like a hot house tomato

That's what life feels like these days. It's deep summer. The garden is busting out: fruits ripening, leaves multiplying, new sprouts seemingly exploding from the ground hours after the little seeds were tucked in there. I just might, maybe, be getting a bit of lettuce fatigue.

But our life in general feels like how the garden looks right now. The projects got bigger fast upon returning to Madison. Good things have been happening professionally. The kiddo, my favourite sprout, has been exploding with vocabulary and movement . He is like grass growing so fast you can literally see it getting longer before your eyes.

I am a little distracted with the unruly pile of things I need and want to do in a day, anything from grant writing to repairing the broken vent/faucet/toilet/hose/shower rod to making freezer jam because it's strawberry season. We have a non-functional shower but have managed to build a gonzo sandbox in the backyard out of a derelict raised bed. Do I continue to unpack the office or go for a run or make dinner?

Yes, you can say that the tendrils of our life have run a little amuck lately. And yet, somehow it works for us right now. There's a joy to the summer chaos that can only be appreciated after a long, isolating, sickly indoor winter. I kind of like feeling sand underfoot in the living room and sticky ice cream fingers wrapping themselves around my neck. And I think I'll finish writing that grant tonight. I'll make the jam tomorrow. And the office can wait a little longer.


Circling back

We circle back upon ourselves. An ever-widening spiral. Nine months ago, I hadn't let myself think about how much I missed my hometown and family. I couldn't go there because our return was fleeting, just months. I didn't want to have my heart broken at leaving again. Nine months later I learned something else. I really missed the place that had become home to me now: Madison, Wisconsin.
I hadn't understood that love of place is not a mutually exclusive phenomenon. You don't give your heart to one place at the exclusion of any other. It can be strange to feel simultaneous loss and gain. I knew it would be hard to leave Montreal again. But I hadn't expected to feel so much joy and anticipation at our return to this little midwestern town.
The little winged samara feels it too. He walked the perimeter of his new home for the first few days and then seemingly realized this is now his place. At the end of a long day he will walk in the door and audibly sigh. Sometimes lie down on the floor with relief at being back in "his" space.
I wonder if he too will one day come to feel like his heart lies in many different places. And if so, I hope it makes him feel as rich as I do.


The next best thing to being here

Since you're away for your birthday, we thought we'd bring the birthday hootenany to you instead. Happy birthday, Jake!

Love Helen and Milo

P.S. We ate a birthday banana in your honour. Figured the cake can wait for your return.


taking a moment to look around

The sun came out today and I just took a break from work, taxes, miserable illness, cumulative shitty bed achiness and general surliness to glance out the window.

We are thisclose to seeing green leaves outside again!

I feel better already.


Open Arms Midwifery!

Something lovely to write about! I have a wonderful friend Debbie who was doula to us during the birth of Milo. This week, she formally launched her new website and business, Open Arms Midwifery, as a homebirth midwife (who kicks some serious birthing ass, but in a nice way of course). It gives me no end of pleasure to shout out the news to anyone who will listen because she was such a linchpin to J. and I having a great birthing experience. It's almost enough to make me want to go for kid #2, just because I look forward to such funny, wise and competent care again.
Congratulations Debbie!


Ode to the First Day of Spring

We all travel the milky way together, trees and men ... trees are travellers, in the ordinary sense. They make journeys, not very extensive ones, it is true: but our own little comes and goes are only little more than tree-wavings - many of them not so much. - John Muir

flowering magnolia at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum,
Spring 2007


Yay, books!

A little package I've been waiting for arrived in the mail today: two beautiful childrens' books I recently splurged on. Although published, or photographed over 30 years ago, they've got this fresh, vibrant and almost timeless feel to them. Bruno Munari's One Potato Two Potato Three Potato Four is especially exciting because there seems to be a dearth of baby books with photos instead of drawings. And these are lush, beautifully composed black and white photographs to lose yourself in for hours. Alas, both are actual fiber pages and not gnaw-able boardbooks so I'll be spending some together time with Milo when we read these.


behaving like you're on sabbatical...

means that instead of just sitting at your desk and starting your workday, you drop the kiddo off at daycare and go skiing for a couple of hours. Just the two of you. Blowing off some steam. Putting all that snow to good use. Pretending you do this all the time.

