Wednesday 6 November 2013

On Having Good Tools

Children know. I think we all remember that knowing, that awareness of what the good, what the real is. We also knew when adults tried to hoodwink us.

There was certainly no hoodwinking involved the morning I gave Zinadine his new drill. He grabbed it enthusiastically, before I could get the drill bit in, and started in on the assembled pile of balsa wood that we had gathered from the playroom. "Look Mama, I'm building a house!", he pretended. He was fascinated by the handle, and would not let me interrupt his play, until he saw that his sister's drill actually had the drill bit installed. He insisted on an immediate switch.

And then everything changed. His posture became intent, his face joyful. He knew. "I'm making holes! Mama, look, I'm actually making holes!!" No longer playing, but doing. Having the right tool, a good tool, that allowed him to do the thing, he became absolutely delighted.

A while ago I gave in and curmudgeonly bought a rotary cutter, a fancy quilting ruler, and mat. I have a perverse habit of thinking that if I can't make do (and by making do I mean making cuts like butter with the lovely Gingher scissors the fantastic Mr. S. gave me), then I've failed somehow. Luddite by nature, I often forget that discerning what makes a tool good and useful is a pretty important ability, more so than a knee-jerk reaction to the new and fancy.

And my goodness, do I ever enjoy this particular new and fancy. I sew a lot of things with squares in them, so this is helpful. The first project I started on, one that had been languishing in the to-do pile for quite a while, had me smiling like my kids with drills: really happy, feeling effective, and slightly maniacal.
We've been talking a lot about tools around our house lately. Tools for life. Things that get us through, help us flourish, soothe, cope, sustain, mend, strengthen. How it's worth learning and understanding what tools work best for the kind of work, the kind of person you are and the life you have.

It'll be interesting to see what we create with them.

Friday 28 June 2013

Moths and Butterflies

Mr. S. has let a large moth in as he arrives from late-night soccer. It flutters helplessly, hopefully around his head, brushing the lights in the kitchen.

Safiya and I are still up. Making arrows.

Mr. S. looks at us in bewilderment, a little like the moth.

Safiya starts whisper-informing him what she's been up to, the what, when, how.....while Mr. S. is still stuck on "why?" We look at each other and do the usual wtf-what-do-i-know tiny parent shrugs that we do when confronted with this changeling daughter of ours from a world that we left behind so long ago.

When Safiya asked me to help her with the arrows earlier in the evening, I thought she had hit a specific road-block that she needed my help with - adult help. She's been working on various arrow projects ever since her friend made her a bow. It has become one of her treasured items, regularly housed in our front entrance, and the impetus for an ever-refined arsenal of arrows which she carves and embellishes. Tonight she was waiting and waiting for my help while Zinadine fell asleep, and finally I asked what it was that she needed.

"Oh, I just want your help finishing." Huh. I pointed out that she'd been sitting around reading and could've finished a couple of arrows in the meantime, and she pointed out that she helps me with things all the time. So then I pointed out that those things are usually like, chores. You know - important stuff that makes the house we all live in run smoothly......wait wait wait. back up.

For the next little bit I processed what I had just said. And I remembered something I'd read recently, don't know where. Something about the fact that you always feel like yourself, and that the things that are important to you don't change in their importance as you grow up. That is, the stuff is different when you're younger, but it's just as important.

This was her work! Crap.

"Hey honey, I guess you making arrows is as important as us doing laundry."

Sidelong, knowing glance from child.

"It is to me."

Lesson verified.

Now the moth is in the living room as I write this, nuzzling the paintings on the wall as Safiya hands me her latest plans of how she's going to carry the arrows in lieu of a quiver.

Then a big yawn from her and a "I'm soooo tired". Now she's perched half-way up the stairs, leaning over the banister, dress half-off, head sticking out like an awkward pink patchwork caterpillar, asking something. Mr. S. and I start giggling 'cause she looks ridiculous and self-assured and far too un-self-aware. It is a weird place to be, this twilight of the child.

