Friday, 17 May 2013

Missing Umbrellas in a Time of Downpour

Yesterday started off sunny, bright and beautiful. Though still on the "cool" side it was a delight to see that big golden ball in the sky with few white puffy patches to cover it. It was a start to a day that screamed promise, fun, and success.

And when our delighted faces (particularly Luke's) attempted to solicit joy from others regarding these meteorological circumstances, we were a bit taken aback to hear the skepticism from the locals: "It won't last" or "Just wait, it will change".  We shook off the negativity and proceeded to delight in the change of the week's misfortunate weather, and wondered aloud how it could possibly change that drastically. Even a passing shower wouldn't be that bad--not enough at least to change our momentary optimism. Besides, we had actually looked at the weather for the day (a rare occurrence), and the chances of rain were a mere 20% for the afternoon and 5% for all other hours of the day. Plus, May was rumored to be a month of draught. The odds were certainly in our favor.

And then...

We hung our laundry--perhaps in spite of the downcast moods we had confronted. We were not to be deterred from making the most of the sun! Plus, several other neighbors had also hung theirs, and isn't there something about safety in numbers?

Of course it started to rain shortly after this point, but still we would not allow the optimism to be swept under the rug. The laundry would stay! Surely, 20% chance of rain meant that even if there was a shower or two the sun would return to its post in no time.

The ironic twist (which of course there had to be one)? It was the hardest rain in at least a month (a long stretch by British standards) and probably longer. To add to that, it lasted all afternoon and continued into the evening. Torrential downpours. The signs of flooding on some streets. Soaking, soaking, soaking laundry....grrrrrr!

The optimism sunk into despair as if it had been a happy-go-lucky passerby who happens to get hit head-on by a mudslide. Idealism morphed into a bitter and cynical outlook which sputtered phrases such as "This country!!!!" or "Is it too much to ask for a FULL day of sunshine?"

And then it was time to pick up Tyler from preschool, usually a lovely 5 minute walk down the road. Attempting to look at the "rainy day bright side of things" Luke and I thought of how nice it would be to cuddle close together under our enormous umbrella, put on our wellies and splash in the puddles. It could work--we could turn the mood around...yes we would do it!

But the umbrella was nowhere to be found: it was and still is missing. Sunk. Again. Except this time it felt like we were down for the count.

Me: "Missing? What do you mean?"
Luke: "I can't find it. It's not anywhere."
Me: "That's just great. Just. Great. We've lost or broken like a gagillion umbrellas. Perfect."
Luke: "Looks like it's going to be a wet walk."

The huge bubble of hope, which with the sun bore immense possibilities, now with the downpour and the loss of an umbrella...popped. I could have cried.

We did find two tiny umbrellas which at least kept our heads relatively dry. But the drips from the edges were the type that soak your coat, and cuddling was definitely out of the question.

We didn't jump in any puddles on the way there. Instead a gloomy cloud and LOTS of rain huddled over us making us forget there was EVER a glimpse of sunshine in the recent past.

I was very bothered by the missing umbrella, it was just one of those little things that unexpectedly pushed me over the edge. I hadn't quite realized how much I felt like I needed the hope of a sunny day: one that lasted until the evening or at least one that didn't end in terrential downpours. I was tired and perhaps even a bit stressed. And at that particular point, I was also very, very sad.

Not sure why Luke wasn't acting like the missing umbrella was as much of a letdown as it was to me, on the way home I asked him: "Doesn't it bother you that we lost yet another umbrella?"

To which he looked at me and answered: "Yes, it does bother me, but if I think about it then I think it will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I will start a downward spiral and start questioning what's the point of anything."

And then I burst out laughing. Our responses to a missing umbrella were united in thought and yet utterly ridiculous! The thought transgression that went from a misplaced umbrella to questioning the point of anything.

The laughter turned into more laughter. Smiles emerged that refused to be hidden. Tyler caught on, and though he wasn't sure why we were all of a sudden so giddy, he joined in the joyful moment like kids do.

