What was in your fifth grade reader?

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Kids at the Salmon Fry release

Here I am again. Two years later.  Let’s cut to the chase. So — we are homeschooling. While I had dreamt of unschooling and running through fields of green grass all day with my children (here where there is snow 10 months of the year) I figured the novelty of that might wear off eventually.

So I have decided to give it a a real shot – Charlotte Mason style. If you don’t know who she is yet, you will if you keep reading my blog or are bored enough to follow me on instagram.

Her philosophy of education has become synonymous with her name. In a way, it is too bad that her educational philosophy got named after her (because indeed it is far older than her and it makes it look as though I’m following some victorian guru no one has ever heard of, especially here in Yukon). It’s really about providing a feast of “good food” for your child’s mind. It’s not delight driven education, because if I never expose my child to medieval weaponry, pet care, or botany, how will she ever come to know if that is what she truly loves, and never knew it until that moment we opened a most special book about it. But it’s also not endless unit studies, because that is part of the reason we are not in school.

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At a Kids on the Farm outing

Exposure to really good words, poems, songs and art is a big part of what I’m doing here.

Today we were enjoying the summer weather on our way to homeschool improv theatre class (no joke) and we were listening to the audiobook version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. You know something different is happening on the Prairie than in most school rooms we know when this passage comes up.  A little intro: Laura and fam have been twiddling their thumbs (literally twisting hay to feed the fire as that is the only fuel they have left). It has been a fierce winter and Laura has not been able to go to school.

“Every day Laura found time to study a little. When enough hay was twisted to last for an hour, she sat down by Mary, between the stove and the table, and opened the school-books. But she felt dull and stupid. She could not remember history and she leaned her head on her hand and looked at a problem on her slate without seeing how to solve it or wanting to.

“Come, come, girls! We must not mope,” Ma said. “Straighten up, Laura and Carrie! Do your lessons briskly and then we’ll have an entertainment.”

“How, Ma?” Carrie asked.

“Get your lessons first,” said Ma.

When study time was over, Ma took the Independent Fifth Reader. “Now,” she said, “let’s see how much you can repeat from memory. You first, Mary. What shall it be?”

Now before we continue with what happens next, let me reiterate that they open her Fifth Reader. Fifth grade. Grade 5. Here we go. Mary chose first what she is going to read. Wait no. What she is going to recite. She is blind, so she must have a better memory than the rest of us. I’ll give her that.

“The Speech of Regulus,” said Mary. Ma turned the leaves until she found it and Mary began.

“‘Ye doubtless thought—for ye judge of Roman virtue by your own—that I would break my plighted oath rather than, returning, brook your vengeance!’” Mary could repeat the whole of that splendid defiance. “‘Here in your capital do I defy you! Have I not conquered your armies, fired your towns, and dragged your generals at my chariot wheels, since first my youthful arms could wield a spear?’”

The kitchen seemed to grow larger and warmer. The blizzard winds were not as strong as those words.

Laura goes on to choose a poem called Tubal Cain. Before you go to look it up (as I had to), I’ll save you the work. It’s a 19th c. Poem by Charles Mackey. It’s about a descendent of Cain from the Bible who was a metal worker. It’s a long poem for a fifth grader…well, even for me.

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The girls remember every word correctly. Ma praises them and says Carrie and Grace will have their turns for recitation the next day. Carrie is maybe 6 and Grace is likely 3. That’s right —Grace is a preschooler.

When I heard this chapter in the car my first question was, “What’s the ‘Speech of Regulus’?”. Then, “Who was Regulus?”. Then, “What is the Speech of Regulus doing in a reader for a fifth grader?”

While I was impressed by the recitation I am no longer surprised by the fact that those young women could recite that much, In gently adhering to a casual Charlotte Mason inspired pre-school program, my kids listen to a lot of poems. Most days they always ask for a reading of The Cremation of Sam Mcgee. And even my three year old will start mumbling stanza after stanza while staging play mobile guy fights in the corner.

I’m not here to judge but I’m guessing that The Speech of Regulus is not in any fifth grade reader in Canadian schools, and even if it was, I would likely be in the same position as many of the students: not able to understand it on first reading. Some might accuse Laura of just being a puppet but upon closer reading we see that she did know it. She understood it.