I go to let out the moth.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Happy Birthday to a Sweet Little Man Who Now is Three

Zinadine, you are all of three years old today. It's a lot of years for someone who is little. Except you're not little, you're big; as you like to remind me.

You have milkweed soft fly-away hair and the best laugh ever. I tickle you just to hear that laugh. You like puns and fake surprises and the Ba-Shooom! game (which involves throwing rolled up socks with Safiya and Babo (Mr. S.) and rules Mama doesn't get - on purpose).

that halo is your hair in the sunlight!

You walk like Pocoyo. You jump from things as much as you can. You walk your fingers all over my collarbone when you nurse. You are passionately attached to particular shoes, and whatever small object with four wheels has your fancy on any given day. Sometimes, you tell your sister not to "bug me! she's bugging me!" when she hugs you, which makes her hug you again. Sometimes you tell me "Doooon't look at me!" I always sneak looks, just so you know.

I want to keep listing things so as to not forget every little bit years from now when you zoom by or glance up from a book or hole up with friends. You say "Awwwww" at tiny baby animals. When you're angry (which is very rare), you stare at me and chuck whatever it is in your hand. You want to do everything yourself - "Can I do it?" I think you chirrup.

You so look forward to your Babo coming home, and immediately show him, very seriously and importantly, whatever you've got clutched in your hand or whatever is occupying you that very second.

 You only eat the icing.

You've hated both socks and baths since you were a babe. You always have very dirty feet.

Every time we cross the Don Valley bridge on the subway, you say "O!" and get up on the seat and look out the window and start reciting all the things you see: "I see cars and trees and river and tracks and trees and cars and buildings and tracks again - I see world everywhere!" Your best is being outdoors.

Most mornings; anytime we're in the upstairs playroom, actually, you open the window (which doesn't have its screen on yet) and start yelling "HI!" at anyone and everyone on the street just below. And everyone smiles and says hi and waves back (after momentary confusion at your little voice from the heavens and split-second consternation which evaporates when they see me too). And that is you, I think. All your energy, like your hair, radiating out and beaming at all of us around you.

These are all things you do and say as your three-year-old self; how you makes us feel and love and be our family is even more complex and spring-fed and wonderful and, I think, more than your after-midnight-Mama can write right now.

We love you, little man. Every second, every snuggle, every hand-hold, every jump. Every everything about you. Happy Birthday, sweet Zinadine.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Pushing Boundaries

"You know what?" I say, "Seeing people that I kind of know outside of the place I usually see them sometimes feels kind of awkward for me."

(audible sigh of relief from Safiya) "Me too!"

Yesterday we did lots of new things. We tried a new social thing, with mixed results, but we'll try it again to give it another chance. We found a new-to-us park, which was a resounding success because trains run fairly regularly by it, and Zinadine fairly shook with the excitement of it, little fists resonating his delight by his sides.

watching the train at the park!
We took streetcars instead of walking the whole way, much to our relief when trying to boot it to karate class. And, we tried karate class on a different day, because Safiya's trying to add extra lessons. This resulted in her being shaken a little out of routine, and enabled her to to be more open to noticing something about another student in the class and she paid attention to this girl, which is a fairly big deal for her, and she reported it, all small-proud-like. I didn't know we were going to do all this when I woke up this morning. We just sort of went for it.

