Thursday, August 30, 2012

And you thought you had a good party trick

A few weeks before Alyce was born in 2007.

I've been sitting on an experience I had a few weeks ago, wanting to shout about it from the rooftops, while at the same time wanting to keep it quietly to myself for just a few moments more. Do you know that feeling?

I have mentioned a few times that I am becoming a labour doula. In fact, I am starting my own doula business here in Toronto. I haven't written about the details of my new business (opening soon!) because there is just so much work to put in first before I'm ready to open the doors, so to speak. I'm still finishing my doula certification and trying to identify all the moving parts of starting a small business (turns out there are a lot of parts).

These details will come, soon I hope, but in the meantime.

Two weeks ago I watched as my first doula client gave birth. This woman and her partner generously allowed me to learn from them as they approached the birth of their baby, through multiple prenatal visits and then for twenty-one hours of labour, delivery, and celebration. What can I say about my first opportunity to support a family during the birth of new baby? It. Was. Amazing. Their story isn't mine to tell, but I will tell you this: I stood next to her, holding one of her legs as she pushed and pushed, and I just started to weep, not only because I was standing before birth of a beautiful and healthy baby girl, but because I was stopped in my tracks by the strength of this woman. How does the world not stop and marvel at this strength every single day? I will never forget what I witnessed that day.

To anyone and everyone who has given birth, no matter how it happened or what it looked like: wow. You did good work. And you are stronger than you ever realized.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Having a baby abroad, or how my American midwives laughed at my Canadian eagerness

Shira Clementine and Me, USA

At the annual Halloween Parade, Newark, DE. Americans know parades.

Picking Alyce up from the Willa Road's Children Center
Alyce, Shira, and Finley, Central Park, NYC

I am a Canadian who married an American who gave birth to one daughter in Canada (but who is also an American) and another daughter in the U.S. (but who is also a Canadian). Have I lost you yet? Ameena at Mummy in Provence asked me some questions about what it was like to have a baby away from my home country and you can find my answers here. Thanks, Ameena!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


We spent the morning at a photographer's studio. I love photography. I am in awe of what people can do with a camera, like an actual camera that isn't my iPhone. And while I don't know what it's like to work under the pressure of potentially unhappy customers, we didn't really have fun. Yes, I'm sure we will get an incredible photo at the end of it all, and since the photo session was a gift from my mum and stepfather, I'm grateful that we had the opportunity. But trying to coerce my children to sit for the perfect shot is not my idea of a good time.

I don't have good feelings about bodies being in the centre of attention on a good day, or more specifically, my body being the centre of attention. Blame the mean boys and girls of my youth, my penchant for baking, my hips' homage to Ruben, or my years in ballet, but I've never been a big fan of my body, and this generally makes me feel uncomfortable in any setting where attention is thrown my way, even when it's positive. (This is not my best trait, but it is who I am. I even annoy myself, like when someone compliments my hair and all it does is make me feel terrible about the rest of body. Just accept a compliment, already.)

As a parent I often struggle with just how much attention is given to my daughters' looks. Don't get me wrong, their beauty stops me in my tracks. But they are my kids, and I'm hard-wired to think so. And I am also stopped in my tracks by their thoughts and feelings, and even sometimes by their jokes (Alyce over breakfast today: What letter makes honey? Me: I don't know. Which one? Alyce: "B"!) But strangers who only meet them for a few moments, or acquaintances we run into only now and again, they always focus on their looks and they just can't seem to stop going on. And on. In some ways this attention make me feel proud because I know that it isn't their good looks that gets the attention, but their enormous hearts that shine through their faces. But other days I start to worry about what Alyce and Shira are learning from all this attention.

