these ordinary moments: birthday cake

“Because being a homemaker isn’t about being extraordinary.  It’s about seeing the ordinary in a conscious way.  A way that leads to gratitude, joy and understanding.  A way that allows me to create an environment in which my family can become more human everyday.  If you are moved, I invite you to share your ordinary things by replying below or leaving a link.”

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Confession: kids in the kitchen, not one of my favorite parenting jobs.

I love the idea of kids learning about process and transformation, and I know that involving them in growing and preparing their own food ensures healthier eating habits, but the reality of kids in the kitchen makes me cringe.

Part of my hesitancy is our 8′ x 10′ galley kitchen which contains about six square feet of counter space, none of which ever seems to be clear.  Navigating the space by myself is enough of a challenge.  But it’s more than that. What I love about cooking is the weaving together of precision and attention and intuition.  The exact moment the muffin batter goes from just right to over mixed.  Or the stir fry crosses from crisp tender to mush.  The difference between 1/2 and 3/4 of  a teaspoon of vanilla.  Just enough whey, butter and salt in a pot of soaked grains.  It’s not the flour on the floor or the egg shells in the bowl that send me inwardly reeling,  it’s those little sticky hands fumbling about right in the middle of the flow of a sacred exchange between me and food.  An exchange I want my children to know, but struggle to teach to them when what I really want is to snatch the spoon out of their hands and fold in salt and oil myself.

Naturally, two of my children always want to help in the kitchen, so they’ve gifted me a great opportunity to be conscious of why it is hard for me.  I felt guilty about it for a long time.  Now instead, I set aside items that they are always invited to help with and know that it will be a different experience and that’s okay.  One of those items is birthday cake.

We’ve never made a hubbub out of half birthdays, so I was surprised on Thursday when I told Opal she was officially four and a half and her reply was “I get to help make the cake!  I want chocolate with chocolate frosting!”  In her mind it was a matter of course.  In my mind, I was preparing for a weekend cold weather camping trip and really didn’t want to think about cake and sugar highs.  But I try to say “yes” whenever I can, so I took a deep breath.  “When we get back from our camping trip we’ll make a cake.”

On Sunday afternoon we set to work baking.  And knocking the rice cooker off the never clear counter, sending it crashing to the floor.  And falling off the kitchen stool with a full 1/2 gallon glass jar of milk in hand.  And asking a dozen times if it was time to lick the spoon.  Or the bowl?  Or the beater?  And prematurely turning the mixer on high, sending flour to corners of the kitchen that will probably never be cleaned.  And sneaking back into the kitchen to suck frosting straight out of the pastry bag.  Yes, straight out of the bag.

I managed to keep my cool.  Mostly.  And she managed to be one proud four and a half year old when we put that cake out on the table.  “Doesn’t it look so good, guys?  I got to help make it.”        

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like a weed

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When we walk down the halls of school this fall we hear a lot about Opal.  “She’s so big!” and “She looks so grown up.   Like a kindergartner.”

It’s true.  At nearly four and a half, Opal seems to have left her toddlerhood somewhere in Atlantic Canada.  She’s running with the big kids and couldn’t be happier.  We’re proud of her everyday.

I’m about a “birthday sweater” behind nowadays.  Meaning I took her to pick out this yarn on her birthday and finished it just in time for Lucien to turn six.  It’s a Cascade superwash I’m fairly certain, but I cannot seem to find the tags anywhere in the detritus of our house. Nor can I find anything on their website that quite fits the bill.  Now that I think of it, I may have steered Opal away from Cascade after poor results with Lucien’s last birthday sweater: it’s filled with snags and pulls to the point of being unwearable.   Such a disappointment after all that work and love on my part and anticipation and love on his.  I have only begun to dabble in superwash yarns, for which I have long had a bias against.  (The more processed a fiber is, the less of its natural health bringing properties it retains.)  The practical challenge of handwashing for a family of five has been the push I needed to search out some high quality yarns that I could thrown in the washing machine.  If you have any favorites, please do share!

The pattern (also picked out by Opal insisted on a dress) is Little Miss Jane.  I added some around the arm holes because I was convinced they were going to be too tight.  Of course they ended up too loose!  Ah well, room to grow, which we all deserve a little more of. Last touch was those daisy buttons.  She always loves a pop of something fancy to catch the eye.  These were our compromise.

Next up for a birthday sweater is Lucien, who turned six last month.  He’s requested yarn that “looks like fish skin” and has already chosen a set of tractor buttons (I’m learning to let go!)  Fish skin that can go in the washing machine and tractor buttons. Guess I had better get on that.

just the two of us

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When I talk with other mamas about Opal starting preschool, they often comment on how nice it must be to have a little more time to myself.  I look forward to that someday, but it’s not quite here yet.  Instead, as each kiddo goes off to school on different days, circumstance has given us the gift of one on one time.  Every week I spend one morning with each of them, just the two of us.

Mattheus usually has a grand outing or project planned, which I say yes to when I can.  But in the in between moments–in the car, when I’m doing housework–he speaks little, or quietly to himself.  I know he’s thankful for the solitude–for a morning free of all those siblings.

Lucien thinks Mattheus’s outings will surely be wonderful, but he tires easily and quickly remembers he’s more suited to projects at home with Mama.  Our mornings together are uniquely special.  Birth order has never quite allowed us this space, and our shared joy is clear.  The kitchen is his favorite creative place, so I try to reserve some of our Monday baking for Thursdays with him.

Opal is thrilled about school and her new friends.  Often she wanders around the house whispering lists of their names over and over again.  So, she can’t quite figure out why the boys are so excited about getting to stay home with Mama by themselves.  (“Papa, today I am staying home with Mama, like Opal does!”)  She’d much rather be at school where all of the action is.  But then there’s a trip to the coffee shop for hot chocolate, and Mama actually playing at the park instead of sitting on the bench with knitting needles in hand while everyone else plays.  It might not be so boring after all.

Next Fall Mattheus will meet the teacher and classmates he will spend the next eight years with, formally marking the end of his early childhood.  And with this shift, some part of our entire family moves on and out into the world.  No longer will life be all that is home, with a bit of school, a bit of friends, a bit of family added at the last minute for garnish.  But before that, these last few months of one on one days, to pause and be grateful all the quiet chaos and humbling joy of the last six years.  I’ll take it.

off she goes

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Nearly every morning last fall, Opal would fall in step with her brothers as they prepared for school, only to be shocked into tears as they drove away without her.  After all, these three kiddos are a tightly knit pack.

Slowly, she got used to the routine of waving goodbye to them as they went on their way.  But the sense of inequity never quite left her.  We would bustled around the house getting ready for church, or hikes in the foothills–outings planned for the entire family–and she would look up at us, steeling herself for disappointment and ask, “Do I get to go?”  “Yes, Opal.  You are coming, or course.”  Then she would raise across the house to another family member and exclaim, “I’m going to school too!”  “To church, Opal.  We’re going to church.”  “Oh.  I’m going to church too!”

Well here we are, a few short-long months later and Opal is finally off to kindergarten a couple of mornings a week.

It’s a moment that stirs up the first days of her life.  The first wobbly steps.  First attempts at language.  I find myself wanting to go back in time, hold them each in my arms for just a few moments.  Their new and fresh from heaven selves, who have passed into memory and become little people with successes and attempts, failures and mendings.

But this is the selfish part of me.  Joyfully watching them from afar, the rest of me understands a little better what it is to be human–the interweaving of given and created, archetype and individual, connecting and separating.  And it all starts with those few words, “I’m going to school too!”