Saturday, 31 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 34

Today is another venture into human form.  Hoping that I caught some movement, but not quite sure this one is what I'd hoped for.  Part of the learning process!  And I've committed to it so it's out there for public consumption anyway!

Untitled, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Friday, 30 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 33

Today brings something more relaxed and relaxing, although I am planning to tackle more people soon.  Today I'm practising some techniques I read about in some lessons on acrylic painting that I came across.  These weren't Bob Ross lessons, but I still think you you could call this a "happy little landscape".
Happy Little Landscape, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Thursday, 29 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 32

Whoo!  I have to say that I'm still a  little wigged out by doing today's painting.  It was a personal milestone for me. I have never before painted a human figure or a human face, so I figured it appropriate to use as subject matter a picture of my firstborn.  Painting people has always been one of those things that I thought "real" artists did, and I never considered myself a "real" artist before.  Who comes up with these things we have hanging around in our heads anyway?  I know cognitively and now I know internally as well, that I am an artist simply by practicing my art, not by my subject matter.  Anyway, I don't know that the scanning process really caught the facial features really well from the painting, but here it is for your perusal.  Please be kind in your evaluations, it's my first one after all!

Gavin at Oxford, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 31

Today's painting is inspired by the scenes we saw on our drive home last night.  It appears that winter may finally be upon us.  While this is not to my best liking, I guess with scenes like this I can be reconciled to it.

Winter Trees At Night, acrylic on canvas board, 9" x 12"

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 30

So today marks one month of paintings.  It gives me pause to consider how quickly it has gone by and to realize that I am 1/12 of the way through my project.  It really reinforces to me that it was the right time to start.  There really was no reason to wait as long as I did, when I think about how many months I WASN'T painting and could have been!  But no matter, no worries about it now.  I am taking it one day at a time and enjoying the ride.  Who knows where it will lead?

Mountainscape, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Monday, 26 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 29

Really hoping that the sickness passing throughout the house will be limited to the two so far.  Just starting to feel like it might be infiltrating me, not looking forward to trying to be creative while in the throes of nausea.  Here we go for today.  Not so many colours today as yesterday!  but still learning and growing.

Path In A Wood, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Sunday, 25 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 28

A Blessed and Joyous Christmas to all!  Among the many things I am thankful for today are the new paints and paintbrushes that I received as gifts!  Today's work is a product of them.  I managed to use every new colour in one way or another in this piece!  And it was so nice to have new brushes!  I didn't realize how smooth painting could feel.  I love my new brushes!  I'm feeling very blessed today and wish that peace for everyone who views this painting.  Enjoy!

Tongues of Colour, acrylic on canvas board, 9" x 12"

Saturday, 24 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 27

Well, it's not a very Christmas-y scene today, but it makes me feel relaxed so that's what I'm going for here.  Not too much to think or stress about, just calm waves...aaahhhhhh.

Beach, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Friday, 23 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 26

I often ponder the path God has laid out for us.  Not that I think it is predestined, but that he gives us opportunities that will produce great fruits if only we stop to recognize them.  I'm hoping that by doing this project I am getting closer to some of those opportunities and opening my heart to recognize them along the way.  May I be worthy to execute them to His glory.

Here is today's painting:

On Waves of Peace, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Thursday, 22 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 25

Today I'm learning something about mixing colours.  Sometimes the results are somewhat surprising but they make sense when I stop to think about it.  I'm also learning to use all those colours that I never knew what they were like Prussian Blue and Phthalo Green!  Today's painting is titled after the place I took the photo and is actually not too bad to pronounce given that Irish spelling can be quite a nightmare!  (Glen- da- lock)

Glendalough, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 24

No time to chat today!  Here's today's painting:

Laughing Together, acrylic on canvas board, 9" x 12"

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 23

Here is Day 23, as we close in to Christmas.  I'm beginning wonder seriously how I will  manage the holiday.  I'm considering doing a couple of paintings ahead of time and then posting them on the day but I feel like that compromises the integrity of the project.  I'll have to see.

Sunset Landscape, acrylic on canvas board, 5" x 7"

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 21

I've now completed 3 weeks of painting!  Today starts another series.  I won't be producing all the paintings in the series consecutively, but this begins a series called "Sillhouettes of Love".  This size is officially the largest that will fit on my scanner, and even then it doesn't quite fit completely.  Anything larger, and I'll have to photograph it to get it on the computer which will be slightly annoying because the camera always wants to colour-correct images to some sort of factory-preset determination of optimization.  I'll deal with that when I get there.

Still Waters, acrylic on canvas board, 9" x 12"

Saturday, 17 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 20

Day 20!!!  I've turned another corner.  Today we are turning to the impressionists for inspiration.  Today's painting is not what I necessarily wanted it to be because I'm running low on red paint.  There are so many logistics involved in art that you don't really consider in the creative process!  For instance after a year (and a leap year at that) off painting I am setting myself up to have on hand 366 paintings.    Let's just think about that for a minute.  Seven children and 366 paintings in one house.  That's a little crazy.  So I'm considering selling some of my work along the way.  I have not yet figured out the logistics of THAT.  But who knows, maybe people would actually buy it!

Blue Crocus, acrylic on canvas board, 5" x 7"

Friday, 16 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 19

Today we leave the abstract behind for some more representational work, but not for long as I have a whole series of abstracts planned.  Last night I pulled out my old sketch pad from high school and browsed to see some of my old stuff that I'd forgotten.  It's amazing to me that certain ideas are still what drive me in my work although they aren't really the ideas I've used yet, I think I'm waiting until I have bigger canvases to do them justice.

Lotus Reflection, acrylic on canvas board, 5" x 7"

Thursday, 15 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 18

Today I'm going totally abstract.  Of course I'm also feeling slightly abstract after a couple of late nights in a row.  The thing about setting the alarm for 5:30 in the morning is that it comes really soon if you don't get to bed early.  Heaven help me throughout the holiday season!

Thin Red Line, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 17

If I was Picasso I would say that I was in my "Blue Period".  I am currently loving this colour blue.  Sometimes when I paint I just want to surround myself with  or lose myself in the colour I'm using.  This blue that I've been using lately does that for me.  Anyway here's today's piece:

Blue Guitar, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 16

Yesterday my wonderful husband heard me mention feeling constricted by the small canvas board sizes I had left. So he stopped at Curry's on his way home last night!  Now I have a couple of new boards to try.  Today's painting is on one of them.

Utitled, acrylic on canvas board, 8" x 10"

Monday, 12 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 15

I have now temporarily run out of the size of canvas board that I've been working with so far and so I've moved to 5x7's for a short time.  I'm feeling fairly constricted there today.  And contrary to what I was thinking it didn't take me any less time really to fill a smaller space with colour.  Hopefully soon I'll get some bigger canvas boards and be able to expand my horizons again...literally!

Fall Tree, acrylic on canvas board, 5" x 7"

Sunday, 11 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 14

So the lesson of today's painting is clear to me.  I do indeed need to perform the action of painting in order to grow as an artist.  I didn't know what I was going to paint this morning until after I had started to put colour on the canvas board. I just needed to do it.  So I'm glad I finally got myself in gear and just started when I did instead of leaving it longer because I "don't know what to paint".

