Today has been circled on the calendar for a while. We, here at Bishop Family Bees, have been busy planning and arranging and constructing and we were finally ready to actually set up our hives so they will be ready to go when the bees arrive in a couple of weeks. It turned out to be a pretty chilly day to be working outside. But there was so much promise in the air and in the soil. The trees are budding and spring is upon us, slowly and tentatively, but upon us nonetheless. We are going away next week and I feel a bit sad that we will miss my favourite week of the year – the week when my garden bursts into bloom and colour is everywhere. That first week of May is always so wonderful, with the magnolias and tulips and redbuds and hyacinths all competing for my attention. I will be sure to take before and after photos just to show you what a difference a week can make when spring finally comes to town. In the meantime, my hives lent enough colour to the occasion today. They are something else.
Each hive has a bottom board which is the base of the hive and the main entrance for the bees. They often gather on the front step, so to speak, and use the space as a take-off and landing zone. The bottom board has a wire mesh on it which prevents any mites in the hive from crawling back up after they fall down through. And there is a white removable board which allows me to check and see just how many mites each hive is battling at any given time. It’s a simple, mechanical way to fight mites and allows me to avoid treating with chemicals if at all possible. We’re going with a five-box system with our new hives, so the bottom three boxes will be for brood and the bees’ honey stores, and the top two boxes will collect the extra honey they provide for us. Bees will fill whatever space you give them, so when late summer comes, we will begin to remove full frames of honeycomb from those top two boxes. They will already have stored plenty of honey for themselves for the winter. And then on top we have a hive-top that has been specially constructed with an extra layer of insulation. We are already talking about other insulation we will add this fall, to give our hives the best possible chance for surviving the cold winter. We aren’t worried that the hives will ever get too hot in the summer, but too cold in the winter is a definite concern. Summer will be here before we know it and I will forget that I was ever worried about them being too cold when I see lines of bees out on the front step, flapping their wings to provide ventilation in the hive!
So, today was moving day, part one. Dad brought his pickup truck and his trailer so we could lug all our hive boxes out to the countryside and avoid having to do that step when the bees arrive. Our first stop was out near Princeton, where Milt and Elaine have the most beautiful little country property. It is really quite magical. And tricky. A creek runs right across the property which will mean lovely cool water for our bees. But it also represents an obstacle when it comes to harvesting honey. For now, we were able to take the truck over the neighbour’s field to get to the lovely spot where the hives will be nestled under the apple trees. Once the crop is in, we will be relying on Milt’s ATV and a few boards to transport boxes of honey across the creek. That is going to make for some great stories, I’m quite sure! Milt is going to be a first-time beekeeper this season so we are going to enjoy working together and learning from each other as we raise our bees together.
After we had unloaded and set up at the Tulley property, we headed in a south-easterly direction to Devon Acres Organic Farm where we found Robin and his son, Aaron, clearing out some brush and erecting a fence for our bee yard. Our bees will join their bees in a spot on a hill between the cows and chickens and ducks. We had great fun arranging our bee boxes in a pattern, although I think I would prefer a random pattern after all. I have one more opportunity to change that all up, when we bring the bees over in a couple of weeks.
And then after the requisite lunch at Swiss Chalet, we headed over to St George where Ron and Nancy Book have graciously offered to host half of our bees, smack dab in the middle of their amazing property. Those hives look so lovely, all nestled in under the trees along a stony hill beside the barn. Nancy is already talking about photographing the bees and I can imagine that I will become obsessed with taking pictures of those particular hives, especially in the late afternoon sun. They were striking on a cold and cloudy day. I can only imagine how charming they will appear in the months to come. We took a few selfies and our day’s work was done!
And what was Henry up to all this time?!? Well, Henry occupied himself at all three places, by stomping around pretending he was a T-Rex. Nana kept a good watch on him while he explored. (Henry is always a full-time job for one of us on a work day.) Henry romped about, chasing cats and chickens, collecting stones (“dinosaur bones”) and rolling around in a pile of burnt debris for a while. He was filthy, tired, and happy when we finally called it a day. He wasn't the only one. I too am thoroughly enjoying getting my hands dirty and doing some lifting for a living. It felt great to be out in the fresh air with my rubber boots and work gloves on, engaged in yet another project with my dad. Filthy, tired, and happy is a good way to end any day, I would say.