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Pondering life while taking in the view

I’m not getting my kids to listen to poetry just to memorize it, but to remember it (as one homeschooling teacher put it). To remember it for that time, one day down the road when my kid has his heart broken, his friendship fail, or is in prison (totally possible – my kids will make their own choices). Or more positively, to have the poetic words to express their moments of joy. Or to ponder silently the poem they know, and the situation they one day find themselves in. That they are not alone, because someone else has felt this before. Do with it what they will.

My favorite novel is The Count of Monte Cristo. The main character, Edmonton Dantes, spent 14 years in prison for something he didn’t do. I suspect he had more things to think about (because he had them memorized) than some lines from Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Outlander. We never know when we may need to feed on that stored literacy fat, that good food for the soul, when we have nothing else to feed our hearts, like companionship.

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So here’s the rub. I’m doing this homeschool thing for me, as much as for my children. I was given beautiful tastes of true education from my parents and a some good teachers along the way. They led me to good, true and beautiful literature and fed my desire for learning, helping me begin making the connections between all things. But there is a lot I still want know and understand. Particularly about the natural world. There are far too many things I am not able to tell my kids about when they ask questions (What is story that goes with that constellation? What part of the animal is this bit of bison from? What tree is that? What flower is that?) I know I will never be able to answer them all, nor should I.

But maybe, I’ll just start with learning about The Speech of Regulus (I understand it is in the Defeat of Regulus) myself. I know I am going to love anything with the words “Splendid Defiance” in it. As Ysabeau likes to say, “I’ll get goosebumps”.

I know this route isn’t for everyone and Ethan is still in the school system so I will continue to get the best of both worlds – I hope.

The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?

~Charlotte Mason

Haines and Back Again

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We have been enjoying a great visit from Ian’s parents from Northern Ireland. Skype has been a fantastic tool to help the kids connect to these great folks even though we are so far away from them.  So when they arrived, it didn’t take long for the kids to get to the important stuff right away — duplo, stories and chocolates.

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We just got back from four days in Haines Alaska where we stayed in a lovely place that overlooked remarkable glaciers and a mud flat inlet that gave lots of food for the soul and playtime.

Ysabeau is asking to return to the “fluffy house” and I am guessing this is in reference to the giant bear hide hanging on the wall and the shaggy carpets all through the bedrooms. Fluffy.

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We celebrated Ethan’s 11th birthday with some cake and family games.  I highly recommend the game Bellz! game for great dinner table fun for all ages. We got this for him and it has more than earned its keep in the games drawer already.

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Xav now goes into serious photoshoot everytime he sees an iphone or camera. As soon as you pull it out he is running over screaming “CHEEEEEEEEEESE”.

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Summer lovin’

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I got some fantastic mail the other day from an old college friend. She has taken up a highly underrated skill – calligraphy.

She practices everyday and has integrated this discipline into the daily tasks of life. She composes her groceries list while practicing her pen. She writes down her spiritual thoughts for the day carefully in the script of the day she wishes to work on. Wonderful.

Above, you will see I commissioned her to pen the Ignatian practice of the daily examen for me so that I can have it at my kitchen window while I do the dishes.To see more of her work visit Amielou Creative

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I have definitely enjoyed the bounty of a warm summer in Yukon. The greens keep-a-comin’! Below you see a comfrey plant that is almost half the hight of the tree beside it. It actually provides shade to the seat beside.

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Ysabeau was determined to help me in the garden one day and proceeded to dress very similar to myself. However, she got tired of wearing her hot winter boots very quickly!

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We had the honour to attend our neighbour’s wedding this past June. Kathryn and Bryan are such special people and they had just the celebration to reflect their union.

It was out at her parents newly built rural home and since there was still some landscaping happening around the place, the kids managed to find huge pikes of dirt and started some version of what seemed like the Hunger Games, until dinner was served. Some great opportunities for dancing!

I am still working on the bread-making which I realized does kind of lose its luster in the summer when you want to keep the kitchen cool. But I can easily get eight loaves at a time now which is fantastic.