Winter Night, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Saturday, 10 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 13

Presenting day 13's painting, my favourite one so far.  I'm not sure why but I think I feel drawn to trees as a subject.  What is it about trees?  I can't say I find them particularly interesting as a subject of intellectual study and information, other than in the sense that information is often interesting when it is new and eye-opening.  Yet, trees it is. For now.

Desert Tree, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Friday, 9 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 12

Here's today's painting, day 12.  Trucking along on the painting train.

Lily. acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Thursday, 8 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 11

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception!  If I were still in university I could come up with a shovelful of justification about the symbolism of today's painting relating the two together, but I'm not there anymore.  So I just thought I'd share that.

I'm really itching to try oils again, I haven't used them since high school, but there are a lot more logistics involved, more time cleaning, and storing and a LOT more time drying !  I'll have to figure it out.  Here is today's painting:

Untitled, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 10

Woohoo Day 10!!  Another small milestone of persistence and accomplishment.  I think I'm learning what I like to paint and what I don't prefer, but I feel like I should also paint things that are not my preference in order to balance out my skills.  I think that's another one of those hang-ups I need to get over.  If I want to love painting then I need to paint what I like to paint and balance be damned!  However I do need to get more white paint.  It's amazing how much white you go through in relation to the other colours.

Stained Glass, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 9

On the Feast of Saint Nicholas:

Cherry Blossoms, acrylic on canvas board 7" x 9"

Monday, 5 December 2011

Thoughts on Art

I admit that I don't have a lot to blog about at the moment other than my art. I am fairly taken up with that and don't have a lot of creative energy left for other thoughts at the moment. But I've been thinking about art a great deal more than usual and I'm getting over some hang ups.

 One of the reasons that it took me this long to get to painting was that I felt that I wasn't really good enough at it to warrant spending much time on it. That is what you might call stinking thinking. By limiting myself because of what I thought my ability level was I was keeping myself down. How else is one to get better at something except through practice. After all I'm sure Van Gogh didn't just start out by producing famous masterpieces. He was doing what he loved to do and people saw something in it that they appreciated and the fame grew from that as a result.

 Now I know that not every artist is destined for fame, but that needs to be distinguished from greatness. Not all greatness is recognized and turned into fame. There may be many great people who are never known beyond their own circle of influence. Some of us will have the fortune (or misfortune ;P) to have our works and names recognized by many more than those who know us personally. That in no way means that we are better than someone who may not yet be recognized!

 And so I want to encourage all of you who read this to do something that you love now, while you have the time before you, and not look back wishing you had done more of what you love. A friend recently posted an article on Facebook that talked about palliative care and the top five things that people in that circumstance almost always regret. While I don't remember the specifics, it made me think. I know that If I came to the end of my life and had not painted, I would regret never expressing that side of my creativity. And at the same time I think it's an important lesson for my children, that they see someone nourishing themselves creatively, taking time to learn a new skill and risking being vulnerable by exposing my works for public consumption. So take a chance, step outside of yourself, and do something you've always wanted to do, even if you feel like you're no good at it, you'll never get any better unless you try.

P.A.D. Day 8

Today's painting his more in the nature of an exercise than a composition.  It was an exercise in familiarizing myself with a new brush (which btw wasn't that great, the bristles kept splaying out when I didn't want them to), an exercise in using colours that are not in my favourite range, (generally I prefer blues and greens), and an exercise in playing with wavy lines and seeing if I could make them do what I wanted them to do (sometimes lines just don't go where you want them to go, pesky things!).

Untitled, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Sunday, 4 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 7

So today marks the completion of a week of painting something every day.  I am fighting the feeling of wanting to know what my style will ultimately be and what subject matter will make up the most of my work.  I know that this can only be found by the process of the journey, and not by any other means.  So here is today's step on the path.

Untitled, acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

By the way, the title of yesterday's piece is "Nativity".

Saturday, 3 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 6

I admit to not getting up so early this morning, but I figure on a Saturday that can be forgiven  I think in future though I will get up earlier rather than later on a weekend even though I can sleep in more easily.  It just allows for more to get done during the day.  Here's some colour for the weekend!

It has a title, but I'll share it later, what do you think?  Acrylic on canvas board, 7" x 9"

Friday, 2 December 2011

P.A.D Day 5

It's funny how things work out in art work.  Today's piece is an attempt at something purely representational.  When I was painting it I really liked the way the clouds were going and I was debating leaving the tree out of the picture all together, (working from a photo that included the tree).  Now, after scanning it and seeing it on the screen, the tree is actually my favourite part of the piece!

Sunset from My Backyard acrylic on canvas board, 7" x9"

Thursday, 1 December 2011

P.A.D. Day 4

So I'm definitely appreciating getting up earlier in the mornings, I feel like the whole day gets off to a better start when I've accomplished something by 8 o'clock in the morning.  However I think I may need to revise my bedtime slightly.  Coffee will only keep me awake so long without eventually needing a sleep back-up!  Anyway today's painting is actually titled!

Twisted Ribbons, acrylic on canvas board, 7"x9"

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

P.A.D. Day 3

Here is today's painting.  I'm in a different colour mood today, trying to combat the colour I'm seeing the most of outside at the moment, which is ... white.

Untitled acrylic on canvas board 7" x 9"

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

P.A.D. (painting a day) day 2

So here is today's offering. I'm going to have to figure out the logistics some more but it's only day two so some adjustments are to be expected. Early morning is good, but I'll need to figure out a way to remember to get the kids up on time! At least as a homeschooler I can rearrange the day to accommodate a later start, but I have to admit that when I'm painting other things, like food, take a back seat!

Untitled, acrylic on canvas board 7" x 9":

Monday, 28 November 2011

A Painting a Day

For a long time now I've wanted to get back into painting. I say "back" loosely because it was never something that I did on a regular basis, but it was something that I loved to do and always felt "right" when I was doing it. Somebody close to us, whose artistic sensibilities I really admire, had a "photo-a-day" project going on not long ago. So last week I had a brainwave. If I really want to get into painting (which I do) and if I have the means (which I have) then really I need to get over all the excuses and jump in with both feet. I need to give myself a challenge that will require me rising to it, but not so much that it seems insurmountable. So I'm going to do a painting a day for one year. (whew, deep breath there!)

The logistics of this I have yet to figure out. In a house with seven kids, it can be hard to find a clear surface to work on, particularly as we are homeschooling now. It can also be hard to sequester myself in a room for any great length of time, and I don't think I'd be particularly inspired to work in the bathroom ... although it may come to that! I don't know if I'm always going to work at the same time each day although I think a viable solution may be to get it done early in the morning before anyone else is up. I'm not sure if I'll post each painting right away or if I may end up with a backlog and post a dozen paintings at once on my blog, but my commitment is to produce one painting per day for one year.