Like most things, I'm conflicted (surprising, I know). Rebecca at Girl's Gone Child made an excellent point about raising our girls to enjoy their own beauty, and it has stuck with me since I read it last year. She writes:
I want my children to own their beauty, not be ashamed of it. I want them to know how to take compliments and to return them because we are the sum of all of our parts. In order to have healthy bodies we must know how to properly care for them, not ignore that they exist. Our bodies are more than just shells. They bring pleasure and yes, even happiness when treated with respect and love. So ignoring our daughters' physical selves does not protect them so much as it sets them up for potential guilt and insecurity. (Find the rest here.)
This is good stuff: we are the sum of many parts, bodies included. But my challenge comes in the form of having absolutely no idea how to teach my girls to love their bodies but not become defined by them. For them, right now, their bodies are praised. But let's face it, a few mean (or simply thoughtless) comments down the line and all of a sudden that praise turns to critique, and when that happens I want them to stand on the knowledge that their worth comes from more than bodies. I grew up thinking I was somehow second-class because I wasn't as skinny as my friends. Now that I'm a mother to two girls, I find myself in a bit of a defensive position when it comes to bodies.

Relax, you're thinking, and you're probably right. This isn't the first time I've over-thought something. At the end of the day I try to teach my girls to enjoy their bodies and not to take things too seriously. We dress up as princesses and fairy ballerinas, dress up in my clothes and make-up, and then spend hours forgetting about what our bodies look like as we chase each other around the park playing tag and secret agent. What I didn't like about this morning was that I felt like we signed up for an hour of picking on my daughter's bodies. It became an exercise in choosing the best clothes, brushing the hair out of Alyce's eyes, and placing their bodies just the right way. When the photographer asked if I could fix their wispy, fly-away hair, I said no, that's who they are. When he wanted them both smiling directly into the camera, I refused to beg constantly for them to listen and sit still. When he looked disappointed by their ability to listen, Matt and I were laughing on the sidelines at Shira's determination to thwart his every attempt at control. I think we were terrible customers, but I was unwilling to make this a moment for (mostly) Alyce to feel as though there was something wrong with her, that her body didn't look just right for the pictures. There are so many things for them to learn as children, between all the talk of manners and rules and learning how to be a kind and generous human being, I'd rather not make an issue out of some fly-away hair.

This gift from my mum is a wonderful one, and I can't wait to see what pictures did come out of today. If we ever do this again I'll see if we can find a photographer able to come to our house and follow them around, capturing them the way I love best: up to no good. For now, though, I'll mostly just enjoy these blurry photos I took with my iPhone. They're blurry because Alyce and Shira are children and don't like to sit still. Also, I was laughing so hard. That's way more fun than static free hair styles and matching dresses.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sometimes I forget

Sometimes I stand behind my daughters and marvel at those pigtails. Because they are just so delicious. Or the rubber boots. Those are delicious, too.

Other times I stand amazed that no matter where I go, in our home, out in the world, or in the car, I am constantly serenaded with the loud, warbly voices of not one, but two daughters. On those same days, after I've measured Alyce on our trip to the farm, I am witness to her excitement that she is eight hands tall.

Almost as tall as a pony.

Today I'll stand next to Alyce and Shira and remember they won't be young for much longer. I'll remind myself that one day they'll know how to put on their own clothes, make their own food, and read their own books. I will take a deep breath and give in to the crazy. Because this crazy is all mine.

What are you going to do today?

(P.S. Today I'm also having a good friend over for lunch. Can't wait.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Magic happens here

It’s the fruit bowl. It is, for me, what I can only describe as a happiness trigger. A full fruit bowl makes me feel rich, like the house is ready to support anyone who needs it. There is plenty of food to eat and even to fill a pie, and when someone says they need a snack, I know just where to point them. It’s a little thing, but also weighty, and I feel very thankful for that filled bowl. Eating from the Ground Up

I've had a few friends kindly inquire after my sanity with the number of food blogs I read. It's true. I may follow a good long list of them (some of my favourites are this one, this one, and definitely that one, though there are far too many to list here, see above re: sanity). Of course I love to eat and so part of my interest comes from sleuthing around for new ideas to try, like these baked peaches I tried last night (just perfect) or this heirloom tomato salad I'm hoping to try after my fruit and veggie box delivers more tomatoes tomorrow (my fruits and veggies come from here, if you're looking for a good service in Toronto--thanks, Tanja, for the excellent recommendation!). But as much as I love all the food, it's only half of the story. The other half is the kitchen.