I'm trying little things, like small crafty things to keep my hands busy. New crochet stitches, braiding, small weaving. Easy pick up, easy put down, easy finish. Breaking routine by adding small things, like plant a few flowers instead overhauling the whole garden. Stopping for ice cream on the way to picking up said flowers on a hot spring day because that's a way to do the fun. Ice cream is always fun. Seriously, have you ever had un-fun ice cream? I think not.

braiding at the park for a new project

But the fun on top of fun (this is getting ridiculous) is on the inside. Because of this practising shifting my thinking, I've come to treasure my own idea of fun. It's silly, but my past version of someone who is a fun person has always been someone else's version. You know, the person who gets invited to all the parties, the person who can be un-self-consciously silly. As an introvert, trying to be that person is a disastrous idea, and trying to hold yourself up to it is failure-ridden and stressful. However, if I try to think about inviting myself, perhaps myself as a small girl, to have fun, it would probably involve a lot of quiet reading, outside. Maybe with someone else who likes to read. And making things. And serious discussion about the world. And quite possibly some Star Trek. And probably lots of other stuff I haven't thought of yet.

Old boundaries of self. Walking over them is a awkward and uncomfortable at first, but probably way more fun. We'll see.

Monday 6 May 2013

Happy Like Roses

Because I don't want to forget.

This kind of happy is delicious, like face-in-roses fragrance drinking delight. It is so immediate, and almost tangible and you think, for just one moment, that you could live like this for the rest of whatever, face planted firmly in a rose.

Waking up happy was a thing I'd forgotten. It's not 'til it happens that you realise it's been so long. So long since anticipation was the thing first in my mind.

And, like roses, it will pass, which is why I'm writing it down here. To help it return again when the time comes. To say, "remember? remember; like roses..."

Monday 22 April 2013

Play is the Opposite of Failure

For the past almost two weeks, I've been pulling on threads.

Actually, I've been pulling threads for a while now; doing untangling of my own. Maybe, to use the imagery of late, what I'm doing now is weaving something from the pulled threads.

Weaving something atypically open-ended, on instinct, without knowing the pattern and then being overjoyed to find the work just right, just what was needed, just what was wanted.

learning new crochet stitches, no pattern in mind (makes a good dollhouse rug :)
The picture that's emerging is the antidote to the never-ending, never-accomplished lists that have always been my constant not-really-that-kind-and-a-little-bit-too-competitive companions; my constant minders. It's the antidote to the voice in my head (not my own) that has always said "Not Good Enough" or, "You Know That Thing You Wanted to Do? Not as Important as the Should be Done". I firmly believe that none of us is born with an inner voice like that, but knowing it and discovering what will cancel it out are two very different things and sometimes the finding can be long work. It certainly has been for me. So how to find value day-to-day for the things I really ache to do and also not fail?

more trying: this one ended up as a doll blanket
A while ago I had an argument with myself. And, wouldn't you know it, it's my own argument, my own thread of words, that's led to an antidote that works; for me, anyway. When you read other people's platitudes, sometimes they resonate, sometimes you recognise the journey, the way, that led to the words they're saying; the phrases people pass around like talismans and say to themselves in times of trouble, in front of the mirror. But none of them have ever took root with me. I tried it:

Me: "Well, you really only have two choices: not to fail, or be o.k. with failing."

Self: "It's impossible to do the first, and I am not o.k. with the second. (Cue Westley "Then we are at an impasse".)

Me: "Maybe there's no such thing as failing."

Self: "That's just another way of saying it's o.k. to fail."


As bleak as that seemed, it was a start. It led to the understanding that what I was really searching for was a way to not fail. A way I actually trusted.

And one day out of a tumble of words, a knot of thoughts, something new emerged and took root. It took a way of thinking about things that's not instinctual to me and made it of value because it's the antidote to failing. I'm tempted to make it into a tattoo, but for now, I'm working on a design to embroider.

Play is the opposite of failure.  And because it's a statement of my own, in my own voice, it's been so much more effective at cancelling out that deep doubting voice than anything reactionary; any argument that I've tried in the past. Just my own voice, firm and steady, saying "play is the opposite of failure" and finding joy in it, because in the end, all the good stuff, the stuff that had no acceptable value but now does, the stuff I remember passionately and fondly, is play.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

It's the oddest thing...

clicked on cloth.paper.string on the sidebar 'cause i haven't read her stuff in a long long while.

browsed a bit. she got me intrigued, as always, and i clicked on a link.

and instead of opening at the top of the post, it opened in the middle, and the first line handed to me was...

burn your to-do list

really, it's just the oddest thing...