I'm not going to be doing great masterpieces initially, but I'm not ruling out that that may happen in the future as I grow proficient with the medium and develop my personal style. I've picked up a selection of small canvas boards in three sizes and I plan to fill one a day with colour. That's the extent of my commitment at the moment. I don't know what I'm going to paint initially, I don't know whether it will be abstract or representational, I don't know whether it'll be multicoloured or monochromatic, but it will be colour on a surface that will express something inside me that day.

 My Grandad was an artist and although most of his paintings are still with my Nana in England, my parents and I each have some of his paintings here in our homes. The one we have is hung in my bedroom and I see it daily and I draw inspiration from it, maybe one day I'll do a reproduction of it! I think he'd be proud of what I'm doing. So here is today's painting: untitled - acrylic on canvas board 7" x 9".

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Being Counter-Cultural

You could say that we live a counter-cultural lifestyle. This is confirmed for me regularly when I see the whites of people's eyes as I tell them we have SEVEN kids! To be honest I kind of get a kick out of the shock value, but it can also be somewhat tiring to answer the same question over and over again (you know what they're asking: "Are you done yet?" to which I now respond simply "We'll see") and to respond cheerfully to the constant comments at the grocery store that I'm "busy!" or that I "have my hands full".

As an only child I always vowed that I wouldn't do the same to any child if I had the choice (leave them as an "only" that is), and I am blessed to have been able to live that dream. The truth is that I always wanted a big family and I was quite happy to find out that the guy I wanted to marry also had the same idea. When we started dating we agreed that six was a good number, (we didn't broadcast that though because we had an idea that it wouldn't go over very well with a lot of people) but we've become less concerned about the numbers as we've grown.

I never started out to make any kind of statement by having a large family, it was just something I'd always wanted. However it appears now that I am unintentionally making a statement. Now that I think about it I think it's a good one. It's a statement that we are open to life as it is offered to us as a blessing, and a statement that we are willing to put in the work now to invest in our family for the long term. I read a book by Kimberly Hahn where she pointed out that the one gift that is only able to be given to children by their parents is a sibling. No one else on earth can give them the gift of a brother or sister and it's a gift that will benefit them throughout the many stages of life (although they don't always appreciate it when a younger sibling is taking their stuff!).

A friend of mine has recently been on the hunt for a daycare provider. She is a shift worker and as such has changing daycare needs from week to week. She needs someone who can do drop-offs and pick-ups at her son's school in the mornings. And because her daughter can't eat dairy or soy products she needs a place that can allow nuts in the diet. Admittedly not the easiest situation to accommodate. But in her search for suitable daycare she has also now come across another hurdle. Her children are too young! Being almost four and almost two she has actually been told by some daycare providers that they could not take her children because "it would be unfair to the older children already in the daycare to have young children around". This was implied by two daycare providers and openly stated by two more!

Have we gotten so selfish as a society that we don't want to teach kids how to share anymore, or how to relate to people of different ages. I know lots of people whose kids enjoy playing with really little kids because for one thing, they are so cute :) and for another it's fun to play with people who have no expectations of you other than that you might throw a ball for them to catch (or chase, as the case may be). It boggles my mind that it would be considered "unfair" to make children of different ages associate with each other and learn to get along. I wonder if people realize that this is actually a life skill that can serve them well when they get out into the world and need to interact with people from much wider demographics than simply an age difference.

It seems that people are increasingly surprised by any desire to have more than two children, and I think this is largely fueled by the current common fear that we are on an overpopulated planet. However if you hear the demographers in the documentary Demographic Winter you realize that the population explosion of the twentieth century occurred, "not because we started breeding like rabbits, but because we stopped dying like flies", which makes a lot of sense, and will inevitably lead to a drop again as the rates of birth and death stabilize. And then when you look at the countries in Europe and Asia that are facing a birth dearth, you start to see the long term ramifications of this mentality that says we shouldn't be having many children. There's been a lot of hype lately about "baby 7 billion" recently being born, and most of it has been laced with fearmongering. Wherever baby 7 billion is I'd like to send them a message that they are a welcome, unique, distinct individual, whose value is as high as anyone else's who was already here before them. They are not a drain on resources, in fact they may be the one who comes up with the next major "green" technology or medical breakthrough.

In fact as an only child, I'm very glad that we didn't stop at the conventional two kids. If we had done that I would have a horribly warped view of what siblinghood is about because our two oldest children are like oil and water, they just don't mix very well at all! It wasn't until we had three or four kids that I really began to see just how good it was for the kids to have each other around. Just your basic decisions that require compromise and negotiation exercise a mental muscle that you don't necessarily develop if you don't have to. And of course, just having someone to play with, to share your family experience, to share your memories of childhood as you grow older. I look at my children and know at we've given them priceless gifts in each other and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Tea and Spices

There are some smells that hold memories for us. In fact I've heard that the olfactory sense is the most powerful for being connected to memories. My Nana's sideboard has one of the strongest, most memorable scents for me. This particular piece of furniture sits in my Nana's back living room, the room that my Grandad lived in when he became bedridden in his final year or so, so that he could still be involved in the day to day goings on in the household. As a child I used to visit my Nana and Grandad every couple of years with my Mum or both my Mum and Dad if we could all get away on a trip "home" together. And as a child I didn't realize which parts of those trips would stay with me the most. Sometimes its the simplest little things that have the most lasting effects.

On the top of the sideboard there were usually crystal glasses on a doily on a tray and from my childhood perspective they were just pretty because of the way the glass was cut and they sparkled! There was usually a bottle or two beside the glasses with something not too interesting inside it, stuff that didn't smell very good to my young nose. But inside the cupboards of the sideboard - the smell was something else! That was where my nana kept tea and sugar, and spices as well. I used to have a little fold up chair that I sat on in this room and I loved to sit by the sideboard and crack the door open and just smell the combination of things inside. I don't know what kind of wood the sideboard was made of, but the combination of the smell of the wood with decades of tea and spice storage built up inside is one of those things that I remember and treasure.

Even when I go back there as an adult, one of the first things I do when I go to my Nana's house is go into the back living room and crack open the doors of the sideboard to inhale deeply that wonderful scent of tea and sugar and spices. I don't know how old the sideboard is. I know it wasn't new when my Nana got it. I think, if I remember rightly, that it belonged to a family friend, old Mrs Keogh, (pronounced "Keef" - there's no accounting for that Irish spelling!) who lived down the lane from some of my Nana's family back in Ireland. Through one means or another it came to my Nana and is still with her today. I don't really like to think about it too much, and I don't know much about trans-Atlantic shipping but someday I hope that I will be able to bring that sideboard here. Hopefully my own kids will be able to smell the smells in that sideboard, and fall in love with it too. And someday maybe they'll be bringing their own children to visit and they too will sneak into a room at nana's house to crack open the doors of the sideboard and inhale the scents of tea and sugar and spices and create warm memories of their own.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Mrs. Representing