We found a huge puddle in the road on the way back and stood for several minutes cheering the cars that flew through it and made ginormous sprays.

As Tyler rode his scooter home, Luke and I reached out for each other's hand and let the rain pour on them. We jumped in the puddles, and let the laundry soak up the precipitation through the night.

What was the big deal anyways? A little (or a British downpour worth of) rain isn't worth breaking a poor camel's back.

And this morning? Bright, beautiful sunshine followed by continued sunshine in the afternoon. The clothes? Nearly dry!

So take that British weather: it will have to take more than a terrential downpour and a missing umbrella to keep us down. Although we'd prefer if we could call a truce at this point and laugh this off as a minor argument with a beautiful resolution. What do you say?

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

On the eve of having a 4 year old

Birthdays, especially those of our son, force me to stop and reflect on the last year.  As usual, there were ups and downs, moments of glory and moments I would rather forget (and lots that I have forgotten unintentionally), times of weariness and times of invicible hope: but overall it was a year that grew us, made us stronger, and brought our son safely to his 4th year of life.

And so, this past week I've been reminiscing about memories, and I have to admit it has made me awfully nostalgic at times. How does time fly by so fast? Is it really necessary for it to do so?  And if it must rush, then why can't it choose more opportune moments such as a long, boring lecture or when being stuck in an endless traffic jam?

The other day Tyler and I took all the old, broken crayons we have and melted them together to make new "rainbow" crayons.  We had fun finding them around the house, tearing the paper wrappers off, breaking them into small pieces and then arranging them on baking trays.

The first couple of crayons melted together--and since they were dominated by dark colors--turned into black, lumpy and undesirable masses.

(You can see the "black" crayons that resemble a really badly burnt cookie towards the bottom)

The next batch turned out better.  The mix of colors made them fun and unique.  Dark colors were present all over but the bright spots made their presence known, and in fact, because of the dark colors they were even brighter. Isn't the metaphor just shouting to be named?

It's kind of like life... :)

And in the end the memories do mould together, and it is essential for us not to let the darker moments overtake and overshadow the immense beauty waiting to be seen in the overall picture of our lived days.  Time does rush by, we can't stop it or control it.  However, we can choose to allow the memories of our brightest moments to be seen most vividly from among the batch that we hold onto, and learn from those darker patches: recognizing that it is often the contrast that allows us to live more fully, understand more clearly, and ultimately learn to love more deeply.

This is my birthday wish for my son on the eve of his 4th birthday: that he may embrace both the bright and dark colored seasons in his life and see it as a work of art, ever changing, ever learning and ever so beautiful.

A few other (famous) thoughts on the dark and light:

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
― Anne Frank

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
― Plato

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”
― Patrick Overton, The leaning tree: [poems]
*These quotes were found on the website:

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Room on the Broom

As a family we have been particularly in love with books by Julia Donaldson.  We were first introduced to her work through the infamous Gruffalo story, but have since branched out to others including The Gruffalo's Child, The Smartest Giant in Town (the American version of this book is called The Spiffiest Giant in Town), Zog, A Squash and a Squeeze, and Stick Man (for more information on these books check out Donaldson's website:

This past week, however, Tyler has been enamored with Room on a Broom, which follows the story of a generous but unlucky witch who keeps losing items while flying on her broom.  Each thing (her hat, a hairbow, etc) is found by an animal who then politely requests a lift.  Being the kind person that she is she consents and off they fly.  The adventure continues when the broom breaks from all the weight, and lo!  a dragon comes along who is eager to eat "witch and chips" for dinner.  I won't spoil the end, but it is worth a read. Like her other books, this one is filled with rhyming fun and the end finishes with a good message (team work and community!).

Tyler has loved getting into character for all the possible action points on this book with the costume he took out from the Toy Bus (it was part of the "Room on the Broom" set which included the book too).  He was so excited he went dressed up in costume to his preschool class with the book in hand...and even let me take a few pictures!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Apple Day

Today we went on a family bike ride to a cafe nestled in the castle walls.  While we were there we played card games and allowed imaginations to take over.  Luke told a story about grumpy King Jelima and how he wanted to remove the York Minster with a giant crane.  Tyler (also playing the role of Robin Hood) needed to shoot his pretend (nerf) bow and arrow to scare him away.

