Sunday, February 23, 2014

learning to sew


I learned so much yesterday. I went to my friend's house, where she had cleared a table for us to work on in a lovely, sunny room. So we spent a chunk of the afternoon preparing the fabrics for the pair of pants I want to make. I had no idea you could iron paper or that it would be useful when sewing  (we lightly ironed the pattern sheet and also the tissue paper we traced the pattern onto). I ironed the fabrics I'm going to use, matched the grain of the fabric (who knew?), pinned the pattern parts to them, and cut the pieces out. So I'm all ready to go next weekend with starting to put the pieces together.


I love that my friend is taking me through the whole process. It's so much easier to learn when you have someone beside you to reassure that yes, it's okay if your hand wobbles a bit tracing the pattern or if the scissors do when you're cutting the fabric. It's so much more efficient than the humming and hawing and fretting I do when I'm learning to do something from a book, all by myself. Plus it's just lovely to visit with a friend in a sunny room, especially when you're still deep in winter.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Someone I know recently said something pretty profound to me, when I was complaining about how I just don't seem to know how to set up systems to manage the clutter and life in our home. I thought what I needed was someone to come into my home and show me how to set up systems so all I have to do is maintain them. But she said she thinks that there is valuable experience in struggling to set up a system. Through the struggle, you learn things about the system that enable you to maintain it and improve it.

I think she's right. So I'll keep struggling, I guess.

Monday, February 17, 2014

the ones that got away

I am going to learn how to sew! Like for real!

I have a friend who's going to take me through the whole process of sewing some adorable Quick Change Trousers (pattern by Anna Marie Horner, which I discovered in SouleMama's archive and which are all over the Internet) for Youngest. I'm stoked. I bought fabric last week and I have to say I demonstrated incredible restraint only bringing home the fabric I needed for one pair (well, and a couple of bits called fat quarters of orange prints, which is Youngest's favourite colour).

Here are two fabrics I'm still thinking about that I left at the store (sob!). I really really really wanted to make two pairs of pants but for a variety of reasons I'm having to be especially penny-pinching right now. So I left them. But aren't they so cute?


There was another fabric I left behind, which I didn't photograph because I didn't actually have a specific use for it, but it was absolutely lovely and the end of the roll too. Ah well. If I find out that I really like sewing then I'll allow myself to stock up on new fabrics. But not yet.

And these are the fabrics I brought home to make the pants with. image

I can't wait!

And speaking of frugality, for Valentine's Day I made my kids some Lego hearts, which were out waiting for them when they woke up.

For Eldest:
For my big kid

For Youngest:
My valentine for my kids

Friday, February 14, 2014

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, dreamy moment I want to remember.

Dreamy homeschooling moment

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It's possible you may see me participating in the This Moment Friday photo meme, started by SouleMama years ago. This represents kind of a big turnaround for me.

For a long time I kind of rolled my eyes at the Moments. For one thing, my photography has always been about making pictures that are beautiful but not pretty. For another, I thought those moments were contributing to women --  mothers, in particular -- feeling inadequate if they didn't have pretty moments.  I thought they must be, if not lies, at least just a tiny moment's break in the chaos that didn't reflect the overall experience.

Now that I've read pretty much all of SouleMama's archive, I think she uses those moments in an aspirational way. Posting a photo of a nice moment is kind of a practice of mindfulness, a gesture of gratitude. I can get behind that. (Full disclosure: I'm actually pretty inspired by her - the unschooling, the small farm.)

Something big happened when I went back to work and my husband discovered all the joys of being at home with kids full-time. I discovered that life can actually be largely peaceful. Not because I'm away from my kids for eight hours a day (that part is the hardest) but because my husband is doing so much more around the house. Our housework load feels more equal.

I have a tendency to take things over, and when I was home full-time he had no space to figure out all the stuff I spent my days figuring out. It wasn't totally his fault and he has stepped up so admirably in the last nine months (has it really been nine months?!?).

Now, when we're getting ready to go somewhere, my husband just knows what to do to get the kids ready. Before, if I wanted his help to gather their shoes and coats and some bags for groceries and diapers and wipes and sunscreens and hats and snacks and drinks, etc. etc. I had to direct my husband on every single detail. Not we can both do some of that work and it's so much less hectic getting out the door (when there's two of us at least, mostly).

I have discovered how lovely life with kids can be when you have a fully engaged partner. Life is still a struggle and we still have lots of chaos, but so much less than before. Life just doesn't feel as hard as it did. (I should really let my husband comment here, since he now deals with so much more of that daily chaos than I do, but he's gone to bed.)

I have also been trying to practice gratitude, even in the struggles. And it's doing good things for me. So with those various changes, life doesn't feel so hard and there are so many more dreamy moments. And I want to capture some of them and share them. Because that's why we're doing all this… for the dreamy moments.

So you've been warned… don't be surprised if you see some Moments in this space.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

gifts from the universe

I know this is slightly crazy, but finding treasures at thrift stores often feels like getting gifts from the universe. One of my favourite things to find at thrift stores right now is vintage children's picture books. I don't know what it is but I swear they don't illustrate children's books like they used to. Once home, some books have such appeal to the kids that we read them immediately; others can sit for a long time before we actually get to reading them.

