. Rather, the fact that one day it is a gentle drift of angel feathers landing on your nose and bringing joy and wonder to your soul while the next day, it is a bitter, stinging cold leaving wet runnels trailing down your face and making you long for summer.

It has been hypothesized that the Inuit have hundreds of words for snow. Other linguists claim there are no more root words for snow than there are in English, but the Inuit language’s use of suffixes where we would use adjectives gives the illusion of hundreds of unique words when the ideas are just as readily expressed in English, though it may take a few more words to do so.

I am not a linguist and I cannot speak to that debate, but I do know there are hundreds upon hundreds of different kinds of snow that fall throughout a single winter, some of which I love. Others… not so much. But what there is that can always be counted on is a sort of infinite variety that makes every single day seem fresh and new, at least until the end of January.

Why January?

Because by the end of January, you have seen every sort of snow there is and been frozen in every sort of way there is to be frozen and, quite frankly, you are just tired of the whole messy business that is winter.

Until sometime in late February or early March, at any rate, when once again the quality of snow changes and just that suddenly, you just know Spring is on its way. Not yet, not visibly, but coming soon nonetheless, and plans begin to be made for the next stage of existence. Greenhouses get set up, seeds get planted, and we have high hopes of having garden-fresh salads again soon.

But today? Today, we have snow and I keep thinking I should go pull in the last of the late fall crop of greens and the final batch of carrots before they freeze solid and are impossible to get out of the ground.

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Well, another pumpkin season has come and gone with all that it brings with it: last-minute homemade costumes, pumpkin carving parties with the neighbours’ kids, a street filled with Elsas and Annas and a variety of other characters (some spooky, some not), and more candy than we could possibly eat in a month. Or maybe even three months.

Today, I find myself awake before everyone else with a few moments to spare and an urge to write. Maybe it is just that it is November, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, and writing has been on my brain. I’ve been missing this space, this digital memory keeper of mine.

So many other things have taken precedence for the past six months and life has been good. We have had some wonderful firsts over the past few months, including first airplane rides, first Disney visit, first teenager in the house, and more. It’s been a delightful end of spring, summer, and early fall.

But now, now I have the almost daily urge to be back in this place, though I don’t know how long it will last. Perhaps I’ll be here more regularly. Perhaps, having taken on the role of Girl Guide leader and having so many other things happening around here, I’ll just pop in now and again. Time will tell, I suppose, but for now, I’ll just leave you with this thought: Christmas is coming, my friends, as is a new niece or nephew, and crazy amounts of crafting are in full swing.

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Good morning

There is a particular kind of blessing that comes with waking up early. When I was a child, it used to amaze me that every time I visited my Grandmother D, she would announce that it was time for bed sometime around 9 p.m. and then… then she would proceed to tuck herself into her big, lush bed right alongside me with every intention of going to sleep.

It boggled the mind.

Grownups were supposed to stay up late, after all. That was the pattern I had grown up with and that was the pattern I knew best.

The littlest kids went to bed first. Then me, after homework was done and often after having helped my parents for a bit with the printing business they ran from our basement. But inevitably, having banished me to my gabled bedroom where the lilacs brushed against the window and perfumed the air the entire month of June, they would vanish into the depths of the house and start up the presses whose clickity-clack would echo up through the vents and lull me gradually to sleep.

It wasn’t unusual for them to work until quite late at night. It wasn’t all that unusual for them to work until 1 o’clock in the morning, either. And then, in the morning, there would be stacks of boxes full of inky-fresh paper or staple-bound books or, my favourite, little custom-made pads held together on one side by the stinkiest of all stinky glues, rubber cement.

So when Grandmother D would crawl into her big bed piled high with pillows and comforters mere moments after the sun had drifted out of sight… it was unusual, to say the least.

But Grandmother D knew a secret. She knew that if you went to bed before 10 o’clock, you could more easily wake up at 5. And that at 5 o’clock in the morning, you can sip a cup of tea from a delicately handpainted teacup while watching the last few tomcats slink their way home. You can rub the sleep out of your eyes while listening to the birds say hello. And you can find 4-leaf clovers from the patch outside your door while they are still covered with the morning dew, soaking the toes of your slippers and the hem of your housecoat.