The trails were all ours this morning. A lightly falling snow tickled our eyelashes as we alternately slipped and crashed through the snow, putting our backcountry skis to work. At the top of the mountain we stopped to admire the cityscape spread out below us. The skyline has slowly morphed over the decade since we last lived in this city. Subtle changes. The city's silhouette has grown thicker. As ours has, too, I guess. One of those fleeting flashes of how time is slipping by, then I shake it loose, like the dusting of snow on my hat, and crash on back down the trail, excited to be skiing again.


the little winged samara

Yep, the littlest samara is working on his wings.


snow and steel: a tale of winter magic

March had a tantrum today. Rain on sleet on snow, blown around with an angry bluster. Hard to keep one's chin up on these days. Summer seems like a distant, hazy dream and today's meteorological mayhem a cruel nightmare you can't awake from.

So I want to tell a story about a little bit of winter magic that we stumbled upon some weeks ago. I don't mean the rabbit-in-hat, pull-a-quarter-from-your ear kind of magic. But the kind of magic where, if you're able to suspend linear, rational thinking for a little bit, delightful things happen.

It was a mild Sunday afternoon, a little grey, but still snowy enough for a family outing to Mount Royal park. It was truly lovely, the park was filled with people enjoying a winter weekend - skating, sledding, walking. We hadn't been the most motivated gang that day so it was getting on in the afternoon by the time we even got outside. As we frolicked in the snow with Milo, he suddenly stopped and caught the eye of a lone gentleman walking the nearby path. He stared so intently the man literally stopped in his tracks and came toward us. My initial reaction was wary ~ this park is known for its strange characters, sometimes~ but his twinkly eyes and welcoming smile quashed my reservations. And he cooed over our child, which always wins me over. We talked briefly of the joys of children, of photography (we had our camera out) and, with a goodbye to Milo, he started to walk away. He hesitated for a moment, like he had something more he wanted to tell us, then shook his head and started walking again. He stopped again and asked which direction we were headed. We told him and he nodded. Silence. "Have you heard of the secret sculpture in the trees?" I suddenly felt like the air thicken around us and our voices quieted conspiratorially. Legend has it that Armand Vaillancourt, noted Quebec sculptor, had hidden a metal sculpture in the tree canopy of Mount Royal Park. Now this twinkly-eyed stranger, called to us by our one-year-old, was handing us a quest to go find it. He drew us a treasure map in the snow and we embarked on our epic search for the secret statue, hurrying to beat the fading light.

For years, he had walked the park, looking for the statue and had finally come upon it just this morning. I could sense that he was torn between sharing his incredible find and revealing a long-held secret. In fact, he wouldn't tell us where it was for a while, waiting to ensure, I imagine, that his secret fell on receptive ears. And this, you see, is where the magic comes in: Milo drew this man to us, as if he knew the man had a story to tell. And because of this brief, surreal conversation with a man we didn't know, we found ourselves veering off the path into the deep snow of the darkening forest, craning our necks twords the treetops. Milo cooed appreciatively from his sled, oblivious to the wet snowsuit and chilly toes. This was his doing, after all. Bare branches danced against the twilight sky, their silhouettes teasing our imagination. I was seeing sculptures everywhere.

Then I spotted it. Its angular limbs were well camouflaged but once spotted, you wonder how you could ever have missed it in the first place. It was a climber, high above our heads, captured in graceful ascent of a huge maple, his ice axe frozen in a wide arc above his head. I wonder where he was headed, what he was trying to see. I must have walked past this spot over a hundred times since I was a little girl and he was there the whole time, focused on his next move, stealthily making his way up the tree. I almost can't explain the delight this moment brought me. It was like a window into the soul of the city, a perfect melding of man and nature. And it spoke of how our human constructs and the natural world, are inseparable.

Oh, it spoke to me of a lot of things. But there was a louder voice, speaking of hunger, darkness, wet and cold. And so we crashed back out onto the path with the last bit of light and headed for home. Still wrapped in our magic winter quest.