One in the latter category was A Prairie Boy's Summer by William Kuralek. I picked it up at least a year ago when we were reading the Little House series, a decision based solely on the cover. It just looked like something Eldest would eat up. But it languished on the shelf until just last week. What a revelation when we finally read it!

Vintage Canadian children's book

Each spread contains one full-page painting and one page of text. Each page of text talks about a different aspect of William's youth growing up on a prairie farm. At first I found William a bit negative, as most of the things in the stories are about things he didn't particularly like. But midway through the second reading, he's starting to grow on me, with his balanced memories.

Vintage Canadian children's book

So we read through the book once and I thought the vignettes were cute (and also informative about the way people farmed in that time and place) and the paintings were quite beautiful, and then we read the back cover (I don't know how I didn't so much as glance at it before) and discovered that Kuralek was a renowned Canadian painter who died at age 50 in 1977.

 Vintage Canadian children's book

He also wrote A Prairie Boy's Winter, Lumberjack and A Northern Nativity, all of which I'm keen to get my hands on.

 Vintage Canadian children's book

Tonight, after Eldest asked to start the second reading, I googled him to see how I might find his other books (although I'm really hoping the thrift stores will bestow them on me), and I discovered that he suffered deep depressions for which he was hospitalized for years in London. Of course, he still produced great work while he was in hospital, but still. And apparently his father abused him. So I guess that explains that rather negative tone in the store.

I love how these little gifts from thrift stores cause me to discover artists I'd have had no knowledge of otherwise. If you come across this book, I definitely recommend it. I also found out that a lot of his work is at the Niagara Falls Gallery so I'm thinking a trip there may be in order this spring or summer.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


What a nice weekend we had! I was a bit frazzled and stressed going into it, because I didn't feel properly prepared for Eldest's birthday, which was Friday. But I let some things go and I think Eldest felt well-loved by the end of it. He woke up Friday to his new present, a giant snow scoop (his favourite daily activity is shovelling snow and 'plowing' the roads in our backyard).

On Saturday his grandparents came and he got his favourite dinner: homemade macaroni and cheese. It's been so long since I made macaroni and cheese, I completely forgot how and couldn't find the original recipe, so I had to wing it. But he declared it delicious so that was nice. (Youngest and I didn't partake.) He also got to watch the Olympics AND a hockey game with Grandpa and Grandma and I just don't think life gets better than that.

Then today a party with eight of his friends and three of his grandparents, and some new playmobil and lego, and this is one happy boy. There was only the tiniest sliver of cake left (cake, which had overflowed its pans and is now burnt on the bottom of my oven, but was nevertheless delicious if misshapen and let's say rustically frosted.

I'm most pleased with myself for taking a slow pace through it all and not letting myself get stressed out. I did get a bit flustered when I couldn't find my usual recipe for chocolate frosting and the one I tried from the Internet was powdery for an alarmingly long time and my arm cramped trying to get it more frosting-like, but I just kept at it and it all came together.

Not only that, but Mount Foldmore is totally GONE! Nothing but a clean stretch of floor in its place. For now at least.

Monday, February 3, 2014


I added a new page to this space to act as a resource for others nearby who are looking for local food. There you will find our favourite farmers and shopkeepers.

And while I'm on the subject, we bought the most amazing chickens this fall (I mean dead ones -- you already know about the live ones, who are still living. Although every time I tell Eldest we're having chicken for dinner, his first response is often, "Not one of ours!"). They're huge -- some of them are nine pounds -- and the most delicious ever. I roast them whole and then we use the meat for lots of soup. I remain firmly convinced that homemade chicken soup really does fight colds.

Unfortunately, I'm not particularly good at roasting chickens just yet, and I often discover that despite the thermometer reading, they're underdone in the middle. If they were grocery store chickens I'd be very concerned, but because I know how they lived, I'm much less so. Of course we don't eat it undercooked, but it cooks up just fine simmering in broth for soup and I'm not afraid to get intimate with the carcass to strip it clean.

Anyways… the last one I roasted was so big, we ate the well-cooked outside bits for dinner Sunday, made broth overnight and made an enormous pot of soup on Monday -- enough to give me lunch the next day and to freeze half for another night's dinner, made another smaller bit of broth the next night, which is now frozen for something like pumpkin soup, and then my husband made the most amazing chicken curry on Tuesday, which went on to feed three of us for lunch the next day. Pastured chicken is not cheap but when it feeds you for four such nourishing dinners for four people, a few lunches and the basis for another cheap soup, it seems awfully economical. And delicious!

So have a look at my new local food page, which I hope to add to over the coming months and years.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


This time last year I'd been poring over online seed catalogues of local vegetable seed vendors for at least a couple weeks, in time to buy seeds at the Guelph Organic Conference. This year, I didn't even set foot at the conference. And I hadn't given any thought to what seeds I might like to buy. I bought too many seeds to plant last year, so I'm hoping they're still viable and I'll give them a go this year.