It was, to her way of thinking, a most civilized way to start the day.

When K was first born, he was by nature an early riser. He would wake around 5 o’clock, nurse for a bit, and by 5:30, he was ready for the day to begin in earnest. As new parents, we were not all that impressed with such an early-rising child. In fact, we rather resented the fact that after going to bed at 11, K would wake us at 1 o’clock, and at 3 o’clock, and then be up for the day shortly after 5.

To say it took some getting used to would be an understatement.

And yet, I find myself gravitating towards that very same schedule lately.  Now that my children tend to sleep at least until 6:30 or 7:00, you might think I would enjoy a little sleeping in, but like my grandmother always did, I often find myself waking some time around 5 a.m. of late and just enjoying a few minutes of listening to the quiet all around me.

Sometimes, like this morning, I get up and work out and shower and eat long before anyone else is awake. Other mornings, I listen quietly for a bit, think about the day ahead, then burrow back under the covers, snug up against The Man We Call Dad, and sleep some more until 6:30 or 7:00.

But no matter which way I choose to start my day, I have discovered that the little bit of silence at 5 o’clock in the morning brings with it a blessing of peacefulness that rests solidly in my heart for the rest of the day.

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On the limitations of height

I am not a tall person.  If you know me in person, especially if you are one of my siblings, you are probably now laughing hysterically. I am one of four kids. Two of us are tall. Two of us are not. It is a profound injustice, to my way of thinking, that my baby sister has a full 12 inches on me, as does my baby brother.

She can reach the top shelf in the kitchen.  She can see what’s on top of the refrigerator.

Needless to say, I can’t do either of those things without a stool.

But I can walk under the laundry line without ducking and I have never, ever had to worry about whether or not a ceiling fan was going to whack me on the head.

My son is, at the moment, rather obsessed with a person’s physical size.  He is, for now, the kind of kid that most other people describe as “tiny” and it bothers him a lot, for this year, many of his friends have outgrown their childhood and fully embraced that lanky, leggy, tall state of being known as teenagerhood.

I try, as I am sure all mothers do, to reassure him that he is growing daily (as is evidenced by his constant need for new pants and new shoes), but only time will tell if he will take after me and my lack of stature, or if he will be more like his uncle M, my little brother, who was a rather tiny boy until suddenly he wasn’t.

I have, in my 43 years of existing, gotten used to not being able to see anything over 5 feet high without the help of a ladder.  I once lost our trivets.  You know, those things you put on the table before putting a hot dish on them? Who on earth loses their trivets? Three of them? All on the same day?

Me, apparently.

And they were gone for long enough that I finally gave up hope of ever finding them and replaced them with new ones.  It wasn’t until some time later when I climbed up on a stool to clean the top of the fridge, that I discovered The Man We Call Dad had merely put them away in a place that seemed logical to him at the time, but that is entirely out of sight for me.

So now I have 6 trivets and a note-to-self to look in the tall places before giving up hope.

Apparently, K now has the same mental note, for this week, he tidied up his locker at school and it finally dawned on him to look on the top shelf (his locker has 2 upper shelves, you see, but only one in easy reach). On that top shelf, he found quite a few treasures, including 2 pairs of mittens, a hat, a sweater, 2 art projects, and his cache-cou.

Just in time for the weather to be warm enough that the cache-cou is no longer needed, he has found it and is now a very happy boy indeed.

Ironically, this has happened in the very same week that he has announced yet again that none of his pants fit and, oh yeah, he needs yet another pair of new sneakers, too. With any luck, he’ll soon be tall enough to see on top of the fridge for me, too.


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Spring cookies

While on the subject of cookies, I am firmly convinced that B and her cookies has finally, at long last, brought about spring. Every spring, the Girl Guides sell cookies. Boxes and boxes of them nestled together in a cute little box, 12 boxes packed tightly into a distinctive cardboard case, three of which now grace my dining room buffet.

These cookies are, I think, a most delicious sign of spring.

