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.

God walks among the pots and pans {pretty, happy, funny, real}

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On March break I took the older kids to Well-Read Books – a cozy second hand book store with a beautifully contained section that feels like a living room for kids. There are perfectly sized chairs for the wee ones and children’s books organized in manageable themes. And just the right amount of books – not too many. Sometimes at the library it feels like there is too much to choose from, especially when the baby has got lost somewhere in the “M-P Kids Fiction” isle and the toddler is fighting another kid for the barbie in the toy area (barbies in the library, really?).

We quite happily spent  45 minutes in this store looking at books and left with a stack priced at an average of $2 a piece. Score.

And then we retreated home and to the cozy the book nook that is a favorite get-away for everyone, when there seems like there is no place to just be alone.

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I also walked away with an old set of kids encyclopedias after inquiring if they had some. They gave me a partial set for $5  as no one is really looking for these anymore. In fact, its the same set I had as a kid!

I wanted them because every time Ethan has a question about something (Ethan: “When is the Earth going to explode?”. Me: “Do you mean the sun?”. Ethan: “No, I mean the Earth”) and I direct him to try and find out on his own, he asks to go on the internet.

Again, I am no Luddite but I am not a fan of this option. You should see the sites that come up when he enters “exploding earth” into google – and I guarantee  he won’t pick the Wikipedia site but searches according to images leading him to some rather some apocalyptic site promoting a new escape pod.

So instead he gets some 90’s graphics but also some relatively accurate information about our aging sun (sans exploding earth).

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We are trying to give Ysabeau at least one chore every day that she can do, so the 10 year old doesn’t feel like he is entirely singled out. She seems to enjoy cleaning the table, with an eye for spotlessness that only her mother can appreciate.

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This new book release by Bishop Robert Barron makes me happy-  Vibrant Paradoxes: The both/And of Catholicism.

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This book is a supposed to be a philosophical narrative rather than one of Barron’s easily digestible popular books. Nonetheless, I expect it will be delightfully manageable book compared to those of many great Catholic theologians.

For my secular friends who ask: Why would you be excited about this book? Because it will be a defense of why Catholicism is not simply a black and white solution for those who can’t handle the gray of life. Catholics hold to beliefs that are seeming opposites, held not in tension, but in a beautiful dance where harmony and balance is the outcome of a mesmerizing pas-de-deux.

 Justice/mercy. God/man. Authority/liberty. Faith/reason. Corporateness/individualism. These are pairings that might seem contradictory, but ultimately can only make sense in relation to one another. In Catholicism, the answer is not a blending of the two but the unique suspension of ‘Both/And’, where the integrity of each aspect is honoured.

Personally, I find some many of the frustrations we have in society are created when we decide not to live in the (at times uncomfortable) dance of these disparate pairings, but rather choose one over the other.

For example, in fear of blending into an undefined corporateness in our families, schools or societies, we perhaps have overemphasized the role of the individual. Instead, I like this ‘Both/And’ approach. It is very sensible. Though it is most certainly a mystery, meaning we can grasp it but but it is certainly a less comfortable answer at first.

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My kids are serious about food.

My neighbour captured these great pics of Ysabeau trying to wink. I love the things we adults take for granted – I feel like patting myself on the back that I learned to do this when I see how hard it actually is to make it second nature.

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I am so glad winter is almost over. Mostly because I am done with the icy puddle that is perpetually my entrance. I so happy with the layout our home except for this entrance area. I feel it was designed for a kid-less home. Here I am demonstrating what Ian likes to call “staging”. The things on the stairs might move – in the next century. I can’t figure out how to make this space work better.

But my friend shared with me a quote attributed to St. Teresa of Avila -“God walks even among the pots and pans.” The home is a sacred space.

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I am increasingly happy with our office space which sits to at the top of this entrance area and is connected to the kitchen and dining area. Again, space is a premium here so I carefully calculate how each corner and nook can be used.

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Here is our latest family pic. I credit Ian entirely.  I had to share with you one of the trial shots as the camera was precariously balanced on the stroller and time-set so that Ian had to run back over to us each time. The final edition was only the 15th shot. The kids stayed remarkably silly composed.

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