The kitchen in my house growing up had this awkwardly placed counter in the middle of the room, one side of which had bar stools for me (and presumably, other people) to sit on. If I calculated the hours I spent talking with my mum while she cooked or washed dishes the total might reach in the trillions. I think I learned a lot about life from sitting there across from my mum. I know that I learned how to be a good friend as she'd talk me down from some girlfriend related drama I'd share with her while she made dinner. I know that I learned how sharing your biggest worries with someone else could make them feel a lot less overwhelming. I also know that I learned the perfect ratio of olive oil to tomatoes, how not to overcrowd mushrooms, and how to dredge the chicken first in the flour, then in egg. And I learned about salt, glorious salt!

The kitchen is where the magic happens. No matter where a kitchen is found it can easily be transformed into the centre of a home, drawing absolutely everyone inside its boundaries (partners, children, parents, second cousins, that lovely woman you met the day before). You see it wasn't just me who settled herself across the counter from my mum--by the time high school rolled around most of my friends had found themselves there at least a dozen times. By graduation it was me on the other side of that counter cooking for my friends. I remember how exciting (and I mean exciting) it was to start cooking with and for my friends, especially when it was food not ordinarily found in my own house. I felt mature, powerful, and like my life was really my own. I could create things, enjoy things, and sit for hours with people I loved.

Of course this isn't everyone's experience of the kitchen, but I wish it were. When I read these glorious blogs I find more than ideas of what to bake (and eat) that week, but I also find that excitement, that passion, for all things kitchen. These people who share so much of themselves as they offer this or that recipe, remind me every day how important my kitchen is, to my family, to my friends, and of course, to me. And so I will continue to steal moments from other people's kitchen through their blogs, even if I'll never have the opportunity to pull up a stool next to them, or roll out a pie crust for them to enjoy.

But the best, the absolutely best part about my kitchen? Sharing it with the two tiny people who wander in and out of it every single day. They ask to do the dishes, to whisk the pancake batter, to crack the egg. Sometimes they just park themselves on the floor, usually next to Hille the cat, and go about their business of enjoying their day. In my kitchen.

P.S. I don't want to forget to mention how much I adore this blog.
P.P.S. And this one.
P.P.P.S. Ok, I'll stop already.

Monday, August 6, 2012


We were all up early waiting for mum's visit today. When we couldn't wait any longer inside the apartment, we headed outside. I had reminded both girls that they needed to hold in their excitement for Nana's arrival because most people in Toronto weren't awake yet and we didn't want to wake them. It didn't work--sorry, entire neighbourhood. But they hadn't seen her in two weeks.

Alyce misses her Nana like most people might miss oxygen. I get it because my mum is one hell of a woman. They're joined, those two, maybe because it was my mum who caught the first glimpse of that white blonde hair at her birth. It's as though they became fast friends the second they met. Or, as Anne says, they are simply kindred spirits. While the past year was difficult in many ways, one thing that was easy was the time both girls spent with their Nana. They stole all these extra moments with her that our culture doesn't often give children anymore. Most of us simply do not live with our extended family. Alyce and Shira developed a new understanding of family, learning that ours included not just two parents, but grandparents, too. Shira loves her Nana just as fiercely, but it shows differently simply because she's two and still so attached to me. Alyce can love my mum so much because she's growing up, building her own relationships without me.

Back to Sunday. It was the long weekend in Canada (remind me later to tell you how annoying endearing it is that Matt complains very loudly about Canadians and their preference to close down most businesses for statutory holidays) and my mum decided to visit us in Toronto. One way that my mum and I are very different is our attitude about leaving the house. My mum prefers to stay close to home, welcoming people in her own space, and her home reflects all the effort she pours into creating such a wonderful place to visit (perhaps too welcoming since we last stayed eight months). Me, as much as I love my home and happily spend a lot of time here, I also love a good daily adventure. Pack the car or stroller and let's get this show on the road. This means that I have many conversations with my poor mum wherein I ask, again, why doesn't she just hop in the car and drive an hour if she's missing these grandchildren of hers? But I get it, I really do. And so most of the time we visit her.