Perfectly Not-Perfect

I have a feeling that picture might blow the pixels off a few screens, but there's no subtle way to photograph those colours, so there you go. Besides, it's my only completed knitting project in oh-so-long, so I'm proudly putting it up there.

Whilst sorting the yarn bin, I discovered this washcloth that I had almost finished. Almost because I ran out of yarn. Crappy craft store yarn which I'd never be able to match anyway, so taking the needles by the horns, I finished in orange.

There is an inordinate amount of pleasure received from finishing a project, no matter how small, that's been on the needles for, oh, say....eight years? Maybe nine?

I struggle continuously with the difference between what I can see is possible, or rather, what should be possible, versus what actually is possible. They are disparate things in my world, mostly because the "should be possible" that I pick is probably more suited for a superhero rather than a mere mortal such as myself. This results in a lot of unfinished projects.

Some days, the lists of things that should be done, that could be done if I just try harder hound me until the light fades and I prop my aching legs up on the couch and zombie-surf the web just to empty my mind. Those days don't happen often, but they do happen, sometimes several in a row.

It's not something I actually enjoy. The funny thing is, those days are my own creation. Lists are straightforward and simplistic. Life is not. Maybe if I looked at the things I want to do as goals instead of line-items to be checked off? Is that different? I don't know...I'm still working on this.

The only thing I know about it now is that it's hard to make allowance for life if I'm just going by a list. And that sometimes it's o.k. to finish with a different colour.

Sunday 7 April 2013

A Most Excellent Neighbour

Our most excellent neighbour, Louise, is multi-talented, a genuine learner, and all-round lovely person to have next-door. We knew we first liked her because she talks to the kids like they're people, which is always a good sign.

Secondly, she sometimes comes bearing crafty awesomeness. A couple of years ago she showed Safiya and I how to silk-screen, and she is Safiya's loom benefactor. Since Safiya's interest in weaving has coincided with Louise taking a weaving class (such gorgeous scarves she's made already!), we invited her over for tea, cookies, and show-and-tell. It was pretty neat. That up there is a table loom, and that below there is a little guy very interested in how heddles work.

A very enjoyable afternoon was spent with Louise patiently answering questions and guiding small hands with levers. There was much lifting of heddle-things (I forget the name!) but not much weaving because of a wayward part, but it was enough for understanding the process.

There was also something else very very cool:

Chain-mail! Our collective geek hearts did a little dance at this sight! Also, woodcarving!

I also happen to know that she's a book-binder extraordinaire, amongst other things. Like I said, a crafty gal, and an inspiration. The weaving was worked on and the whittling knife was pulled out for some work on a set of arrows after she left, so thank-you Louise! Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness and time and kindness and the contagious curiosity sharing :)

Friday 5 April 2013


"I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights." - Maya Angelou

I think detangling yarn falls in with Christmas lights. With the sudden surge in demand for yarn around here, the forlorn yarn box needed attending to.


It's a bin of tangled yarn, failed projects, half-finished socks (who am I kidding: quarter-finished socks), things started still on needles stuck into other things and holding fast. Metal needles and merino dreams.

I hadn't realised that, like all worth-while detangling, unknotting yarn takes a long time to do. Oh my, does it take time. Mr. S. tells that when he was little, it was one of his favourite things to do for Nana. (I've mentioned before he's weird, right? Just the right kind of weird for me, anyway.) Having done a few skeins now, I think I understand. It's pure hand shaking torture if you're in a hurry, but really a delightful puzzle if you put some time aside and just let it go.


So satisfying. Just like any detangling.