In fall, they sell the chocolate-covered mint cookies, but I don’t like those nearly as much. There’s just something about the neat rows of chocolate and vanilla that makes my mouth water and entire cases of cookies vanish in a heartbeat. The first case, as a matter of fact, didn’t even last 24 hours before we were staring at an empty box with a tidy envelope of money. One box for K, and one for B, of course, for she absolutely must sample the wares herself if she is to sell them effectively (or so the logic goes). Another for a teacher or two, and a school bus driver, and that guy who works with The Man We Call Dad and makes us laugh every time he comes over. Scratch that, he bought two, as did B’s best friend, C (after initially saying she only wanted one).

In such a way do cases and cases of boxes of cookies get sold, year after year. Last spring, we sold 7 cases. At 12 boxes per case and 20 cookies per box, that’s 1,680 cookies.

(We won’t mention exactly how many of those 1,680 cookies were consumed by me.)

This spring, she chose to bring home only 3 cases. So far, I’ve managed to limit myself to a single, solitary box.

Which is now empty.

And is sitting on the little, round, antique table in my office, mocking me.


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A mouthful of cookies

This weekend was a cookie weekend.  The Man We Call Dad bought two whole bags of Oreo cookies. Two bags, not one. Two, because he knows from long experience that Oreos are a particular weakness of mine and I tend to eat them four at a time.  And because he knows the kids have learned from my fine example and see nothing wrong with devouring pairs of Oreos multiple times a day.

Usually, he buys a single bag and stashes it away in the pantry, trusting that when he comes back a few hours later, there will be cookies in there. A reasonable assumption, no?

And then he assumes, having had a single cookie, or maybe two, that when he puts the bag back in the pantry, there will be cookies in there tomorrow, too.

Which there totally would be, if the pantry had a lock on it.

Which it doesn’t.

And if I didn’t adore Oreos as much as I do.

And if I didn’t say “Sure, and get me some too!” every time a child said “May I please have an Oreo?”

But they do, and I do, and no, the pantry does not have a lock on it, and yet The Man We Call Dad still finds himself puzzled by the empty bag of Oreos on day two.

So this weekend, he bought not one but two bags of Oreos in the hopes of getting more than just a few for himself. To help with this plan, I baked a few cookies, too.  Two dozen chocolate chip, two dozen peanut butter (from the best recipe ever), and a dozen mint chocolate chip for good measure.

Yes, you read that right. We now have five dozen homemade cookies and 2 bags of Oreos in the house.

Or rather, on Sunday we did. But right at this moment… Well, there are rather fewer, shall we say, and let’s leave it at that.


Lost and lost-er…

For Christmas, I crocheted a “cache-cou” for K.  A cache-cou is, quite literally, something that hides your neck from the bitter cold of winter. You might call it a cowl, except his wasn’t very drapy at all. Really, it was more like the neck of a turtleneck sweater without the sweater.

He was quite thrilled with it. The darkest gray, almost black, and thick as anything, and very soft, with 2 large buttons he chose from the stash himself. He wore it to school every day for a week or two…

…and then he lost it.

“It’s probably not lost,” I told him in that confident way mamas everywhere can announce things like “it’s just a little bobo” or “the nine thousand, four hundred and twenty-two pages of math homework you have to do tonight won’t take all that long if you just buckle down and do them.”

I told him to look in his locker really carefully.  To check the shelf up top where it might have gotten shoved to the back, and to look under the pile of stuff that inevitably winds up swimming at the bottom like a bizarre ocean of papers and mittens with an old sock for a whale and a shoe for a boat.

The next day, I told him to look in the lost and found, and to ask his classmates if anyone had seen it.

He says he did both.

About once a week for the next couple of weeks (otherwise known as every time it got cold out), I told him to do it all again. He did, every time I reminded him, and would inevitably come home insisting it was really, really lost.

“It’s not lost-lost,” I told him. “We just don’t know where it is at the moment. But it has to be somewhere.” (My logic is astounding, isn’t it?).

Yesterday was the last day of school before March Break.  I reminded him as he left to have a good look through the lost and found for anything that might be his, kissed the top of his head, and shooed him out the door before he missed his bus.

About an hour later, my emailed dinged. The school’s monthly newsletter was out. In it, there was a reminder to have your kids look through the lost and found as everything would be donated to charity March 7th.

No problem, I thought. I reminded him to look for stuff.