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Ethan has been home from school and doing the odd camp here in there. But usually the pace has been slow when family isn’t visiting and we take the time to stop and watch the diggers…

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…or drink tea.

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I love giving this kid a haircut so I can see his handsome face!

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This summer has delivered some great hot days for much needed beach time.

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June highlights hit an all time high with a visit from Auntie Rhi and Master Duplo Builder, Spencer. We had great fun getting to know Spencer (who Xav followed around with pieces of Duplo every minute of the day) and enjoying the sun with these crazy cats.

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Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real

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I knew it would take me a while to get my groove on – the music is slowly warming up my muscles. Things are going much better. The weather is getting warmer, we are getting out, and dinner is getting made …I count all of these as successes and I am only responsible for two out of three.

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A walk in a spring Yukon small forest +meadow.

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I have discovered that kids love nothing better than throwing rocks into the river with a friend.

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And we all know that true happiness is a great sleep. As Ethan and I come to the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, I was thinking about poor Ol’ Lord Rhoop who Caspian found floundering in the waters of the Dark Island : a place where all your dreams come true, including nightmares. He struggles to come to himself again once rescued and only finds true rest when given a long dreamless sleep. So true.

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Build and destroy. Our neighbour Bryan played way to many rounds of this -what a good sport!

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Splash parks – need I say more.

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This recipe book was not always coiled. A colleague from my last place of work let me know about this great service offered at Staples. For just more than a ten bucks, you can get your favorite recipe book coiled so you don’t have to prop it open! Happiness!

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Hide…

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“Oh I just can’t wait to be KING!” or “The simba song”.

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A friend gave us coconut and Ysabeau has been obsessed with shaking it each night before bed!IMG_0123

First swim of the season. 15 degrees maybe.

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They are eating all my apples!!!

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This one of Ethan below is real because it was take during Cub Scout Camp and I don’t think he even knew it was being taken! Why doesn’t he do this at home? Love it.

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This is a link up with Like Mother, Like Daughter

Life in the Poop [not that kind].

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Returning home full-time to be with kids is like running a marathon. In fact, its like running a marathon with little training, just because you “have done it before”. You end up crossing the line looking like you aged 35 years and have osteoporosis ( I know because I have done it).

Well, everything hurts in this “home-race”. I forgot what it takes. I love it, but I am building up some serious scar tissue.

The kids are growing and have their own idiosyncrasies  talents that make a full day at with them at home with them very interesting:

  • Xav grunts for everything. He reminds me of Sloth from the Goonies. And like Sloth, he is kinda cute and I even understand him.
  • Ysabeau assures me that any idea she has is “gonna be just fine mom” or “you don’t need to worry” or “just count to five if you are frustrated”.
  • Ethan, without a malicious bone in his body,  is in a stage where he really can’t retain any instructions I give him, so I find myself having the same conversations with him most days

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Ysabeau still loves playing pretend, above all other things. While the Christmas story has wained in popularity (six months later) the other day she did insist: “I be Mary and you be Joseph and let’s get on our Unicorn”. Fantasy and super heroes are certainly taking centre stage right now.

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She painted this picture and told the drop-in preschool teacher that it was Princess Leia in the top corner, a light saber in green in the left corner, and various other galactic characters she only hears about from her brother. All bright pink. Perfect.

I have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia out loud to Ethan. I love reading mid- twentieth century British kids stories to him, especially because so much is lost on him (and me), and ultimately becomes humorous.

We are reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader which obviously take place on a ship.

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At one point a sea serpent is threatening the ship and the paragraph reads:

And now the real danger was at hand. Could they get it over the poop, or was it already too tight? Yes. It would just fit. It was  resting on the poop rails. A dozen or more sprang up on the poop. The sea serpents body was so low now that they make a line across the poop and push side by side… “An Axe,” cried Caspian hoarsely, “and still shove.” Lucy, who knew where everything was, heard him where she was standing on the main deck staring up at the poop.

And more poop.

Despite having to google what a “poop” is on a tall ship, for Ethan (and for me), and reminding him that its the end of the ship near the tiller, we both can’t help but giggle every time the word comes up ….and it always does, in quick succession.