A friend of mine posted a movie trailer on Facebook this morning and asked for "Thoughts?". The trailer (warning for the sensitive, graphic images) was for the movie Miss Representation, which is about the disparity between women and men in positions of power.  The first part of the trailer focused on the portrayal (and the betrayal) of women in media - advertising, music videos, magazines etc, and I have to say I was somewhat shocked by the cascade of images on the screen.  I know it's out there, but I've made a conscious decision in my life to expose myself to that sort of negative image as little as possible.  And it is possible to weed it out to a large extent.  Frankly I think more people need to do just that.
It seemed to be posing the question - how do we get girls to grow up with healthy self images and life expectations when they are exposed to so much female exposure?   It needs to start with media savvy in the home.  And I don't mean that we need to become more sophisticated consumers of media although that's part of it.  It means we need to consume less media particularly in the home.  It's very easy to say that we can't control what our kids will see and do because they are so over exposed to the media.  We have to take charge and start reducing that exposure.  We make choices every day about what's best for our families and we have the power to choose here too.  It may seem hard.  It may mean that you cut out commercial television for your family.  We've done that.  And there's no reason why young kids "need" to have Facebook or other social media accounts, it opens them up to more avenues of risk.  Now that's not to say you won't have to deal with resistance or peer pressure, but if you really look into the facts about this stuff and then take a hard look at the everyday decisions you can make to make a difference, it's all right there.  Your kids may not be the most popular kids but in the long run they'll have better self esteem and a more positive outlook for your active participation in their lives.  Time and again studies tell us that kids respond well and actually want their parents to be involved in their lives and share their opinions.  Kids consistently report that if their parents had said something, or forbidden something else it would have made a difference.  That's not to say that kids won't push the boundaries.  But no matter where you draw a line in the sand, kids will try to step over it to see if you mean it.  Isn't it better to draw the line close and let their push be at the very edges of where the media can take them rather than give them free access and have them dive in at the deep end. 
The movie appears to go on to look at women in positions of power and how they got there and what we can do to help more women get there.  I think this is a worthy question, but I'm not sure that the end goal should be to have an equal number of men and women at work in high profile positions of power.  There are certain things women do that men can't, like bear children.  And having chosen to do that in my life, I'm quite content to let my husband be the breadwinner of the family, and handle that side of the pressure that's involved in raising a family.  I wouldn't be surprised if quite a number of women felt the same way.  (I know, very politically incorrect of me but there it is.)  I'm not saying it has to be that way, but we should avoid getting hung up on trying to get an exactly even split.  After all if we are raising our girls to be self-respecting and raising our boys to be respecting then anyone in a position of power should be equally concerned for the good of both men and women, call me idealistic if you will.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Tickling My Toddler

I was tickling my toddler yesterday, which is a really joyful thing to do. But I was doing it gingerly and gently. I don't think I really need to be careful anymore, but I'm still getting over the trauma of a recent event in our family. I know cognitively that the wound is healed but I know that new skin is sensitive and it's so recently that I was afraid to touch my son's chest at all for fear of hurting him sharply.
As a mom of seven kids I admit to having a few trips to the emergency department, and coming from a family of nurses it's not usually frivolous. (I have a good friend who's an ER nurse and I hear all about the silly people who come in and use emergency resources for hangovers and hiccups and such.). Usually on such occasions we've walked away with either a prescription or a cast and follow up instructions. But this trip didn't lead to walking away after a few hours. It lead instead to an ambulance ride down to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto and a three day hospital stay, then to a ream of prescriptions and follow-up instructions. Our toddler, Raphael had suffered a second degree hot water burn to about 9% of his body on his chest and upper abdomen.
I can't really describe the impact of the initial sight of him as I turned in response to his sudden screaming cry behind me. The hot chocolate which he had tried to drink after stepping up onto the footstool at the kitchen counter was freshly poured from the kettle with no milk added. I know that I reacted quickly and immediately stripped off his romper, but it was one of those moments when you feel like you're moving through mud and you can't get your hands to work quickly or dextrously enough. I knew (thanks to my ER friend) that a burn needs to be cooled right away with cold water - and not to put on any of those things that the email circulations tell you to, like flour or egg white, so I ran him straight upstairs to the bathroom and got him under the bathtub tap. I had him at the hospital very soon as we only live five minutes away and then he was assessed, through the wonders of modern technology, by both the ER doc at the local hospital and the plastics doc at Sick Kids through a picture taken and sent via iPhone. Because of this we were accepted to the plastics unit at Sick Kids before we even arrived which expedited our admission once we got there. Then we had to go through medicating and dressing and the placing of various tubes before we finally got to sleep around 3 o'clock in the morning. He was a real trouper, putting up with lots of medical treatment although they did have to put "no-no's" on his arms to stop him yanking out his I.V. and N.G. tube. It's hard to explain the need for these to a toddler! As I said we were at the hospital for three days while the dressings were changed and assessed and his risk of infection was managed and his food and fluid intake was monitored. And then we were allowed to come home with a schedule of return visits to the outpatient plastics clinic and lots of instructions.
I think this is the first time I've really understood the word trauma. And it's only mild I know. But coming home from the hospital I really felt shaken to be walking back into the house that I had last seen in such a panic knowing my child was injured and in such extreme pain. I felt apprehension just walking into the kitchen again and seeing the spot where it had happened. I hadn't really felt much more than a few tearful moments while we were in the hospital, and I had honestly wondered if I was just a cold unsympathetic mother. Coming home I knew that wasn't the case. I had just been in a holding pattern getting through the things I needed to do for my son and learning how to care for his injury. In the haste of the moment when the burn occurred I had thrown his outfit he'd been wearing in a corner and found it still there after I got home. I picked it up with only a glance and threw it as quickly as possible out of sight into the laundry pile. I was afraid to look at it. I was afraid I would find some of the layers of skin that had been shed still clinging to the inside of the fabric, and I didn't think I could take that very well. It took me a few days to get up the courage to look at it and get it into a proper laundry load. After washing it I put it aside and I haven't put him in it since, I don't think I ever will.
But it's strange how trauma works. Raphael had no problem coming home. No apparent issues at all. We went through almost two weeks before I found his trigger. Since he was bandaged we had only been doing sponge baths. But once the time of healing was ending we were to give him a bath to soak off the special burn dressing. It wasn't until I tried to get him into the tub that I realized that that was where he had associated his pain. The timing of the burn had been a few seconds, but the time spent under cold water on the burn had been whole minutes of screaming and crying in pain and fear. It took nearly half an hour to get him into the tub and all I could do was hug him over the side and pour water over his back and shoulders. I'm afraid it was a tearful time for the both of us although I think I managed to hide my tears from him and be the strong support he needed.
It's been over a month now since it happened, but I find I still get very emotional about it. I guess it will just take time to get over it. In the meantime I jump a little more quickly whenever I hear him cry now, as that sound is linked in my head to a picture of pain; I pray more fervently that none of my children ever experience anything like that again; and I learn to tickle my toddler again with pure joy and abandon and cherish his laugh all the more.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Back on the Blog

It's been a few weeks since I've posted a blog entry here. Not for lack of trying. But it's been a somewhat dry spell combined with the beginning of homeschooling so the logistics have been challenging. Writers block is an old friend of mine from my teenage angst-filled poetry-writing days when I would just throw on some mood-creating music and pick up a biography of Jim Morrison to find inspiration and get the creative juices flowing. These days if I throw on that music I either have to be careful about it waking the baby, or I have to be conscious of the lyrical content around my kids, as they are definitely at a stage of awareness now! Plus, it's not like the Doors are really where I want to draw my inspiration from anymore, but we all have our hidden weaknesses in our pasts!