And then I remembered the cache-cou and suddenly this idea of March 7th felt a whole lot more final. When K came home from school without the cache-cou last night, I had to face facts. The cache-cou wasn’t just lost… it was lost-er.

I imagine somewhere in the city, someone is even at this very minute walking around with a lovely charcoal grey turtleneck sweater without the sweater thinking how lovely it was to find such a thing just lying on the ground. They probably don’t know it was handmade.  They probably don’t know it was well anticipated and well loved. But they know it’s warm and cozy and keeps their neck hidden from the bitter wind.

I hope, whoever you are, that you are warm and toasty. As for K, well, it looks like this mama is going to be making him another one just in time for spring.

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Fun with math

This morning, my daughter challenged me with the Dichotomy Paradox at an ungodly hour of the morning.

She had snuck into our bed for a morning cuddle, you see, and thought that it was immensely unfair of me to want to kick her out so I could get out of the aforementioned bed and go and have a shower. (I was trapped between the child and The Man We Call Dad, who was likewise trapped between the other child and me.)

“Up,” I told her. “I need to have my shower.”

She responded with a drawn out moan of a word followed by a mad clutching of my arm and burrowing under blankets that I interpreted to mean “Oh, hell no!”

Or maybe “Can’t we cuddle for just a little longer, Mama?”

Either way, I now had a child glued to my side like a baby monkey grasping its mother and The Man We Call Dad as a solid, warm presence at my back, and absolutely no hope of being able to extricate myself without great effort, great complaining, and possibly some heavy machinery.

“I’ll give you ten more seconds, then I’m having my shower,” I informed her (as if I had any real possibility of finding my way to freedom in the next 10 seconds).

“I’ll keep count,” she told me oh-so-helpfully.

Right before she closed her eyes again and pretended to be sleeping.

After a while, I pointed out that I was pretty sure that 10 seconds had passed. In fact, I was almost positive that it had been more like 10 minutes.

“It’s been 8 seconds. There are 2 more seconds left.” I was told. A few minutes later, we were at 9 seconds. And then 9-1/2 seconds. And that’s where the trouble began.

“Well, before we get to 10 seconds, we have to get halfway between 9-1/2 and 10, which would be 9-3/4. And then we have to get to half of the quarter second that’s left, which is 1/8 of a second, which still leaves us 1/8 of a second to go. And then we split that in half and still have 1/16th, and then 1/32nd…” and on and on she went, ending with “…so we’ll never, ever get to 10 seconds and you’ll just have to cuddle with me forever.”

She was entirely too gleeful about this idea.

Zeno’s dichotomy paradox,” I may have moaned. There may have been some eye rolling too.

She had no idea who Zeno was, or what dichotomy meant, but she was absolutely certain that my poking her in the middle until she vacated the premises and freed me from my warm haven prison was mathematically impossible and I just couldn’t leave.

She looked so adorable in purple flannel with her hair all wild from sleep and her hands on her hips and her eyes sparkling with mischief that I almost agreed with her.

But then I pointed out that the Dichotomy paradox also meant that a child who wanted a cupcake for dessert after breakfast (don’t you have dessert after breakfast? You totally should.) would have to cross half the distance from the bed to the cupcake, and then half of that distance, and so on and so on and in the end, would never ever ever be able to actually reach the cupcake, which would mean that cupcake eating was, in fact, a mathematical impossibility.

Like Aristotle did so many years before, she instantly scoffed at the possibility of the distance between her mouth and the chocolate cupcakes on the kitchen counter being infinitely divisible and announced that you could stop at eighths, after all, and therefore eat as many cupcakes as you like for after-breakfast dessert.

I don’t know about you, but I like the way she thinks, even if she does think about math far too early in the morning.

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It’s still winter

This morning as I got up and prepared to take the kids off to their appointments instead of sending them off to school, I realized that it is, indeed, still winter.

I am ever so grateful that Mother Nature heard my plea and sent us buckets of fluffy white snow the other day. We were blessed with a few days of nicer weather — still below freezing, of course, but above -10 C, with a lovely thick snowfall, all of which qualifies as nice. The kids certainly enjoyed spending hours racing down the ski hill with The Man We Call Dad.