OK, OK, February. You win. You officially kicked our ass this month. My little frugality campaign was no match for the gale force of your ill intent. I surrender.
Now maybe we can pick up whatever remains of us emotionally and physically after the travels, and the funerals and the viruses and hospitals and just quietly limp away to wait for March to come roaring in.

The Buy (almost) Nothing campaign came to a crashing halt the day we bought last-minute tickets to Wisconsin. We went home to bid goodbye to a good friend who lost her battle with breast cancer. We spent a week back home just taking solace in the good community there, reminding ourselves of everything waiting for us when we get back this summer. Sharing some good time with good friends.

Sharing other things, too. Like, oh I don't know, secrets, wine, tenacious viruses. As if flipping us a callous middle finger, February sent me back to Montreal with a feverish baby who proceeded to basically lie on the floor and whimper for an entire week. Not that I really noticed, I was too busy lying in bed whimpering. Jake was trying to keep it all together and my extended family acted as backup reinforcements and general harpies. They made soup and said things like "oh, that doesn't sound good" and bugged us to go "do something" for the kid. Like get antibiotics. You know, so we can treat that virus.

Sigh. So I daresay we might be coming out the other end of this onslaught now. It was brilliant and sunny today and I took a walk with Milo in the backpack in the forest and it felt so rejuvenating. My lungs threw the windows open and shook out their stagnant bed linens. We had a family nap in a sunny corner of the living room afterwards which was beautiful beyond words. And this little bean joined our planet last week, and that made me really happy. I've been excited to meet him for some time.


Day 7, B(a) NM - Oops.

Today put the (a) in B(a)NM. And I was doing so well. Until I slipped. I realized I had so few clothes for Milo in the next size and so I just took a quick look - just a little peek - at Ebay, just to satisfy my curiosity. Well, I gave curiosity an inch and it took a foot. Two auctions, twenty minutes left, the whole ugly scene was over faster than a thursday night sitcom. I feel so dirty, I think I'll go have a cookie (yes, homemade)...


Day 5, B(a)NM

The weekend was a good one, we rekindled some old friendships and Milo even got to see papou and yiayia sing in their choir. Another beautiful walk on Mont-Royal reminded me that I'm not crazy for thinking that some of the most fulfilling things to do are absolutely free. Speaking of spending, the New York Times posted an interesting article today about how Americans are actually starting to cut spending. Even the rich ones. And that has financial analysts clucking like hysterical chickens. Makes this little no-spending project feel relevant...


It's been quiet around here he last couple of days as we try to absorb the fact that we will not see our friend Cindy again. It's just too big, like the milky way galaxy. I can't get my head around it. We are headed back to Madison for the weekend to be there, to laugh, cry and send her on her journey with a great big wave of love from her friends and family.


Goodbye, friend.

Let children walk with nature
Let them see the beautiful blendings
and communities of death and life
their joyous inseparable unity,
as taught in woods and meadows,
plains and mountains,
and streams of our blessed star,
and they will learn that death is stingless indeed
and as beautiful as life. - John Muir


Day 2, B(a)NM

If the snow and ice keep coming, I'm never going to want to leave this house the entire month of February and our challenge will be a cinch. Today, I started my second baby hat knitting project with some delicious baby alpaca wool I scored at this gorgeous wool store. Totally forgot how to cast on so I cast about online and found this useful video that shows you how! Thank you internet (smooch!).


Day 1, B(a)NM: Snow days and rules of the game

Ron and Debbie's back 40, near Malone, NY

Winter 2008 will go down as one of the snowiest in many years. Around here, this is seen as a good thing as we have been able to unpack the skiis from the basement and put them to some use. We are also slowly testing the limits of a one-year-old in cold weather and luckily he seems to be displaying the more hardy northern european constitution of his father then the wimpy mediterranean one of his mum. Me, I would be one of the first to lie down and take a nice nap in the snow on a Mt. Everest expedition becasue it's too cold to keep going.