I've also had this set of self-expectations about the way that I should write and it's time to get over them. Sometimes the mood to write is going to come upon me in times and places that are not convenient, but I need to heed them and find a way to write anyway. Sometimes I can write something shorter than a page and it may even still be worth posting. I need to stop worrying about sounding preachy, if it's what I think, it's what I think. And sometimes I need to write about the raw emotional stuff that happens even if it's too soon and too fresh to post it for the world to see. There'll be more on that soon.

I've also got to learn to be my own sounding board on the one hand and trust my own judgement (if I can decide what my own judgement is) and stop being my own worst critic on the other. They say that analysis paralysis is the hallmark of the melancholic temperament and I can attest to the fact that it can amount to self sabotage all to easily!

So although I've been feeling "wordily constipated" (if I can say that) I just wanted to throw something up on the blog to break the seal, as it were, to get through the barrier before it becomes too daunting, and also to get something accomplished before my three-year old gets out of bed one more time and drives me completely round the bend!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Gender Bending

Okay, so there is this daycare in Stockholm, Sweden called Egalia, where they've decided to try this crazy social experiment to try eradicate "stereotypical" gender roles in boys and girls. They have carefully analyzed and designed all the aspects of the toys including colour and made sure that there is nothing stereotypical about them. They don't use any language that refers to "he" or "she" or "her" or "him", everyone is referred to as "friends" and they've even invented a new pronoun that didn't exist in the language previous to this so that they can refer to everyone in an gender neutral way. And there are no fairy tales on the shelves. In fact according to reports nearly all the books on the shelves focus on homosexual parents, single parents or adopted children. They claim to be doing all this to even out the playing field for girls. Apparently at that age level they think girls' toys are under valued and boy's toys are more valued and so they want to change this perceived inequality.

(I wonder if they've considered the research that shows that boys are being left behind in the classrooms because schools these days cater so much to girls. In fact if you look at university graduation rates women outnumber men and the rates of boys dropping out of school far outnumbers the girls who do the same.)

Now, I've met women and I've met men. I've met women who used to be men. But I've never met anyone who claimed to be or even wanted to be Neuter. The fact is that down to the very cellular level we are male or female. I recently read a book that goes into these differences in detail (and as a side note I think every mother with a son and every father with a daughter needs to read this) called Why Gender Matters, by Dr. Leonard Sax. In it he outlines the most current research that is being done to study sex differences between boys and girls, men and women. Did you know that a trained researcher looking at a segment of brain under a microscope can tell you whether that brain belonged to a man or a woman? Our very neurological structure is different. And that whole thing about the language centre of the brain being on the left side only applies to men; women who suffer a stroke on either side of the brain have effects to their language capabilities equally, regardless of which side it happens on. These are things that aren't socially engineered.

These differences between the sexes exist regardless of how we feel about them. In fact our sex is central to our identity. It's usually the first thing we learn about any given person. It necessarily informs the way we relate to each other. As we grow from children to adulthood we need to learn how to relate appropriately to members of both sexes. Things can get very confused otherwise!

The centrality of our sexual identity is why I've always held that crimes of a sexual nature are the very worst crimes that can be perpetrated on anyone, because it attacks the person on the very level of their identity. Who they are at the core of their being and the role that they are given to play out in society is attacked. But we live in a society that is topsy-turvy in many ways.

We need to value each sex equally, but "equally" does not mean "in the same way". The women's movement has focused largely on workplace equality and birth control. I think it was just in the last year that "the pill" turned 50, and there were special interest groups who held large parties to celebrate the milestone, but given that big pharma is largely in the hands of men, I always wondered why women were so gung-ho to jump on board and be experimented on. It has always struck me that one of the most wondrous things about being a woman is the ability to actually gestate new life within us. Apart from the fact that it takes two to start the process it is women who carry on the progeniture of the species. I think men are scared by and jealous of this to a degree on a subconscious level. Consequently I think we've been sold a bill of goods thinking that that ability needs to be curtailed.

For those of you who know of C. S. Lewis, you may be familiar with his Cosmic Trilogy. In the third book, That Hideous Strength, he lays out a concept that I found to be fascinating. He asks the reader to consider that masculine and feminine as we know them on earth are but mere shadows of true masculinity and femininity. That, at the level of our immortal souls, true masculinity and femininity are even more pronounced and wondrous than the way we experience them here on earth. What if that is true? What if we don't know the true extent of masculinity and femininity and here we are trying to reduce it even more and getting further away from our true fulfillment as people.

What I'm pretty sure of is that as long as the proliferation of the species relies on a relationship between men and women, there are going to be differences in the way we relate to male and female from the cradle to the grave, and that's not a bad thing.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

From Tartan to Tomatoes

So I'm sitting here on a nice cool evening, enjoying a temperature that's actually comfortable for a pair of track pants, hang on ... There I'm back now. Seeing as it was cool enough I figured I would actually go and put on a pair of yoga pants and my housecoat and get cosy before penning this post.

It's been a crazy couple of weeks! Last weekend we went to Fergus, Ontario for the Scottish Festival and Highland Games. Our daughter was competing in the highland dance competition there on both mornings and so we decided to make a vacation of it and camp out there from the Thursday to the Monday. Now, we are tent campers. However because we were also going there to spend time with good friends we decided to book a serviced site that would normally be used by people with a camper/trailer. In the long run this turned out to be the much better option anyway as the tenting area tends to be where all the bagpipers camp and as we were later informed by more seasoned attendees of the Games, depending on who wins the competition and where they're from, the piping can start up at about 2:00 in the morning!

We had a great time there and our daughter did really well for only her second competition, placing and bringing home medals for 5 out her 6 dances! We are so proud of her, not only for dancing well but also for her sportsmanship and grace under pressure. We had our fill of all things Scottish - well, not the haggis, but I'm okay to give that a miss! It certainly seems that no one can party like pipers and we thoroughly enjoyed performances by the Mudmen and the Rogues. We also had a chance to spend time with friends we've seen too little of in the last few years and had a great time with the collection of campsites all our party had booked together so we had a hemmed-in place for the kids to play safely.

After we'd been home for two days my parents came to spend a few days with us which ended up being providential as it is tomato season. "What?" you may ask. Well seeing as we are so Italian (not really but it's fun to say so) we have made it a tradition to can our own tomatoes in the fall. The thing is that it's a very limited time frame when you can do so. Last year we missed it and we had to spend the year eating store-bought tomato sauce. There's about a week at the end of August or beginning of September when you can go to the Italian supermarkets and get tomatoes by the bushel basket, but you have to be there early or else all the Nonas get there first and you get nothing! And If you happen to not be near an Italian grocery store that week and you miss it altogether then you're also out of luck. So luckily, Geof (the TPSI Dad) happened to be driving through Woodbridge last week and discovered that the tomatoes were out so that decided what we were doing the next day!