*This post is to kind of commemorate some of my loved one's recent detanglements of their own. To remember the hard work and patience required and the sheer joy and relief when it was done. To remember the worth of it every day, and that the sweetest, best part is looking at the days ahead and the possibilities of the "now what"? 

Monday 1 April 2013

Vegan Gluten-Free Sausage Patty Deliciousness

Safiya is visiting her beloved Granny for the week and that is a picture of the very last bit of a super-delicious-breakfast-sandwich-like thing that I ate for dinner. Why, you may ask, are these two facts related?

Safiya doesn't eat sandwiches. Which means that Mr. S. and I just may eat sandwiches every day for dinner this week (Zinadine just eats components of sandwiches anyway, so we're good). That is the remnants of a scrambled tofu, avocado, and breakfast sausage goodness sandwich...contented sigh.

I've been searching high and low for a gluten-free sausage-ish recipe that doesn't require mutant ingredients and multiple involved steps like foil-wrapped steaming during a full moon but only on a Sunday. And so, because of my "let's actually try things instead of just making lists", I gave this recipe a whirl.

Holy fast-food-craving-satisfying-mouth-smacking fantasticness, Batman!

And they're fast to make and inexpensive and not weird (I used smoked paprika instead of liquid smoke, which I feel maybe is a bit weird). It's the first time I've ever cooked with TVP, and I'm o.k. with that. Now excuse me while I go finish that last bite.

p.s. This post is dedicated to Katharine, who thinks that maybe our lives are more than food and kids. Highly dubious...

Saturday 23 March 2013

Weaving Love

 "He got off the bench and went in to see Mother.
     Her hands were flying and her right foot was tapping the treadle of the loom. Back and forth the shuttle flew from her right hand to her left and back again, between the even threads of warp, and swiftly the threads of warp criss-crossed each other, catching fast the thread that the shuttle left behind it.
     Thud! said the treadle. Clackety-clack! said the shuttle. Thump! said the hand-bar, and back flew the shuttle.
     Mother's workroom was large and bright, and warm from the heating-stove's chimney. Mother's little rocking-chair was by one window, and beside it a basket of carpet-rags, torn for sewing. In a corner stood the idle spinning wheel. All along one wall were shelves full of hanks of red and brown and blue and yellow yarn, which Mother had dyed last summer...
  ...So everything was snug and comfortable in the house, and Almanzo went downstairs and took two more doughnuts from the doughnut jar, and then he played outdoors again with his sled."
                                                                    - from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Out of all the Little House books, that description has stayed with me since childhood because it was so full of warmth and security and plenitude (and a doughnut jar!). Now that I've gone searching for it again to share with you, I realise that there's something else beside the mystery and competency of Almanzo's Mother weaving that resonates with me: he calls it her workroom. And that is the proper and good name for it, a respectful term that hopefully will slip into my language as well. I have a little studio in the basement for which I am grateful, but someday, someday, I will have a space full of warmth and sunshine to work in.

A good friend of mine has just carved out a space of her own at her house. It's because she's fallen in love (please go read it - it's lovely and she's a great story-teller). Isn't it thrilling, and a bit contagious, when someone you hold dear falls head over heels like that?

Safiya's caught the bug as well. It started small, with a little cardboard loom that a friend showed her how to make (the resulting pink headbands and bracelets were to die for), and then one day we came back from out of town to find a loom magically on our doorstep.

It wasn't an orphan looking for a home (although it was welcomed to our family with the same kind of open arms), but a gift from a fairy-godmother-neighbour that is crafty and talented herself (more on her later) and knew of Safiya's burgeoning weaving desires.

 And so it goes. The love spreads and awakens things that you thought you had forgotten. There are plans and hope and excitement and a little bit of frustration and trepidation, because that is all part of it when you are in love.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Happy Second Day of Spring!

This is how our day started. With the smell of mashed potato pancakes and the sound of beads. I kept the Mighty Machines off (which is a feat in and of itself), put the box of beads in front of the patio door (on top of another box full of yarn) and that was how we ate breakfast. Well, Safiya was more civilised and ate at the kitchen table next to us, but close enough.