This morning, Henry and I had a 9 am date with Robin Kirby at Devon Acres Organic Farm. The farm is located along the Grand River, just outside of Brantford. Friends had recommended that I contact the folks at Devon Acres when I put the call out for places to house my new beehives. An organic farm is a match made in heaven for us, as the bees help out with pollinating their crops while they provide a safe and delicious home for the bees. So very symbiotic. Everyone warned me that I would love Robin Kirby and his organic farm. I knew it would be a wonderful partnership before I ever set eyes on Devon Acres, but this afternoon I can't stop smiling because I am so smitten!
We had a wonderful morning on the farm. We weren't there for five minutes before Henry had put himself to work, helping to stack the boards that had been used to protect the carrot seeds while they germinated in shallow soil (see all the things I am learning?!). I told Robin, and his son Aaron, that they should have a daycare for people like me who would love to see their preschoolers outside, working on a farm, every day! While I chatted with Robin, Henry ran wild with his grandsons who also live on the farm. They chased the kitty, climbed wood piles, watched the workhorses ploughing the field and inspected the chickens. Those children are living the dream - a true "wildhood".
Robin is a delightful and interesting man, who knows a lot about a lot. He has had bees on his farm on and off over the years, and is happy to house some hives once again. We walked a bit of the property, discussing where might be the best place for the new hives. We landed on the area where he has an old hive still nestled in the long grass. It is a lovely spot, under a tree, on the hill, between the cattle and sheep and the chickens and ducks. Our bees will have a wonderful view. And there is an awesome old Mini sinking into the soil right beside our soon-to-be bee yard, just to make it extra cool. Dad and I will plan to bring the new hives out next week, to get them set up on their pallets in the sun. They will be all ready for the bees when we arrive to pop the nucs into the hives on May 12th.
Devon Acres Organic Farm is just a beautiful little family farm that has been doing things the right way for a long time. They are one of the oldest CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) farms in Ontario. This will be their 23rd year of providing CSA for the community! I, of course, came with chequebook in hand so that I could sign us up for the CSA this year. More and more, we are trying to know where our food comes from. We are also seeking to support local farmers in the same way that people choose to support us as local beekeepers. I can't wait to make the weekly trip out to the farm to check on my bees and to pick up our family's share of vegetables that have been pollinated by our bees and harvested by our friends.
You can find out more about Devon Acres Organic Farm here at their website. Or follow them on facebook, for a regular dose of fun farm photos!
Oh mercy, how did life get so busy?! I like to say that I am ‘well occupied’ rather than ‘busy’ because I really don’t want to be part of the cult of busyness, where people wear their frantic pace of life like a badge of honour. I relish slow times, even if my brain is always whirring away at a million miles an hour, but I also love a day that is filled with meaningful work.
This month, things are BUSY for me. Busy as a bee, that’s me. And it occurs to me that all the projects that I have on the go start with the letter ‘B’ which is just bizarre. Here is a list of the ongoing passions I am currently pursuing, some which are long-term projects and others which represent a season of busyness just right now.
There you have it! Eight B’s that consume my time these days. And now that the weather is warming up, I will soon be desperate to get into my garden. I am thankful for the sandbox and a child who loves to play on his own in the dirt. That means that I will get to have my fun in the dirt as well. The garden is still pretty dormant, but there are signs of life slowly popping up. And there are more bees back there this week than I have ever seen in our yard. I keep finding Henry squatting in amongst those early flowers, intrigued by the honey bees who are gathering whatever nectar and pollen they can find right now. By mid-May, our own bees will be hard at work doing the same things. But for now, we focus on all the other things that need to happen before then. It's go-time!!!
It’s maple syrup season in Ontario, which means that the sap is flowing and the festivals are flourishing. We’ve hit a few different maple syrup events this year, and I have to say that they didn’t really light my fire, so to speak. You see, I’m from Elmira. Maple Syrup is what we do. It’s in our blood. The Sapfest, as we affectionately call it, is part of my self-declared ethnic identity. Ours is the world’s largest maple syrup festival and it is a big deal. The first year it ran, in 1965, they planned for a thousand or so and some 10,000 people showed up. Since then, it’s been circled on the calendar for locals and for tourists, who come from near and far to partake in the festivities. There are usually around 70,000 people who descend upon our small town for that one-day event each spring. And the day typically features freezing cold temperatures and sideways precipitation. And still the people come. It’s hard to feel too cold in a crowd like that!