Well, except for the falling-into-an-unseen-pit-hidden-by-fluffy-snow-and-having-your-skis-pop-off part.

Oh, and the falling-off-the-chairlift part. (Don’t worry – it was right at the start before anyone was airborne.)

And the fact that our great big thermos jug apparently has decided to retire young and therefore is refusing to keep the hot chocolate hot. Or even warm. Or even lukewarm-ish.

But despite all that, they had a great time and came home thoroughly worn out. So much so that all three of them went straight to sleep on whatever cozy surface they could find.

As for me, having chosen to not throw my somewhat precariously held together self down the side of a mountain at breakneck speeds, I enjoyed a day of reading and crocheting and chatting with friends without any interruptions, and then I enjoyed tiptoeing around my still silent house with a secret little smile tugging at my lips as I watched all three of my most loved ones sleep away the latter part of the day.

Despite the cold and despite the need for shoveling and despite the torturously, endlessly, long nature of the season, I do like winter. If nothing else, it provides a great excuse to spend great quantities of time curled up under a blanket with a book and maybe a child or two.

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“Take your kid to the library” has a day?

Tomorrow, I have learned from Twitter, has been dubbed the official “Take Your Kid To The Library Day.”  I was only a little befuddled when I read this.

The first thing that crossed my mind was “what, only one day?”  That was quickly followed by outrage as I remembered that there are, in fact, many families who never ever use the library. There are kids who only ever go to the library at their school. That there are people who not only didn’t get a library card when they were two, they still don’t have a library card at the age of 22 or 32 and probably never will. Ahem. Sorry, I get a little passionate about books and reading sometimes.

I like libraries.

When I was a girl, the library was a place I visited almost every week. Rain or shine, whether I had a drive from my parents or had to walk there myself, it was somewhere that I went.

All. The. Time.

I knew the sections of the library the way other people know their way around the grocery store. I knew which books were always on the shelves and which ones I had to request in advance if I wanted to get my hands on them anytime soon. I even knew the Bookmobile‘s schedule and would visit it often even though the library had a branch within easy walking distance, just because it was fun to climb inside an RV filled top to bottom with bookshelves and chat with the librarian for a while as I picked out books.

When I started taking care of my brother and sister after school and on weekends, I would often throw N in her stroller and take them to the library with me, even if the little old ladies who went to the library for a coffee and a gossip thought that it was absolutely shameful that a girl my age had a baby and a little boy and no wedding ring. I gave up trying to explain that the kids were my siblings and not my children after only a hundred times or so.

To this day, I simply cannot go in to the library and come out with only one book. Even if I only have one book that has come in as a request and I have a dozen at home in the library book bin (yes, we have a bin. It helps us not lose books.)… it is physically impossible for me to exit a library with a single, solitary book. Three is a bare minimum, I’ve found, though 6 to 8 is better. And if I have the kids with me? Well, let’s just say we really like books around here and leave it at that.

Nowadays, the library offers so much more than just books. Homework help, book clubs, free lecture series, computer classes, e-books, language lessons, access to newspapers and journals, museum passes, pedometers, energy meters, genealogy services, help for small businesses, career help, computer and internet access, audiobooks, animated “talking” books for kids, board game clubs, storytime for kids, and workshops of all kinds. We’ve had all sorts of fun, thanks to the library, and only some of it has been centered around books.

Someone told me recently that they get the same feeling walking in to a library as they do walking into a church. That sense of hush, the need to be quiet and reverent, the need to tiptoe down the aisles and let the presence of so many books just sort of wash over you before you can start to make a few choices.

I get it. I do, really. I love that library smell. I love the stacks of books. I love the peacefulness of spending a quiet hour or two at the library.

But I disagree.

To me, walking into a library is less like walking into a church and more like coming home and finding all your old friends sitting there chatting while drinking a cup of cocoa, and a whole bunch of new friends, freshly scrubbed and faces shining, eager to hang out with you for a while, combined with a candy store where every single shelf is marked “Free! Help yourself!” and they really, really mean it.

I don’t feel a reverent hush when I go to the library. I feel like I’ve just been handed the keys to the universe and told to go ahead and take it for a test drive.

So what are you going to do with your kids tomorrow?



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