But I am also slightly embarrassed at how little my British kids fail to meet British ship-knowledge standards. I remember visiting British friends one summer in the south of England and their boys, 2 and 4 at the time, were playing ship games and were shouting directions to each other using words I can only pretend to understand like “starboard”, “stern” and “aft”. I thought I should start telling people I was from the colonies.

Well, we now know what the “poop” is….we can start adding nautical words to our repertoire.

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Lewis is delightfully politically incorrect as well. He writes almost mockingly about the parents of a very spoiled child  (and the child too) in this book and describes them thus:

They were very up-to-date and advanced people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers and tee-totallers and wore a special kind of underclothes. In their house there was very little furniture and very few clothes on beds and the windows were always open. Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.”

Basically he doesn’t seem to like people who are into fads. I had to laugh because he clearly doesn’t like minimalists, and I have kind of bought into it. I wonder what he would think  of Marie Kondo.

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I was going to “Marie Kondo” these out of the house but who can get rid of “Star Wars: Wookie Cookies Cookbook”. I’m keeping them. C.S. Lewis would be proud.

He has a point though. I gave away any bridesmaid dress I ever wore. Ysabeau would otherwise have been deprived of dressing up like this but thanks to a good friend, she was given a selection of old keepsakes to play with. What delight!

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But words are a funny thing and I realize just how hard it is to truly grasp any language, especially when living with a child who is ESL.

I have been telling Ysabeau not to say or do some things simply because (for expediency) – “it is inappropriate”.  Ethan has now taken to telling on Ysabeau when she is doing something wrong by shouting loudly “MISAPPROPRIATION!!”

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Saying goodbye to our Working-Holiday nanny Elise.

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Ethan teaching the padawan

As I am adjusting to the rhythm of life at home again, I thankful for an article a friend sent to me called The Domestic Monastery.

While I thought about equating home life to the “poop” on the ship (it really does seem to be where all the important stuff and any action happens on a vessel), this analogy is probably better.

I have spent a lot of time considering these words and letting them be a balm for my mental world that seems frustrated by this adjustment.

For example, the mother who stays home with small children experiences a very real withdrawal from the world. Her existence is definitely monastic. Her tasks and preoccupations remove her from the centres of power and social importance. And she feels it. Moreover her sustained contact with young children (the mildest of the mild) gives her a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild, that is, to attune herself to the powerlessness rather than to the powerful.
The principles of monasticism are time-tested, saint-sanctioned, and altogether-trustworthy. But there are different kinds of monasteries, different ways of putting ourselves into harmony with the mild, and different kinds of monastic bells. Response to duty can be monastic prayer, a needy hand can be a monastic bell, and working without status and power can constitute a withdrawal into a monastery where God can meet us. The domestic can be the monastic.

My stepmom once told me (before I was a Catholic) that if I had been raised a Catholic, she thought I would have become a nun.

Well, in a way I am!

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A Very Messy World

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I am enjoying the first signs of spring here. We have had such good weather that I can happily walk into my living room at the end of the day and wonder why there is no little mess – no toys on the ground, no crumbs on the floor, no books off the shelf. The kids play outside most of the day until dinner.

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We have quite the rabble of kids in our cul-de-sac. So many that Ethan (the eldest of them all) was able to organize a lightsaber tournament (some of the young ones haven’t seen Star Wars but they were happy to be given saber lessons from Ethan the week before).

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IMG_1021Sometimes they all just go round and round the cul-de-sac on their bikes. It actually reminded me of circling crows that I have begun to reference the gang as a ‘murder’ of children, looking as they do like a murder of crows.

Or sometimes I have started to call them “The Garbage Pail Kids: Next Gen”. They like to hang out in front of our house next to (or on!) our great lawn ornaments – compost and garbage bins.

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I have so enjoyed the clean house that I forgot about spring mud. I will have to accept dusty floors with dead grass everywhere as well.

I had to laugh while reading The Tale of Tom Kitten to Ysabeau before bed last night. Earlier in the day she had come in with very mucky hands claiming to be Tom Kitten. In the story, Tabitha (Tom’s mum) is so mad that she “smacks them” (him and his siblings) for their messy appearance, lies to her guests and tells them the kids “have the measles” and leaves them in bed. Oh Beatrix!

