Tuesday, September 24, 2013

100% chance of rain and access to a car...

Here's the thing about being carless in Toronto with two children; we all have an intimate knowledge of our neighbourhood. The kind of intimacy that you get from walking to the grocery store with a 2 and a 6 year old.

We know where the flowers are growing, which fences and walls are ok to climb, where you can find snails and worms and how long it takes us to get anywhere. We've never owned a car so we find we don't need one. Our food gets delivered to our door, we bike around town, we use the TTC and we use our bike trailers to get heavier jobs done. Not having a car is how we can afford to go to the Smithsonian and Edinburgh every two years.

We are also excruciatingly lucky that my parents love having us around so much that we can take a train up to Barrie and they will pick us up and bring us to the cottage so because they are so accommodating we get to have a train adventure, live carless AND enjoy our cottage.

Being carless in Toronto also means that when anyone in my family goes on a trip they let us keep their car - saves on their parking costs and we get a car for a week.

In the beginning we used to use the car to spend money buying stuff that we didn't need in far off corners of Toronto (re: IKEA). Now we try and use it for exploration instead of consumption.

This time round, we used the car for road tripping. We were hoping to go to Humber Park and check out the Butterfly Gardens at Humberside but when the forecast was, "100% chance of rain" (is that still a chance?) we opted for The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory.

On a cold and rainy day the heat and pretty environment was a complete luxury.

Banded Owl - Drying Wings
Small Postman Butterfly

Rice Paper Butterfly

Feeling wings

Stalking Asian Quails

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Garden Porn

I hadn't been to my garden in about a week. So I was comforting myself with pictures from my last visit.

This year I was super ambitious with my garden. A neighbour of mine runs an organic seed business - Cubits Organic Living; Rare and Heirloom Seeds are her specialty.  In the interest of full disclosure she donates seeds every time we run a fundraiser for my side project - The Rail Garden.
Organic Zapotec Pleated Tomatoes
So when it came to buying my seeds I went directly to her, I have no regrets and have enjoyed her blog that has had posts relating to how to save seeds and cook produce.

I should mention that I planted them one day with Marlowe and Fenner. Marlowe insisted on helping me so I had very little clue what was where and how until fruit started to grow....and grow...and grow.

 We got three varieties of tomatoes; Organic Zapotec Tomatoes, Reisomate Heirloom Tomatoes and some cute ass Red Pear Cherry Tomato seeds for some "fresh off the vine snacking"

Red Pear Cherry Tomato seeds
Honestly, I expected very little produce, given that it was my first time out of the gate with seed vegetables - also, I had the impression that heirloom, organic produce was a little less predictable with getting ripe.

This has not been my experience at all!
 We've been harvesting Small Sugar Pumpkins to be made into Maple Glazed Pumpkin Donuts and frozen puree for fall and Christmas baking.
Rainbow Swiss Chard which only made the Swiss Chard Cavatappi even more satisfying!
 More Pumpkins!
 Ground Cherries!
 Yellow tomatoes!

 My garden neighbour's tomatillos that I covet.

There are some pretty wild flowers growing around the fence along with tomatoes that had gone to seed from varmints scattering seeds and leftovers.

Now that the City construction is all done we can go for dinner and the kids can run amok. Last night five families from all corners of the neighbourhood joined us for dinner.  Eleven children and nine adults sitting on blankets and around a table enjoying a bite to eat and a glass of wine.

It was a lovely time.  Exactly what I'd hoped would happen when we started this project TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Portrait of a Two Year Old

 Last week M turned two.  In a lucky turn of events we had a free loaner car for the weekend so instead of a city birthday party we decided to make a sprint for our favourite family hang out. September is a busy month full of transitions and new schedules so taking a break to be a unit without distraction was a welcome relief; even if it did take forever to get there on Friday night.

It was cloudy and cold on Friday night and on Saturday the sun came out. The wind was cold on the lake so we went to Pretty Channel. I'm sorry for the repetitive scenery but it really is one of my favourite places. We are drawn to it whenever we're at our cottage. A beautiful sheltered piece of running water and Canadian Shield. Even though it was not just cool, but cold on the lake and at our cottage; it was so hot and sunny that we could actually go for a swim, nap in the sun and enjoy the area.