Now what I really want is to be temporarily adopted by an italian family at tomato time and see how they do their tomatoes because I have heard stories of them doing up to 50 bushels of tomatoes in a day to supply the whole family. That is a production line I want to see! We can barely get through five and as it is I'm proud of that much! We put one bushel away in the freezer to use whole in soups and stews for the winter and we canned four bushels, getting about 60 litres of sauce out of the deal. It's not a huge cost savings when you consider that you can get tomato sauce for $.88/750 ml when it's on sale, and it's definitely labour intensive, but there's nothing like it for the taste of pure fresh tomatoes all winter and knowing exactly what went into them - nothing other than tomatoes! It's also a great family activity with all the kids taking turns at the different stations, washing the tomatoes, stirring the pots, pouring tomatoes into the hopper of the "tomato machine", (I used to call it a food mill, until all the Italians I asked about to find one just kept giving me blank stares) pushing through the pulp to get the skins and seeds out. It makes for a great family day. However, while also caring for a young baby four months old and with an eighteen month old toddler underfoot it can be a crazy time so it was great to have my parents here as my Mum was able to help with lots of child care and tomato chopping! I've now finished processing all the jars in a boiling water canner and they're all tucked away on the basement shelves.

Now I just have to get myself in gear to get through all the other tasks on my summer to-do list before we settle down to our first year of homeschooling all the kids. If I'm good I should just be able to manage it, by the grace of God! And I'm sure it will provide lots of fodder for this blog!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

From Time to Time

A friend of mine asked me (tongue in cheek...I think) to blog about "time management, the mom's version", which I have to admit I'm still struggling with myself, but I figure its a good place to start. Perhaps if I blog about it I'll give myself something to live up to and then I'll get on track! Just kidding, I already have a system of sorts, but it just requires that I keep coming back to it after I stray (which I do frequently!).

So, you may think that the mom's version of time management is about how many machines you can get running at once, to automate your life as much as possible: let's see, if I start the washer, then the bread maker, then the dishwasher, I should have time to fold yesterday's laundry and prep for dinner before I need to change the load, start the dryer and then get the dishes put away and take the bread out - but then time-of-use billing came in for hydro and messed up that system! So while I still do some of that figuring in my head before starting out on a list of tasks, I'm lately trying to focus on doing things in baby steps, in small manageable chunks, the Flylady way.

For those of you who don't know Flylady yet, I urge you to check her out at When we were recently on our family retreat I happened to mention her to some of the women present and we all erupted in a chorus of praises for this resource! I was thrilled to be among people who also appreciated her help, because although I know cognitively that we all struggle with household management and juggling the time with family and work or other outside obligations, it always feels like my own dirty little secret that I don't have it all together yet, and that I still struggle with basic household STUFF that needs to get done. Must be more of that "women's guilt" thing!

Flylady's basic premise that I've gotten is that you can do anything for 15 minutes at a time, and that you need to take baby steps; that biting off more that you can chew is the major cause of our failures as we strive for Perfection - which we all know is very elusive (read "impossible" although I keep hoping I'll stumble into it one day).

This translates into some very specific, concrete things that can save time in your day to day life, building routines that become habit. Flylady has many of these, but I've only managed to adopt a few so far, and not perfectly by any means. For instance a daily "swish and swipe" of the bathroom can do wonders! A quick wipe down of the counter top and the toilet followed by a quick swish with the toilet brush to keep things smelling fresh, and the bathroom just doesn't get as messy as it can if I leave it for a whole week to end with needing a big scrub. The other task here is to wash the shower down quickly while I am in it! Flylady says "soap is soap", which is true, so whatever soap I'm using on me, once I've scrubbed me down, I give the tub a once over with the same stuff. And now my shower never needs a big scrub because it stays in better condition generally!

Another thing that I do is have everyone presort their laundry. We have 3 hampers, one each for whites, darks, and colours, and everyone puts their own stuff in them. Then I generally run the machine at least once a day with the kids putting away what I've folded. Then Flylady has the whole house divided into "focus zones" so each week of the month you address a different area of the house, and keep it covered in a rotation.

Now I have to admit that I don't follow it religiously. And having my own quirks I just can't take all the advice there as is. I tried, really I did. But when I tried to add one thing at a time to my routine, I just fell off the wagon entirely. So I built myself a full scale routine (which Flylady says not to do!) and jumped right in. That way if I get 50% of it done I still feel like I've gotten something accomplished and I'm encouraged to keep going, whereas if I miss doing the one thing I was supposed to learn to do then I just beat myself up! So take the routines and make them work for you with your own quirkiness, and find what works best for your family situation.

The other thing that I'm learning is, kids are often able to do things earlier than we give them credit for and derive a sense of value from contributing to the running of the household. Yay for child labour! A ten year old is quite able to push the buttons that start the washing machine, a seven year old can operate the rice cooker very well and kids as young as two or three can put their own dishes in the dishwasher, just to name a few examples. All of this contributes in some small way to give you a few more moments here and there that can add up to enough time to take up a new hobby, like knitting! (Still progressing on the hat, I'll keep you updated as I go!)


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New (Ad)Ventures

So the past week has been somewhat crazy as weeks go, we came home from a week long family retreat, attended the funeral of my husband's aunt, had the four older kids enrolled in a day camp, had numerous business tasks to attend to and had a friend visit whom we haven't seen in around five years or so. And in the midst of all that I picked up a new hobby!

At our retreat we met some truly wonderful people and some of them happened to be knitting. Towards the end of our stay there the mother of the knitting family graciously agreed to give me a lesson, despite the many other things that she had to do. And lo and behold I picked it up quite easily! I suppose if I'd really thought about it I would have realized that there is nothing inherently difficult about something that so many people seem to do easily while watching tv or engaging in conversation, but I just seemed to have a mental block there previously.

Now knitting is something that has long struck me as a mysterious art as I had previously only really known how to crochet. Crochet just seemed simpler to me because you only need ONE implement. The introduction of a SECOND tool and the requirement that BOTH hands be making seemingly crucial movements always steered me clear. I had done some elementary knitting as a child of five or so, but my memory of that is almost completely wrapped up in not understanding the mystery of casting on and trying to wrap my head around the seemingly impossibly intricate way my mother wanted me to hold the yarn. On reflection I don't know if this was really my mother's focus, or if it was just what I focused on in my melancholic attempt to get things "right".

But back to the week at hand. I came home inspired. I really wanted to begin creating something immediately however I lacked the tools of the trade. So after a brief stop at a craft store that was beautifully air-conditioned on a sweltering hot day, I became the proud owner of a pair of circular knitting needles! I knew that if I didn't begin soon to practice what I had learned I would forget it all so I wanted to jump in right way with just getting the technique into my muscle memory.

And so I began to swatch away, knitting and purling and knitting and purling and generating a bunch of stitches in a swatch that was soon going to leave me bored to tears. I needed inspiration. I needed a project. In the midst of this I remembered a crochet project that I had wanted to attempt some years ago that I never got around to, but which I had all the materials for, so I used the knitting inspiration momentum to crochet myself a small shoulder bag and I finished it in two days! Meanwhile I was thinking about what I could do as an introductory beginner knitting project. I needed something easy enough that I wouldn't get discouraged but inspiring enough to keep me going and something which looked like it could be completed in a reasonable time frame.