I didn't know that this box-of-stuff-that-kids-play-in is called a "sensory table", which has led to all sorts of cool google searches and discoveries. We have plans to expand in the playroom. Or rather, Safiya has plans :) So that I could have a quick shower, I threw Safiya some duct tape and toilet paper rolls and when I got out they were still at it:

Which is fantastic. I have to do a whole other post on having kids with a six year age gap. It's interesting and sometimes, well, perplexing, knowing whether to leave something or push it when it comes to how they relate to each other. They relate to each other particularly fine when it comes to cookies:

She makes, he eats. I found decapitated bunnies all over the house later, because really, why finish a cookie when you can just get your next bite from a new and exciting fresh one? Safiya is intent on bringing a whole bunch of baked goods to my Mom's for Easter, so we're freezing these ahead. The shapes make me smile, and I'm glad we found them. I'm just discovering that cookies in fun shapes taste better. It's true.

So beads, cookies, some phone calls, a hurried lunch, and then off to my dentist appointment. Zinadine fell asleep on the subway, so I had to carry him (snow + 40-odd-lbs of sleeping boy = realisation of age) and half-way across the cross-walk on a busy street he woke up suddenly and said  "My boot!" We went back to retrieve said boot, and finally made it to the dentist.

Boots and snow. Because after the morning sunshine this is what our second day of spring looked like:

I like the hopeful picture left by one of Safiya's friends. So, boots, snow, dentist (I love going to the dentist because I can't possibly be doing anything else at the time, although my dentist likes to regale people with the story of the time I was getting my teeth cleaned, breastfeeding an unhappy Zinadine, and helping Safiya spell something, all. at the. same. time! :) The dental hygienist was quite happy to have Safiya around to chat with.

Mr. S. met us there after work, we trekked back home as even more snow came blowing down, split up to do banking and pick up Ethiopian food (Mr. S. and Safiya), and start to clean the house (me and Zinadine. well, just me, really). And then the day petered out with dinner, dishes, discussion, bath, and people getting delirious with non-sleep (all of us). And now it's late and everyone's asleep except me, so off I go...

I don't often do a "day-in-the-life-of" but today seemed just like the right day, so there you go. Happy Second Day of Spring!

Monday 18 March 2013

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole (and Late for the Party)


I resisted for as long as I could. How could I, a fairly reasonable and responsible person, wade knowingly into dangerous waters? Not even to rescue someone.

Perhaps just for the sheer pleasure of it. Now I have to take back all the snark ("Pinterest? Yeah, I took a look, but how many pictures of dogs, ways to do your hair, and inspirational quotes do you really need in one day?") and humbly say that actually, I'm finding it pretty useful. (Anyway, I was just being snarky 'cause I figured it would be bad for me - as in a black hole of time-suck. When insecure, cover up with snark; it's a great plan.)

I blame my garden. Or lack thereof. Being a complete newbie and wanting to plant a whole bunch this spring and not really knowing what the plants I wanted look like. Well, Pinterest knows. Or rather, all you people over there do, and it's so nice and visual.

Our computer broke a while ago (we've just replaced it) and so went all my bookmarks. It made me realise two things. One: broken computers are a lovely respite from it all. For two weeks I didn't miss it in the least. Two: I didn't need any of my bookmarks. Isn't that slightly crazy? I was stunned. I would have sworn up and down that it was all so important. So, maybe I should live it instead of just saving it for later. When's later?

So, in the spirit of the old dog and her new tricks, I'm actually trying to do/make something every day from the things I've pinned. What the point otherwise? (See what I did there....the in the point of the pin? ha!...I need more sleep.)

p.s. all the pics above are from my boards...still a little rusty at getting things connected over here. but there's a link on the side there if you want to take a gander...