I love everything about Sapfest. When I was young, I used to “work” at the festival with my best friend, Kerri Selby. I say “work” because we helped out at her family’s booth, selling summer sausage and pepperettes, but every hour or so her dad would give us a few dollars and send us out to get some snacks and have some fun. When I think about Sapfest, I think about the Selbys and I can almost smell the summer sausage. And all the other amazing delicacies....
Later, when I was a teenager, my dad sat on the planning committee for the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. And that meant that I had a new job. He and I would be up in the wee hours of the morning to get the barricades set up. We would drive around town and erect the barricades that closed off the many different roads so that the festival could indeed take over the town. That was our thing – that early morning setup. I smile when I see those barricades now, and I wonder if there is another girl getting up early to share that job with her dad, before grabbing some hot apple cider as the crowds start to trickle into town.
When I was a young teacher, working at my hometown high school for the first year of what would be many, many years, I rented an apartment above the wallpaper store in booming downtown Elmira. It proved to be the perfect venue for that first Saturday in April when my front door would now open up onto the greatness that is the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. The noise started early, too early, as vendors began to set up around 4am in the morning. My people arrived fairly early too (to beat the traffic) and soon my apartment was filled with friends and friends of friends. We spent the day going up and down the stairs, picking up various types of meat on various types of bread (there are many options at Sapfest) and other delicacies like apple fritters, fudge and cinnamon buns. We also spent far too much time hanging out the windows as we heckled those we knew down on the street below. It was a fantastic way to do Sapfest.
The next year, I picked up and moved to Kenya. As April drew near, I lamented that I was going to miss my beloved “maple syrupal festival”. My wonderful roommates surprised me with pancakes and real maple syrup on that first Saturday in April, and the weather, for once, was glorious. You can, apparently, get real Ontario maple syrup at Nakumatt grocery store in Nairobi. I definitely can’t find my favourite Kenyan treats here in Ontario, so Kenya wins the prize for most cosmopolitan, that’s for sure! It certainly was a very different way to celebrate Sapfest that year, but it meant something to celebrate, no matter where I was. As I said before, it’s my ethnic identity. I am as whitebread Canadian as they come and I grab on to whatever sort of tradition I can find!
When Russ came into my life, so did his girls, and I brought them all to the Maple Syrup Festival. It was so fun to experience it from the kids’ perspectives. There were activities and attractions that I had not experienced before, like the dog show and the rides. And when Henry came along, I had new sympathy for the parents out there who had been ramming my ankles with their strollers for decades’ worth of Sapfests. I don’t get to linger over craft tables anymore, and I can’t manage the really long lines for the really good treats anymore, but I sure do love taking my family to Sapfest and carrying on the tradition. I love running into people that I haven’t seen in years and years, and we block the flow of traffic as we introduce our families and reconnect before moving on. And two decades’ worth of students still smile and say “Hi Miss Raymer” as they shuffle past, many with families of their own now. The Maple Syrup Festival is like homecoming for Elmira and for me.
This year, we had the privilege of taking in the syrup festival with our new friends from Colombia – refugees who have just recently settled in our community. My parents like to include me in their get-togethers because I am the only one around who speaks Spanish. David and Juliana and their kids are absolutely delightful and a joy to show around. I’m sure the Sapfest was a bit overwhelming for them. I can imagine how I would feel if you threw me into a similar chaotic scenario in another culture. But they were armed with maps showing the way home to my parents’ place, and they all practiced saying “Can you help me please? I am lost.” before we headed out. Moving through the festival as a large group was a bit like herding cats, but we still managed to hit all the big attractions and some ones I hadn’t done before. David and his son, Julian, did the log-sawing and were the proud makers of a disk of wood with a maple leaf branded into its surface. The significance of the maple leaf as representing both the festival and their new country was profound for them and they were thrilled to have such a souvenir of their bitterly cold day at the Sapfest.
So, I will continue to try out other maple syrup festivals, but you can see that they are never really going to compare to Elmira’s for me. I have too much invested in Sapfest to let go and let another take its place. But since you can never have too much maple syrup and too much festival, we will keep on including other festivals in our early spring outings. We can embrace the new even while cherishing the old. Rest assured though, that you will always find me in Elmira on the first Saturday in April, no matter how predictably terrible the weather is. You don’t let a little bit of weather keep you from coming home where you belong. This post was going to be a quick top ten list of things I love about the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival, but I then realized that it meant so much more to me. Greater than the sum of its many wonderful parts, the Sapfest is really just a celebration of home for me.