After winning various escapades such as this (and after enjoying a cup of coffee), we ventured on to St. Nicholas field where we planned to go on a little hike.  However, once we arrived it just so happened that the Nature Centre was holding an "Apple Day" we went!  Activities included: apple taste testing, apple juicing, face/hand painting (of an apple), apple painting crafts, and an apple peeling contest.  Needless to say, we had loads of fun.  It was a perfectly crisp, sunny autumn day, and celebrating this with apple festivities was such a wonderful surprise!

Crafts made using stencils (grapes, banana, carrot) and a halved apple

Fresh squeezed apple juice--quite a nice way to end the day!

Tonight, after stories and songs, Tyler began to process the day's events:

Tyler: "Excuse me, Mommy?"
Me: "Yes?"
Tyler: "What is an apple day?"

Hmmm...good question.  I tried to explain by reviewing the events we did that day and added a short bit on local farmers growing apples and wanting to share them with everyone.

It seemed to satisfy his curiosity until a little while later when he leaned in to me and whispered, "Mommy, can you believe that we went to a real Apple Day? Do you think there will be a Banana Day or an Orange Day or a Grape Day?"

And this question started a thought bubble in his mind that expanded beyond fruit: "Maybe, there could be a Princess Day and then we could get a princess painted on our hand.  Or there could be a People Day and we could get a face painted on our hand. Or how about this one?  We could have a Spiderman Day and we could get (take a wild guess...) Spiderman painted on our hand.  But this one would last forever and ever. Because instead of paint we would use crayons."

It is this type of moment that makes me treasure the minds of little people.  I love hearing them process outloud: the rationales, the brilliant and quirky ideas.  It seems that the simplicity of an event such as the one this afternoon that we were so fortunate to stumble across offers an opportunity to create simple memories.  And yet, it is the simple that so frequently leads to the magnificent and heart warming.

As Tyler lay in the bed asking his sweet questions and coming up with his "day" ideas, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and love for this son of mine. 

So if anyone were to ask me now: is there anything sweeter than apple pie?  I would have to answer "Yes!" though it would be with full acknowledgement that apples can most definitely help pave the way there.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Pressing On

It feels like ages since I've posted a blog (probably because it HAS been ages...)!  I've been thinking quite a bit about the theme of "pressing on" lately, and thought I might apply it to the work on my thesis as well as this blog.

With that in mind (and with the hope that blogging will once again become more of a regular activity), I will start "simply" by sharing this poem I came across and really enjoyed:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don't give up though the pace seems slow--
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit--
It's when things seem worst that you must not quit.

-Author Unknown
(found on

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sleeping Tigers and Grumpy Lions

Tyler needed a vaccination this week, one with a side effect explained to us as "possible attitude fluctuations".  That didn't sound so bad, and who wouldn't "fluctuate" a bit after being poked with a needle?  But, the next day, we realized the nurse had been a bit of a spin doctor.  Attitude fluctuation= BIG mood swing.   It was most evident last night.  Sometimes, while Tyler takes a bath, we play music and sing along.  Creating an atmosphere of fun, laughter and pre-bedtime bonding is the goal.  Last night was no exception and it started well.

But then Tyler requested "The Tiger Sleeps Tonight".

Me: You mean "The Lion Sleeps Tonight?"
Tyler: No, I want to listen to "The Tiger Sleeps Tonight"

My mother instinct kicked in (at least I think it was that--there's a chance it was also the fact that I have never heard of a song about tigers sleeping, but know for a fact there is one about lions sleeping--which we have listened to recently--and tigers are in the same animal family as lions so it is plausible that Tyler really wanted the song I was thinking about) so I dropped the conversation and just said:

Me: Ok, I know what song you mean.  Let's play that one.
Tyler: Ok.  Yes, let's play that one.