But I'm not too sure just how big into gardening I'll go this year. I'm interested in building some raised beds in a sunny patch I noticed last fall here at home, but that's a lot of work, and I'm just not sure we're really up for it. I plan to continue the plots I have at the community garden, for sure, but I don't know if I want to start seeds myself again indoors, or just buy seedlings. I'm tempted to plant berrying shrubs along the only side of our house that gets afternoon sun, where there are just huge, ornamental grasses. But from where I am right now, that just seems like all too much work.

Maybe this will be my year of letting go and sinking in to what comes. We know the direction we want to forge, but we don't know how long it will take for things to shake down, and for the moment things are pretty peaceful as they are.

It could be five years before leave this house, in which case I'd like to make the raised beds and plant the shrubs to get as much learning in as we can. But it's possible it could be this year or next, in which case I'd rather not be leaving so much sweat equity. So I don't know. Maybe I'll put less effort into plans and more into actually doing whatever makes sense in the moment.


This was about an hour or so before I went out to lock up the chickens last night. When I went out in the full dark, the sky was bright with clouds and the snow muffled everything. It was balmy after so many -25C days and I found myself wishing I had more chores to do outside or perhaps in a place where I could see beyond the solid fences of my neighbours. As it was, I went out front and shovelled the driveway. Thankfully, the nearby neighbour with the snow blower didn't come out until this morning, so I got just the peace and bit of useful activity I was looking for.

housekeeping for the messy?

For some time now, I've been trying to figure out the secret of tidy houses. Now, I don't mean soulless, bare places; I mean just pleasantly orderly but very much lived-in, with enough detritus to show who lives there. I get so overwhelmed in my house because so much stuff doesn't have a home. I don't seem to know how to set up systems so that everything has a place, and I also don't have the habits to put things away (the few that have homes) on a regular basis.

I don't much about permaculture, but I know it's about creating systems that are self-sustaining. I think something like that could help me keep my home more comfortable. If there are systems that work in our homes for managing our stuff, maintaining the space to be calm and peaceful could be easier.

Recently, I've come to the conclusion that there is some fundamental gap -- in skills, knowledge, experience, or maybe something else -- between me and people who can keep their homes relatively tidy. It's not that I have no interest in it; I do, tremendous interest. The mess in my house, in every single room, stresses us all out. Although I only notice this by its absence, when we get a corner tidy and it feels like a big sigh of relief. It's just so nice to be in those spaces.

Anyways, the gap: it's something that tidy people take for granted; they aren't even aware of it. So when they write books or try to help people organize their homes or keep them cleaner, they miss it entirely. I'm sure it's something I can learn, but I need to discover what it is first, so I can learn it consciously. Is there a book about permaculture in the home (vs on the land)?

The other day, I was reading Dr. Gabor Mate's Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. I picked it up because I enjoy his books and his take on the world, not with anyone in mind. But I quickly found that his descriptions of adults with ADD sound alarmingly familiar. Of course, he also notes that all the characteristics of ADD also appear in average people, although with differing intensities. He sees ADD as primarily an impairment, and whatever characteristics I share with people with ADD, they haven't impaired my life overly much.  

His description of a typical person with ADD attempting to tidy a messy room resonated so strongly. (It was along the lines of picking up a book to put it on the shelf, noticing that two related books are far apart from one another, in moving one, you become engrossed in a detail that causes you to seek a reference book, the dryer alarm goes off so you go to change the laundry, notice something along the way that takes you away from the laundry before you get there, remember to take the ground beef out of the freezer to thaw, find the cup of tea you poured half an hour ago on the way to the freezer… something like that.) 

He goes on to explain: 
"Completely lacking in the ADD mind is a template for order, a mental model of how order comes about. You may be able to visualize what a tidy and organized room would look like, but the mind-set to do the job is missing. To begin with, there is a profound reluctance to discard anything -- who knows when you might need that copy of The New Yorker that has gathered dust for three years without ever being looked at? There is little space for anything. You never feel you can master the confused mess of books, papers, magazines, pieces of clothing, compact disks, letters to be answered and sundry other objects -- you only shift portions of the chaos from one place to another. Should you nevertheless succeed now and then, you know full well that the order is temporary."
Maybe that's the gap I've been struggling to identify: a mental model of how order comes about. Immediately I think about how people with Asperger's or high-functioning autism can consciously learn the unspoken expectations of them in social situations and they can consciously learn to meet them to some extent, assuming they're interested in doing that. But of course, the challenge is finding a mentor who can uncover the stuff that most people take for granted.

I've developed a bit of an obsession with SouleMama's archives, and although I know she averts her camera from the messy bits of her house, I'm pretty sure her space is relatively tidy and at least comfortable and relaxing. This afternoon, I had a sudden epiphany about another thing that SouleMama has that I don't: a basement.

So help me out: How have you developed the systems in your house for managing stuff? (And I don't mean regular cycles of purging… I want to keep most of my stuff, I just want it organized and accessible.) Did any books help you? Other resources?