Marlowe really gets to show off her mad independent skills here without great risk.  There are all sorts of different terrains to explore and challenge herself with and both girls always feel like they can do anything when they are done exploring the woods, shoreline and rapids.

It's a magical place to spend a whole warm sunny birthday with her whole Fam.

Being two means that everything is "Mine" and that's mostly ok still. It means that she can "do it by myself" which is also great.

Two years old means we still get to nap and snuggle in the hot sun where ever we happen to be..  Sunsoaked and sweaty.
Being two means keeping up with some of her Sister's antics or at least starting to up the ante on their adventures.
Being two is endless jokes about splashing rocks and making faces. 
Being two is about exploring enormous distances.
Being two is still knowing for better or worse someone is right there to make sure she is always comfortable and safe.
Being two also means drawing lots of Cats. She's got all the subtlety of a Sledgehammer for which I have a lot of respect.
Being two means being the perfect audience to be awed by her big sister's hunting prowess and game playing...most of the time this is an awesome match up.
These are the moments that we keep on keeping on for.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Have you seen my shit? I lost it last week.

I've been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks. A neighbourhood friend recently expressed some misplaced admiration that I never seemed to lose my shit...and wanted to know how I did it. She felt alone and freakish when a brutal week came calling and getting out of the house intact seems impossible. And when it did she felt like a failure because she thought that everyone is able to do 'it' all without cracking. 

I don't know anyone who parents, partners and works without cracking up regularly.

Before you read this post, if you don't already know me personally, I need to warn you that I am an almost neurotically high functioning, extroverted woman; I am the wage earner in my family; I am a community activist; I love being busy and I feel lost without a number of different classifications of to do lists. I am also physically and mentally healthy (mostly);and maintaining this health is sacrosanct to me. I know I am lucky to have a healthy baseline and I try super hard not to take it for granted. 

I believe in my heart and mind that life/work balance is a myth that makes most of us feel like failures 90% of the time. My days are a series of triage decisions all of which must be based on a host of changing priorities but built on a foundation of solid values. If I'm not good in my own skin; functioning well is super super hard.

How can we all go through this life thinking that the inevitable meltdown/bad week/temper tantrum is anything but a learning curve and hiccup; a necessary inspiration to live better and force us to evolve.

Before I came to terms with the understanding that my paid work runs in direct competition with a family's needs; that all compromise relating to work and family - impacts either the quality of my work or the quality of my parenting. I was driving myself around the bend trying to figure out how I could dedicate 60 hours a week to work, and still be a killer Wife and Mom.

Turns out I can't; so some weeks I do one and some weeks I do the other...triage.


When I break down, it is almost always a direct result of overextending myself, I find myself in this "sneaky hate spiral".  It's a super unpleasant cycle for everyone and when I'm that wound up I'm a fucking barrel of jelly beans.

So here is what it looks like when I lose my shit. It looks different for everyone, but here's my world. I've included pictures because they really help me gain perspective when shit gets rough. They also act as clear proof that my inner critic is a complete crazy dick bag! Super helpful.

The clear impression that my brilliant, gentle introverted PIC is not being a contemplative quiet person but is in fact silently judging me and seething at some insult that I have delivered loutishly and thoughtlessly - thus proving once again that I am that insensitive and hurtful extrovert Partner in Crime and co-parent AND HE IS A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ASSHOLE THAT WON'T BE OPEN WITH ME.

No, he is not. He is a super quiet thoughtful no bullshit guy. I test this regularly and he never fails to call me out when I overstep...surprisingly rare given how tenuous my grip on personal boundaries is.
The suspicion that Marlowe is suffering irreparable damage because I am working and away all day. Why else would she scream and need me so constantly every time I'm around?
Clearly, this is a picture of said abandoned and abused baby, I wonder if maybe she has a role model baby carrying Mother....perhaps she is tired and frustrated at 5:00 pm like we all are..
Fenner is feeling rejected and her growth is being stunted due to the aforementioned attached toddler and my failure to set appropriate boundaries.
Witness a clearly rejected and unloved child. Notice the atrophying interest in the world and the way she is retreating into her shell...