On a seemingly unrelated note my hubby and I have been making an attempt to get more active so we went out for our morning walk as usual Saturday morning. I then made the completely uncharacteristic suggestion that we take the kids out and go hiking on one of the local trails that we've driven past a hundred times and never stopped at. And so we had an impromptu adventure hiking with the kids, seeing all kinds of insect life, and picking wild raspberries and blackberries along the way, with some great photo ops as a bonus.

Later in the day I decided to take the same kind of initiative and just dive into a pattern. Now, I know all you knitters out there were smiling inwardly when I earlier said that I became the proud owner of knitting needles. And now I know why. I bought them without knowing what I was going to knit! And I didn't know how crucial that was! I looked at lots of patterns I would have loved to do , but I had the wrong size needles or the wrong size circle or both for all of them. I finally settled on a pattern that looked smart (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely!), it's a classic World War II watch cap. And indeed my needles are the wrong size (but only off by one) and the circle is also the wrong size, (but it's manageable) and so I happily began my first ever knitting project with left over yarn that we happened to have lying around the house. I have about four inches of knitting done so far and if it turns out well, it may be a Christmas gift for someone (but I can't say who!). And I'm thoroughly enjoying my new venture.

The Guilt Women Feel

Why do we beat ourselves up so much? What is it that makes us question ourselves and doubt the wisdom or validity of our choices? I've got no answer to those questions really, but some thoughts on the subject. I think I'm finally coming around to feeling less guilty as I grow and accept myself more, but still guilt raises it's ugly head every once in a while. And then there's the defensiveness that arises when we see someone doing something that were afraid we should have done instead of what we chose to do.

For the most part I'm speaking of the choice women have to make as to whether to go into the workforce as working mothers or stay home with the kids. It isn't really a decision that comes up for men, or one that women have faced for centuries on end. I think it's predominantly a decision that has faced women in the post WWII era when women entered the workforce en masse to fill in for all those men away fighting the war.

We seem to constantly wonder if we've made the right choice. If I stay home, am I wasting my education, letting go of my dreams, subverting my ambitions, showing my daughters a weak form of womanhood dependant on someone else, hiding from the world? If I go out to work, am I losing out on my kids lives, leaving them to strangers to share their "firsts", being materialistic, putting my needs ahead of my kids, spending enough time with them? There's no end to the questions we can ask ourselves! And then if we start to accept the decision we've made we can feel guilty for being happy in it when we know others are still so wrestling with the question!!

We decided early on that I would stay home with the kids and so I haven't entered the outside workforce since our first child was born. We made that decision as I came to the end of my first and only maternity leave and the time was coming to make the jump to daycare. It seemed so formidable both emotionally and financially. We came to the conclusion that we would make it work for me to stay home and be with the kids. I'll admit I felt the guilt of the cultural programming for some time. I had a university education, surely I should be using it! Then as other women began to say how lucky I was that we managed for me to stay home, I felt guilty for enjoying that "luxury" while they apparently felt envious of me. Then I recognized that they felt guilt for leaving their kids behind in the mornings as they went to work to provide for them.

I'd say that now, I've come to terms with my decision. I'm completely glad I chose the way I did and as we are about to embark on a year of homeschooling, I know there's no way I could have tried this out if I was working full time. Of course now that we have seven kids its also easier to justify even to those who might say I've made a poor decision; the cost of daycare for four kids aged four and under must be staggering! I can't even imagine what that would be per month!

I recently had a reassuring conversation with a close friend who confided that she had been berating herself for doing something she was sure I didn't do as a mom. I laughed and assured her that I had recently been thinking that she handled that very same situation much better than I did, and that I was afraid my kids were missing the benefits of what I supposed was her approach! It reminded me that we really need to forgive ourselves more.

It makes me ponder how much of our time is spent on guilt instead of enjoying and living the decisions we've made. So I have decided to consciously let go of the guilt. I've made the best decision for me and my family that I can and I'm trying to live it out to the best of my ability. I will be a better person if I do this without any baggage and instead give my kids an example of living without regrets and with the knowledge that I'll have more room for joy and the creativity that feeds my soul.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sometimes I Just Get Pissy

Sometimes I just get pissy. Not necessarily for any good reason, but sometimes yes. Not even because I feel justified in being pissy, although I sometimes do. And certainly not because anyone deserves to feel the effects of my pissiness, however that sometimes happens. I may just feel like there's a sourness to something I expected to be sweet, or a hill where I expected a valley, or ... like biting into a cookie where you expect a chocolate chip and find a raisin instead. And it rankles!!! And it causes a mood.

I wish I could let it go more easily. And a lot of the time I can be fairly philosophical about things, at least outwardly. Usually I'd figure that if I sleep on it, it will go away, but sometimes that does't work. Or I figure that really I must be tired and a good cup of coffee will help do the trick, but then the caffeine contributes to my edginess and I end up with an accelerated stream of consciousness thing running through my head and that does no good either. Or maybe it's just the big H. Hormones. Post partum-ness may do that. For the most part I'm a pretty even-keeled, mild-tempered person. However I do have a phlegmatic side, (more on that another time) that occasionally needs to "dump". The other side of being phlegmatic means that I often avoid conflict, so my pissiness is sometimes a result of swallowing what I'd really like to say to advocate for myself. And then I feel guilty if I do confront someone! And of course the predominantly melancholic side of me over-analyzes all of this far too much!

But I am learning to leave it out of play in my relationships. I am learning to recognize that no one else is responsible for my happiness. And I don't really expect anyone to soothe me and stroke me and kid-glove me until I've gotten over my mood.

I've had some really excellent people in my life who've helped me figure myself out. Not that the process is done. I do a fair amount of self-examination, I think, and I'm amazed at the layers I uncover and how much more I have to learn about myself. A really smart lady once told me that a person's reaction to something says more about them than it says about the thing to which they were reacting. That gave me a whole new insight into others and myself. I'm also learning to forgive myself; both for feeling confrontational in the first place, and for needing to let it out sometimes. As a thirty-something year old woman I guess I'd figured from a younger age that by now I'd have a pretty good handle on who I was and how I'd keep growing, but it isn't turning out that way. This self discovery process is likely to take the rest of my life as I keep growing (hopefully) all the time. I've realized that I forget lots of stuff and rediscover it from different angles. Sometimes it's only when someone holds up a mirror that I realize what was behind past issues in my life. And I keep finding that I'm growing in new directions that I never expected to. Part of that comes from having seven kids!

Whenever I'm building up to one of these dumps, I usually have a nonstop running commentary in my head rehearsing what I'd say and how I'd say it if given the opportunity and I usually end up dumping on my poor unsuspecting TiPSI Dad husband who has learned to let me dump and just step out of the way knowing that its not directed at him. (He's a wonderful sounding board, by the way.)