IMG_0218But don’t worry. The kids have the last laugh. “Somehow there were very extraordinary noises over-head, which disturbed the dignity and repose of the tea party”. 

My kids all know how to cause a great ruckus (see hole in my pysanky egg – obviously poked) ….

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….have a very proper tea party…

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Xav and Ysabeau are becoming good friends. Xav has learned how to walk, and even lets himself be cuddled sometimes.

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Catholic feast celebrations (why not!) continue in the house. Our German part-time nanny Elise reminded us that “Name Days” are still very popular in Europe and pointed out that Ysabeau’s was coming up. Her middle name is Bernadette and she shares that with Bernadette of Lourdes.

If you are going to feast then feast! I used up all the Rice Crispies and marshmallows I could find to come up with this pinterest success. The healing waters of the Lourdes grotto were a big hit and a little painted peg doll of Bernadette.

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A friend put us on to a great game  called Rhino Hero. Ian and I laugh that, really, a couple of friends were sitting around one day (Ian imagines after one too many drinks) trying to figure out how to make money off of building towers with a deck of cards. Presto. The simplest ideas are always the best!

Some fun twists in this game make it a real winner with everyone. Recommendation: remove destroying toddlers from the mix.

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Ethan loves his Tron t-shirt because he thinks it’s “majestical” – which I agree works for the image on it.

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He also reminds me daily to chill out. He asked if they could paint the other day and I was enjoying the clean house too much and said “No. Its too messy.”

His calm retort: “The world is a messy place, Marlon”.

Indeed it is. So I let them colour with washable markers on the window instead.
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The time is coming soon when I will be home again full-time with these rabble-rousers. I am very much looking forward to it but like so many parents at home will struggle living without (or with very little) of those motivators that are often more readily available in the workplace or in society outside the home.

Affirmations. Confirmations. Approvals. Praise.

I recently read a great article on how so many of us, including myself, are worried about missing the “big things” that we need to do in life.

So what if we do?

The recommendation (although given from a religious worldview also must appeal to those who are secular) is so true:

Look rather to be “big-souled” in a  a life of stable commitments that make the ordinary radical.

The author explains in a story like this. While this is a Catholic story, it must appeal to many people:

In order to sink down roots and transform the deep structures of culture, grace needs stable saints [fallible people who try hard] who remain quietly faithful in their little corner of creation, willing to face the limitless irritations of remaining in one place long so grace can thoroughly soak its surroundings. In an age of cultural A.D.D., we need saints [imperfect people] who attend long with love unto tedium, knowing that beneath the tedium lies the Tremendum [the mysterious and awe-inspiring].

I knew a priest in New Jersey who was very gifted and highly respected. He seemed to have all the makings of an ecclesiastical climber. One Spring his bishop transferred him from the chancery [Bishop’s office] to a small rural parish that needed a lot of help. He told me that after the announcement was made, one of his brother priests called him and said, “Wonder what you did wrong?” This priest said to me, “I know he was joking. But the truth is my first thought was, ‘I wonder what I did right.’ It’s why became a priest, to have my bones buried in a parish cemetary, not in a chancery.”

mmmm…. to “attend long with love unto tedium”. What do you think about that?

Popes, princesses and wiggly mammoths {pretty, happy, funny, real]

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Here in our corner of Canada’s North we have a celebration each late winter called “Burning Away the Winter Blues”. Walkers join at dusk to walk along the water’s edge, pray for some glimpse of open water (this year we have had an early spring, and so plenty of it), and head toward a bonfire where they throw in an effigy aptly named Old Man Winter. The effigy’s have become more diverse and creative. This year it was a Woolly Mammoth made out of newspaper. Ysabeau called it a Wiggly Mammoth as it was carried by three or four puppeteers due to its size – and it certainly gave it the effect of looking quite “wiggly”.

Ethan was sick, and Xavier was asleep at home with Grandma, so we only had Ysabeau and Elise (our wonderful part-time nanny from Germany) with us. Ysabeau fell asleep for the walk only to wake up precisely at the moment when the effigy was being thrown into the fire! To say the least, she was a little disoriented.