Ok. Once again I had a plan for today. Henry is at my mom’s and I was going to get caught up on my coursework. But then I got distracted. I got distracted BY THE BEST RASPBERRY WHITE CHOCOLATE SCONE I HAVE EVER TASTED IN MY LIFE.
So, here I am, all settled in with my laptop at Seven Shores Urban Market and Café on Regina Street in Uptown Waterloo. I should be all business, working away at my website and marketing plans, but instead, I am blogging about the little treat that just made my day. The sun is shining, I am toddler-free, and that scone was the crowning glory. (I am trying to ignore the ridiculous build-up of snow and the bitter temperatures that mock those of us who had hopes that April actually meant spring).
You need to come to Seven Shores and experience the gastronomic joy I am experiencing. I really want that for you! I often hear people raving about the treats here, so it didn’t come as any sort of surprise. But seriously. You can’t improve on this scone. Although, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to have another one, just to be sure.
Let me tell you a little bit about Seven Shores. Full disclosure: I have a small but lovely interest in this café. Last year I read an article about the café and its new owners – a group of regulars who wanted to keep it open and continue to nurture the sense of community it had inspired in the neighbourhood. In the interest of really becoming a communal project, they made shares available for purchase so that it could be a truly community-owned endeavor. Now you have to know by now how much I loved that whole concept. And so we bought a share. We don’t even live in the neighbourhood. We don’t even live in the city. But we wanted our kids to know what it was to be a part of something like this, and eventually we will figure out how to become more involved and really make it our go-to café. For now, it’s my little secret getaway when I am in the city on business and can spare some time to just sit and smile and savour the loveliness of this place.
Here are just a few things I love about Seven Shores Urban Market and Café (in no particular order):
According to their website, Seven Shores is a simple, ethical and relational business at the heart of the local food scene. They are intentional about enriching lives and making a difference. How could I not want to be a part of something this special? I hope you get a chance to check them out and see for yourself what it means to support a local business where people really do matter above profits. Sit back and watch for a while. Savour the difference. And try a scone or three. You won’t regret it.
You can check them out in person at the corner of Regina and Dupont in Uptown Waterloo, or you can find them online at www.sevenshores.ca, on facebook, twitter, and instagram. People are always posting pictures of their snacks, so you'd might as well participate. Join the community of people who call this their cafe!
This morning I put on an old Elton John record so Henry could hear Rocket Man, since he was stomping around in his spaceship boots and I thought he might appreciate it. He did not. In true toddler fashion, he had a bit of a fit and insisted that I change the record and put on “the best one”. He’s entitled to his opinion and I am happy to oblige him and put on music he will appreciate, but it is difficult when all he can say to identify his choice is that it is “the best one”. Since yesterday was a very bad day on the Mama And Henry Getting Along Scale, I took a deep breath and sat down with him to go through the records to find which one he really wanted to listen to today. It didn’t take long before he triumphantly shouted “the best one” and I had to smile. Bob Marley’s Legend. Of course. It is the best one. That boy has great taste. It is so sweet to hear him singing “One Wuv” to himself as he plays with his trucks or drags a stick around the backyard. We spend a good chunk of each day listening to records and marching the circle from kitchen to dining room to living room and around again – all while stomping our feet and playing our various percussion instruments. The second act occurs after Daddy gets home and Henry is ready to march and sing again with a new partner.
I bought this record player for Russ when he turned 45. Because 45’s – get it? He had milk crates full of records in the basement and nothing on which to play them. It’s the faux antique kind of record player that you can now pick up for a song at any department store. What’s old is new again, right? He thinks it’s the best gift I’ve ever given him. That record player brought the records out of the basement and brought us all together around the dining room table or on the front porch where we would sit and chat and listen to Louis Armstrong or the Beatles or Pink Floyd or Paul Simon. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you sat around as a family and listened to music on the record player?! When was the last time your teenager selected Oscar Peterson to play during dinner? It has been a lovely addition to our home and our life together.
Now, Russ and I have very different tastes in music. Very different. It’s all nostalgia albums for both of us, but I am more about 80s pop (INXS anyone?) or folk music (Cat Stevens) and he, since he’s quite old, prefers the rock albums of the 60s and 70s. Jimi Hendrix is not, in my opinion, dinner music, but I know he puts that on and blares it for Henry when I am not home. He has all the great rock albums, as well as a nice collection of classical and jazz records. And every Rush album imaginable. By my estimation, there are approximately 23 women in the world who like Rush, and I am not one of them. But every so often, the albums come out and it makes him happy so I go with it.