So I played the song we have listened to many times before, and he was enjoying it...UNTIL...they sang "the LION sleeps tonight".  His face said it all: they sang the wrong song!

Tyler: No, no, no, no!  It's NOT the LION sleeps tonight.  It's the TIGER!!
Me (thinking to myself): Hmmm...perhaps the attitude fluctuations kicking in?

Tyler: (really grumpy-like) I DON'T WANT THIS SONG!!!  (starts crying)
Me (again, thinking to myself as I'm turning off the music): If this is what they call a fluctuation I don't even want to think about what a swing would be...

I'm not going to lie.  It took extra patience to not start giving a lecture on the topic of: "Really, this is NOT a big deal" and to remind myself that this was the vaccination talking.  And then, memories of times when I've been "fluctuating" started pouring to mind (I would have preferred a drizzle, but there you go).  And compassion replaced frustration.

So instead of a lecture I tried to tell a story.  A story about how when the shot puts the medicines into the body something funny happens.  The body needs to work really hard to make sure the medicine doesn't get lost, in case the body ever needs the medicine one day.  This makes the body a bit extra tired, and when we get tired we sometimes get grumpy.  And when we get grumpy we can sometimes feel like "roaring" like a lion.

Tyler screamed through the entire story.  I'm pretty sure he didn't hear a word of it.  But I think it proved the point of my story.

Eventually, he calmed down (when all the bath water drained and he realized he was getting cold).  Thankfully, the attitude fluctuated back to his happy self, and we read our stories.  As he started to climb into bed he stopped, ran back and gave me a huge hug, a kiss and said "I love you Mommy." 

Mush.  If someone in that moment had come along and told me my son had just been screaming uncontrollably a few minutes prior I would have laughed at them.  And it is in these moments that I fully appreciate the power of love and the gift of a child.  Yes, parenting can be tiring.  Yes, there are moments when I want to join in the screaming and pull my hair out.  Yes, it is hard.   But it is so beautiful.  Children may not know how to do a lot of things yet (i.e. control their emotions, but then, really, it's also an issue for most of us adults...), but they know how to love without holding back.  They hold their hearts out on their sleeves, and receiving that love is the best gift that anyone, and especially this mother, could ask for.

And so I tucked my previous Grumpy Lion into his bed, sang our songs, did our prayers, gave him kisses and said goodnight.  And later that night, when I went in to check on him, I remembered the "song of crisis" from bathtime, and thought perhaps, the point was not whether the sleeping animal was a lion, a tiger or whatever: what mattered was that it was sleeping

Pretending to be Scary (Grumpy) Lions

The fun of paper bags and construction paper! 

Oh yes, Mommy gets a turn (I believe this is what people see when I don't get enough sleep...)

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Sunflower Sword

Tyler and Luke recently took out a new book from the library called The Sunflower Sword, and we have all fallen in love with it.  At the moment, we read it before bed at night and sometimes multiple times a day.  It is the story of a boy who wants to be a knight, but his mother will not let him have a sword.  Instead she gives him a sunflower, which he moans about a bit but then finds that it "whooshes and swooshes" nicely.  He has fun with this sunflower sword and pretends to slay all the dragons with it. 

But then...a real dragon turns up!  He whooshes and swooshes as fiercely as he can as the dragon breathes fire and creates all sorts of smoke.  Until...the dragon thinks that the flower is for her! 

It turns out the dragon is not so mean after all and they become dear friends.  Then (and this is the best part) ALL the knights in the land hear about this and learn that an enemy can become a friend.  So, they all come to the same spot and give up their swords to become friends with the dragons.

A beautiful story!

So Tyler and I were struck with a moment of creativity early Sunday morning and decided to make a flower sword (it would have been a sunflower except for the simple fact that we are currently out of yellow construction paper) and find him a "knight's" (colander--same as the boy in the book) hat.  He whooshed and swooshed with all his might too, and I honestly can say I totally see how the dragon could think the flower was for her. 

Below are some of the pictures from the morning's venture in making the book "alive" in our home.  I absolutely am loving this make believe playing stage.  Such fun!