My parents and siblings have finally isolated the real reason that I'm so difficult to be around (see: strong opinions on feminism, parenting, politics, the weather, pet ownership, personal responsibility, environmentalism, urban planning, gardening, nutrition, and possibly, breathing)
This might be true but at least I know I am an apple not far from her family tree. Besides we seem to be the kind of family that I admire - loud, passionate, engaged, argumentative. We are not alone.

A desperate need to fight to the death on such critical mountains as: shoe lace tying techniques, dust accumulation on the top of pictures, the proper way to stir a soup stock, ...you see where this is going.
Apparently, not everyone stirs their stock in a figure eight.  CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? It's hard to imagine their souls aren't dead, and yet, these people seem to be full of love and laughter. 

The suspicion that my best friends in adventure have decided finally, after decades, that I can barely be taken seriously on adventure; never mind be trusted to do something as simple as hooking up for coffee.
Worthy of note is that by the time I've gotten to this point in the cycle. I have no fucks to give for what they think of me because they are such terrible people (in my mind) that the world would be better off if we broke up.
But then...I hate not being challenged by people I love and who love me...

The realization that my career is based on my ability to fool everyone into thinking that I am a competent, never mind excellent, consensus builder and facilitator
The community garden I worked hard with a group of very different women to found after generating  enormous support from our diverse neighbourhood.

My inability to engage in a discussion without being emotional or taking an emotional pot shot at my 'adversary' when normally I think that without 'warm' discussion the best possible ideas never come to light.
My day is filled with creative ways to influence coworkers, clients and children. If they were all enemies of mine I would think that world peace would be as mythical as the Unicorn Pegasus. Note, that I did not in any way suggest that the Unicorn nor the Pegasus were mythical because I am the GREAT mother of a SIX YEAR OLD GIRL

An eventual and unavoidable crying jag followed by about 18-24 hours of sleeping and otherwise 'checking out' of life, which, in the end, is a problem now isn't it?
Sometimes I think maybe checking into rehab would be a sweet ass vacation.

I'm so goddamned lucky that after I crash and burn.  I get to take stock of what's important and rebuild on that. I don't want or need a "do over". Working to manage and prevent these little meltdowns is what I'm fine tuning. I surround myself with people who understand and respect boundaries when they need to be set.  I plan events, adventure and parties weeks in advance because as a working mother there is no time on a daily basis to do volumes of work - it's gradual over days...

Otherwise, I have to sacrifice quality.  Life is just too short to be happy with anything less than the best possible everyday- right?


Here are some things I try and do to prevent my hate spiral or dig me out of a spiral once I'm in. They work for me, maybe some might work for you too, or you might have some tools you could share in the comments.

I draw strict boundaries between work and family.
I exercise in the morning.
I surround myself with people who inspire me in a million different ways.
I break up with people who hurt my feelings on purpose - zero tolerance.
I eat more vegetables than anything else.
I try not to drink during the week. and lord knows I love my wine.
I try to cut myself a whole lot of slack - this is hard.
I apologize when I've hurt feelings.

I stop scheduling. Boredom is a requirement for better living for us at home.
I try and go nuclear with my family. Stay home and find some magic with Jason and the girls.
I work hard daily to manage group of breakdown factors: sleeplessness, over scheduling, poor eating, overspending and self-criticism.

I cancel all plans to be at home for at least 7 days so I can get used to it again, play games with Jason (Sequence!) and the girls, go to the park *together*, put out blank paper and pencils, turn off my phone when I am not working, turn off the internet, sit, cook whole food with Jason, slow down, start each day with a State of the Union with my family, knit, write short to do lists, walk or be alone somehow.
I invest in my own inspiration - podcasts that turn my brain on, books that turn my feelings on, pictures that make me juicy, food that feels good to make and eat. Anything that makes me feel good in a normal, free, healthy way - not an exhilarating sky diving way. The key to this is that everything has to be normal and free.

It can't cost money to feel good about day to day life. We're broke so I keep it basic.