My latest bout of pissiness was one that didn't really have a justifiable cause. I just got an idea in my head and expected that other people would fall into line and carry on as I wanted without any actual explicit vocalization of my expectations. Of course disappointment follows!! People can't read my mind! My biggest challenge then is to not sabotage myself by wallowing in what I wanted to have happen and having a pity-party. My job is to let it go and get on with doing what I wanted to do in the first place even if it doesn't happen the way I thought it would. And I'm beginning to do just that. And there's great satisfaction in doing that, I'm finding. It really is liberating to realize that I am able to lift my own spirits with a little concentrated effort and not rely on an external "dump" to get things out of my system. I can move on and let go, and work on my own happiness. I think I'm growing up!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Journey to Home Schooling

This coming year in our life is going to be very different from any before. We are about to jump, both feet, into home schooling come September, schooling four of our seven children. We've given it a trial run, so to speak, with our daughter who was in grade five this past year, but now we've notified the school that we are going to take them all next year and school them ourselves. I'd never really heard of the phenomenon before 6 years ago, and at the time it seemed like an attractive idea, but not something that I was equipped to handle. Sometimes I still wonder! But one thing I've learned in the last few years is to let go of my hesitations before they stop me from doing something that I may end up loving.

I know that many people come to homeschooling as a result of poor experiences with a school, whether it be because of management problems in the school system itself or having a child whose needs were just not being met adequately in the school setting. We haven't had that experience. This is not a reaction against anything. This is us deciding to move to another model to see what benefits it may bring to our family. I have to say that all the homeschooling families we've met have great relationships with their kids. Not to say that there aren't problems, everyone has those, but on the whole the relationships are not as adversarial as I've seen in many other families. Their children are well-adjusted and get on well with people of all ages.

As I look into it more, I wonder whether the school model is really the best one for our children. To be kept in large groups of like-aged people is certainly not the way society functions, and yet we train children to only compete with - and learn among - their own peers. When I think of it this way it seems very limiting. Having looked somewhat into the history of the school system as an entity and seeing its roots in the Prussian model which was set up to train soldiers and then the industrial revolution where schools' main function was to train people to be factory workers, I didn't really want to subscribe wholeheartedly to either of those philosophies. Admittedly most people don't. But if the system was set up to be ideal for those circumstances, what did it leave out? Now that we have the implementation of the whole day kindergarten coming in our province, I see even more the hand of outside philosophies taking a formative role in our children's lives.

When we had our first child I took maternity leave from my job, figuring that I would most likely need to go back to work. As that time came my heart really ached at the thought of handing my child over to someone else every day. Someone else would see their firsts, fill their days and teach them so many things. We knew about the stats that simply having a parent in the home with the child brings down the risks of all sorts of problems, and contributes to better outcomes in school etc. So we decided at that time that I would stay home with our child(ren). We believed it was the best thing we could do for our kids.

As we came to make the decision about homeschooling, I felt conflicted. I didn't have problems with the school, and I felt like I needed to justify the decision to whoever might critique it. In talking it over with the TiPSI Dad, I realized that this was just what I had come to believe was best for our children. In so many ways I felt that the school schedule was interfering with a lot of the life lessons I wanted to give my kids. When was I to teach them all the things that I dearly wanted them to know? Mornings were devoted to the rush to get out to school on time. Afternoons were filled with homework and evenings with dinner preparation which finished with time to eat and then start the routine of getting little ones to bed!

So next year we're going to try doing it differently. To be honest I'm quite daunted by the amount of self-discipline this will require! I don't think I really have it! On the other hand I know there's no other way to get it than to require it of myself. You never gain muscle by just waiting for it to grow without working it. I'm not making any grand predictions, or claims that we'll do a perfect job, but I feel like if I don't try, I may miss out on the best parts of my kids' lives, and they won't have the opportunities that thinking outside the box can provide.

Monday, 27 June 2011

My Maiden Blog ... And Other Firsts

I probably shouldn't begin writing my first ever blogpost when I'm craving a nap but on the other hand it seems fairly apropos. Much of my time lately is spent between two extremes: desperately craving sleep on the one hand, and trying to wrap my head around everything there is to get done in short time bursts on the other. Our two month old is starting to oblige me by sleeping wonderfully at night, and occasionally doing great stretches during nap time, but it can't disguise the fact that my sleep deficit is in serious overdraft, with no protection! Our two month old is also child #7, hence the need to actively plan everything there is to get done.

You may think that with this being child Number Seven I know it all by now, and yet what gets me with each child is that there is something new to learn with each one. Each one has been a "first" for something. The First One was obviously the big one - the first introduction to sleepless nights, unending diaper changes, the shift in my gut as I realized how my perspective on everything from chewing gum to chopsticks had changed! But I thought that I had learned a lot with the advent of parenthood in my life.

Then along came Number Two to disillusion me! She was our first girl. The "first" there being obvious. But this was the first time I realized how little I had learned with child Number One! Number Two had a completely different personality, a different set of needs and demands, boy the demands! She was vocal from early on. She was our first "climber", our first one to toilet train easily, our first one to be picky about clothes - from babyhood, and our first child to be home schooled.

Number Three taught me that babies could sleep...nicely...and be happy to do so. I learned to acknowledge the fact that family life is not a democracy. When you're outnumbered, you still need to maintain authority. This was the point where we learned to really juggle for the first time as we were outnumbered and could not nicely handle one each. This is the point where, as my husband would say, you switch to "zone defence". (I admit to not knowing what that meant at first, and to be honest I'm still hazy.). This is also the one who taught me later on that nobody can push somebody's buttons like a sibling!

With the impending arrival of Number Four I learned that I was "brave". At least this was what everyone told me as I awaited the expansion of our family beyond the conventional limit. I generally smiled and nodded with the knowledge in my heart that if we had more (as we secretly hoped to) I would cross from "brave" to "crazy" in the eyes of many. I also learned how many women of an older generation wished that they themselves had not stopped at the conventional limit. As I grew to be obviously expecting a child with three young ones in tow, it astounded me how many women of my parents' generation came up to me in public and confessed that they wished they had done what I was doing.

As an only child I didn't grow up with any boys in the house. However I can testify to the fact that boys are definitely different from girls from firsthand experience. And Number Five is a prime example of a very "boy" boy! He has taught me just how hard the human skull can be and how to make it even harder if you want to! He is our most rambunctious one so far. Pregnancy with Number Five was also the first time I experienced a placental abruption, and the first time I had to be hospitalized during a pregnancy other than for delivery. Here I learned something about giving up control!

Our Sixth child was the first one that gave us some experience of a hospital neonatal unit, as he came five weeks early. Luckily, I don't make small babies generally, so he didn't need to be there more than a few hours. I also learned with his delivery that a community is indispensable when raising a family and that God can arrange things much better than I could ever hope to.

Which brings me to Number Seven, our newest, who is sleeping peacefully in her swing as I type this. She was my first stitch-free delivery. With her I have learned how to manage a baby with a tongue-tie release and still establish breast-feeding well. And she is the one who brings us up to the number that apparently qualifies us to be called a "mega-family"!

So my first ever blog comes to an end. Hopefully this will signify the beginning of something which also brings it's own share of firsts in my life, and can somehow reach out to others and let them recognize their own firsts, and have the courage to take on new ones.