But not this weekend. With the extra energy of the long weekend, mum arrived early Sunday morning and dined on challah french toast with her girls. After Alyce and Shira showed mum all of their toys (none of them new, by the way, yet they take great pride in them nonetheless), we headed out to Kensignton Market. Speaking of having an awesome mum, she spoiled us in delicious food at the market, sending us home with cheese, (pecorino and provolone) fruit, veggies, and chocolate tarts from my new favourite bakery, Wanda's Pie in the Sky. Oh, please visit Wanda's. There are pies, of course, but so much more (not that one needs more than pie). I can't even speak rationally about how much I love walking into this place. Then we went to Good Egg, a tiny kitchen and cookbook store I had no idea existed until I read about it in the NY Times article last week on Toronto. It is with no exaggeration that I tell you I might spend my entire life savings in that store (if we had a life's savings). There are cookbooks at every turn, not just a shelf or two, and the pots! And the aprons! And the tiny kitchen details I actually dream about, such as the perfect butter dish and cast iron muffin tins!

I did come home with a few things for our new house, gifts from my mum, again (thank you, again). We are now the proud owners of knives on the wall (thanks to a lovely wall magnet), a pastry scraper, and a tiny pie bird. It wasn't even my birthday. But mostly my mum's gifts came in the form of making my girls giggle all morning long. We all miss her for that. Fortunately, we're only an hour away (nudge, nudge, mum) and while we aren't living in the same house anymore, there is always an open invitation for french toast.

How did you spend your weekend, long or otherwise?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Today I changed my name

These two. I have a feeling that I'll be spending a lot of time trying to get a photo of both of my girls looking at near the camera at the same time. Is this the way of multiple children? Most of our day resembles herding cats (and sometimes we are actually herding cats) so I shouldn't expect this to be any different. On this day, yesterday that is, we were about to enter the Royal Ontario Museum (one of my new favourite places in Toronto) and they were far too excited to see dinosaur bones to sit for a photo. I should also mention that I was only trying to get a shot of the two them because the grandparents were inquiring about when they might receive such a photo. We all have dreams.

Today I changed my name (but only once). I married my husband more than five years ago but didn't assume his last name until today. When I wrote about why I regretted changing my name last month I never imagined that I would actually change it now. But the response to my post was a wake-up call, helping me to realize that it wasn't too late to make changes no matter what decision I made at the time of getting married. As I wrote in the original post, I was feeling a little left out of the party not sharing a name with the rest of my family. Something I never dreamed would matter now does matter, and so it was time for a change.  This isn't the best choice for a lot of people, but it is the best choice for me. Now if you'll excuse me I'm off to find the best colour for our matching family jerseys.

Farewell, silent letter b. It was a good thirty-four years.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What are you good at?

I have my first window over the kitchen sink. Makes me very happy.

The ups and downs (and side to side) of settling into a new life are keeping me busy. We aren't just settling into a new home, but both Matt and I are trying to make some pretty big changes (of which I'll probably bore you with at a later date), never mind the challenges of helping two small people adjust to this new world of ours (for the record: Matt is mostly sleeping not on the floor of Alyce and Shira's bedroom, so there is progress). I have this habit of getting awfully down on myself when things feel a bit hard, a quality I'm dying to get rid of, and this past week has been a tough one on that front. So with hopes of getting over myself and on not focusing on my qualities that I wish were different, here is a list of things I am good at. Not included, though certainly relevant, are nods to my ability to recall useless bits of information from my past, like the order of my classes in grade nine (first term: math, gym, keyboarding, geography)

Ten things I'm good at

1. Baking chocolate chip cookies with a reliably delicious ratio of chocolate to flaky salt.
2. Letting my children know how much I love them.
3. Parallel parking.
4. Making people feel welcome.
5. Making a point.
6. Pie, the making and the eating.
7. Tagging along for an adventure.
8. Making my husband laugh.
9.  Dreaming big.
10. Wanting the best for people.

What are you good at?