We've had some great excusrsions out of the city recently. The above photo montage is from a wonderful weekend spent in the company of Jake's old roomates in the Adirondacks near Malone, NY. We were hiking the "back 40" of Ron's incredible forest retreat in frigid -15 celsius weather

The first official day of our campaign to buy almost nothing is underway! J and I talked about this with another friend last night, who, between bouts of uncontrollable laughter at the self-flagellatory nature of this idea, kept quizzing us on the loopholes rules of the game. And so, for the sake of clarity and marital harmony, here they are:

1. The mission and spirit of Buy (almost) Nothing Month is to - obviously - consume less. But it is also about fostering a spirit of self-sufficiency and creativity. While it's highly impractical to avoid buying anything in the middle of winter in an apartment that isn't ours, we need to ask ourselves, with every action that involves our wallet: is it necessary, can we do without, can we do differently?

2. Groceries are OK, takeout sushi is not;

3. In celebration of the self-sufficiency aspect of this effort, purchase of necessary raw materials is OK. So ice-cream is out, but chocolate chips to make our own cookies is in;

4. Work-related expenses are exempt;

5. Transportation costs are a grey area. Bus tickets are good, since they're public transportation. We'll need to do a gut-check on gas for the car, since the car really is a luxury but, let's be reasonable here, we're in the middle of winter in a big city with a little kid;

6. Entertainment counts as consumption. That includes dinners and drinks out on the town, video rentals, concerts, magazines, etc. We can, however, use barter. Like "hey, if we can borrow your video rental for the night, we'll cook you chocolate chip cookies (see rule #3)".

Day 1 has been good so far. Tonight it's dinner at Sophie and Nico's. I'm making caramel pots-de-creme from this amazing recipe. Good thing I have all that muscovado and demerara sugar lying around...


Ahhh...mission accomplished

With a cup of tea and a luscious baked apple by my side last night, I wrapped up a long overdue project: my first attempt at knitting. Milo's hat was a project I started in mid-January.

Of 2007.

As in over 380 days ago.

Doesn't he look dapper?

Thanks Debbie and Elena for feeding a new addiction. I am ready to make a bunch more of these, without all the interim mistakes like dropping stiches and accidentally knitting backwards for a few hours. This new habit will be the perfect companion to take me through this next month, which we have declared another family Buy (almost) Nothing Month around here. Of course, I will run out to buy more wool today before January is officially over and we clamp the chastity belt on the wallets.

I am going to blog my way through our Buy (almost) Nothing Month and try not to complain too much of the things I cannot do. It will be a challenge, but one that is overdue for me. Being back in an urban environment full of beautiful things hanging in window displays has given me an unhealthy case of the "I-wanna"s. So this is my detox. We did it once before and it was really rewarding. Of course, that time it was summer in Madison and there was no child involved.


Feeling a million miles away.

Today I felt grey like the day. Heavy. Cloudy.

Dread knocks the wind out of me every time the phone rings.

A dear friend has ended her chemotherapy and went in to hospice care last weekend. And I am a million miles away and my heart is breaking for her and her family. So I hold my baby extra close. And kiss my husband a lot. And we do the only thing we can do: FedEx her fresh bagels from Montreal, in honour of the trip she had hoped to make to visit us and eat her way through this town. We're mailing a little bit of Montreal to her instead.

Remember, Cindy: they're best lightly toasted with cream cheese and lox. And a pinch of east coast attitude.
Oh, and the chocolates? You don't have to share those.


Discovered this weekend amid a pile of "notes" that I kept from high school:

"Oh give me a home
Where the logarithms roam
And the exponents so happily play.
Where seldom is seen
Log 7 base 15
And the theorems get more confusing each day"

Ready for more? Here's another, sung to the tune of Animotion's "Obsession":

"You are a recession,
you're my recession
What do you want me to say
To prevent Depression Day?"

Don't put me into this torment
Of cyclical unemployment

Because you're such a bore
What don't I start a war?

Yep, in high school, some girls passed notes to their friends about cute boys, and then some passed notes about math and history. Guess which ones got dates.


puppy love.

Uncle Jed and Aunt Sarah: Thanks for all the good Christmas gifts. I really loved the puppy, even though it didn't come with any accessories. Like ripe bananas. Or sweet potatoes.
Love, Milo.

Yeah, birthdays are cool.

Just ask him, he'll tell you.