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Our newspaper had a a little write up in which one of the organizers highlighted the pagan elements she sees in this northern tradition we have. As a Catholic, I too can appreciate the truths of our human story found in many celebrations. As C.S. Lewis wrote (a devout Christian who might have become a Catholic) in an address to the Socratic Club at Oxford where he taught:

The Divine light, we are told, ‘lighteneth every man.’ We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.”

So we followed this little celebration with one that holds immense importance for me. Easter!

I love a finely set table! Easter provides an opportunity for plenty of tablecloth and extra plates. Our friends had us over on Holy Thursday for example of what a Seder meal might be like. It was lovely.

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What you see, of course, was not the whole meal (there was lamb, fish and more) but these aperitifs were symbolic of the passover; bitter herbs symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Jews endured in Ancient Egypt, a hard-boiled egg symbolizing the sacrifice made, and Charoset which is a pebbly paste of apple and nuts that represents the mortar used by Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses of Egypt.

We had 11 kids around 3 different tables. This only makes sense as the Seder meal, in Jewish homes, still has a focus on children. The presentation of these foods on the plate is meant to arouse their senses and curiosity – “Why is this night different from all other nights”.

There is an “intrinsic kinship” between Judaism and Christianity and this has been beautifully captured in this relatively new reflection out of the Vatican entitled: The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

We also had a lovely Easter meal at our house with family.

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Zumba practice ( I am teaching bout twice a week now) is a family affair. You can see brother and sister in action here, and the baby as well.

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We have these great Usborne Lift the Flap books (another recommendation from my friend Claire). Ysabeau is both fascinated and horrified by the Usborne Body Book.She doesn’t quite get the concept yet of what is on the inside. Holding the book she asks:

“What am I even doing here in this life?”

“Um, well….” [she caught me off guard with that one]

“Do I have blood vessels”

“Yes, you are a human being” [I was trying to keep it simple here)

“No I’m not. Jacob _____ isn’t human?” [a kid she knows from daycare who came across as more superhero than human]

“Oh yes he is.”

I love the train (or rather the “jump-on/jump-off bus”) of thought. But also equally glad I don’t have to sort this stuff out for myself on a daily basis. It must be exhausting.

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Continuing with Ethan’s growing interest in Saints (not easily distinguished from superheros at this point), he created a saint hotel (very cute). I love the Rules (I think that should read “no fighting”), and the list of guests.

I also appreciate the no dogs or cats – not a big fan of animal hair. But he loves them so I was a bit surprised by that one. Maybe he is aware that this is just a general rule in most hotels.

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In our closet puppet theatre the kids asked for some Saint Hotel entertainment. I’m glad to see Pope Francis, Princess Somebody and Strawberry Shortcake in attendance. Good company.

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Selfie?

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Easter is obviously a wonderful season for celebrations in the church. Here are some scenes from Holy Thursday. Tradition sees the Bishop wash the feet of parishioners in imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper.

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Once of my favorite times during the Easter Triduum is when the priest processes out of the church with the Eucharist into the special side chapel where people keep vigil through the night.

It’s all very ceremonial but also deeply meaningful. The only time our little parish gets a bit of good ol’ incense as well. If you wanna be a church, smell like a church.

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Overall, this week I am finding it hard to keep my thoughts straight, my lists short and my floors clean (that is a constant struggle), my goals unattained. It feels frantic everywhere, and mostly inside my head.

I saved a quote from my favourite blog and it is helping me this week. This wise woman wrote about those (all of us at some point, like me) who run everywhere to try and create some sense of order, or maybe even excitement, all the while missing contentment by a long shot. This is how she suggests we find it:

Not running out the door! Not by being frantic! Not by trying to escape from home…They miss the most rewarding and fulfilling aspect of the family, which is the actual, somewhat mundane, activity of raising persons entrusted to your care: Love that is striving to build something lasting together, each person overcoming his own selfishness — controlling it, in fact — for the sake of the others.

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This post is a link up with Like Mother, Like Daughter.