Rachel has a record player now and Russ delights in introducing her to the albums he loved when he was her age. They both love Led Zeppelin, so it’s wonderful that they can share that. I love that I can browse in an antique mall without worrying that Russ is bored, because there are always old records that he can peruse. We love discovering old albums at thrift stores and garage sales. It’s a very random collection that we continue to curate. It represents the soundtrack of both our separate past lives and our joined life in the here and now. Someday, I hope, Henry will collect albums because he remembers them as the soundtrack of his childhood. And he will introduce “the best one” to his child and they will sing and dance and march together as the record spins around again.
What about you? What are the albums that represent the soundtrack of your life? I'd love to hear about them!!! Leave a comment below and join the discussion!
I have never seen one of my bees in our backyard. People often ask me how I can have two beehives on our porch and not worry about the kids being stung while they are at play in the yard. And I always repeat that I have never seen even one of my bees in our backyard. We have bumblebees and wasps and yellow jackets, but never do I see my honeybees buzzing about my garden.
This week, on one of the warmer days, Henry and I crouched to watch a couple of honeybees gathering nectar from the few tiny blue flowers at the back end of my garden. They were beautiful to watch, but they were not my honeybees. Before you think I have extraordinary bee-identifying skills, let me explain. I know they weren’t my sweet girls because all my honeybees died two weeks ago. It’s taken me this long to be ready to share that news with you. I could never farm something I would have to kill. I just don’t have it in me. The loss of these hives has just been so sad because I feel responsible. Last night I had the opportunity to share about my adventures in apiculture at the Paris Lectures here in town, but I really wasn't ready to share the sad parts with a room full of people curious to hear about the wonderful world of beekeeping. So I kept it positive and upbeat even though I am feeling a bit disheartened about it all. Let me tell you what I think happened....
The girls came out of their hives very early this spring. Those ridiculously warm days in February got them up and out. They were very, very busy with their spring cleaning. They dragged out their dead and cleaned up the hive. The queen got busy laying. Foragers went off in search of food. They were all very gung ho, because it seemed that spring had arrived. I was thrilled to see that they had survived the winter. With most beekeepers reporting winter losses of 35-38% of hives these days, having both hives survive was a major victory for this amateur apiculturist.
Then at the beekeepers’ meeting we attended recently, the one speaker casually reminded everyone to feed their bees because ‘this is the time of year when they starve to death’ due to early spring temperatures. My heart sank and I looked at my dad. I hadn’t seen the bees buzzing around the hive in several days. I knew we had left them plenty of honey to last the winter, hadn’t we?
The next morning Henry and I took a drive to Burgessville to pick up some pollen patties from the beekeepers supply store there. Once home again, I rushed upstairs, geared up, fired up the smoker, opened up the hives and – nothing. No movement at all. And no honey at all. Just two hives filled with dead bees who had eaten everything they had stored and couldn’t find any more food outside with which to replenish their stores and their stomachs. Spring temperatures came too early and spring flowers and nectar did not.
So, I did the sad work of cleaning out the hives with the shop vac. For once, I took the hood off my beekeeper’s suit and worked without gloves because I didn’t need protection. No one was going to sting me. The smoker slowly burned itself out. I sucked the bees from the hives while taking care to preserve the beautifully drawn comb so that the next tenants will be able to hit the ground running, able to fill honeycomb instead of having to build it. The next bees will also be spared the task of dragging out the dead and cleaning out the hive. I know they can do it, and would do it within a few days, but again, I’d like to spare them the task and let them get down to work doing what they do best – gathering the ingredients for their amazing honey. For now, everything is clean and tidy and a bit like a ghost-town up on the porch. Out of habit I keep looking out our bedroom window to see what my girls are up to, but there’s nothing going on.
We will have to wait until May to put new nucs into the old hives. A nucleus is a four-frame mini-hive that you purchase. It has a queen and a small entourage and someone else has taken the time to nurture them to that point. They cost between $150 and $200, so it’s no small thing to lose your hives and have to replace them with new colonies. I had already ordered twenty new hives for our grand expansion, so I added another two nucs to the order. Next year, we will have enough hives that we will be able to split our own colonies to replace any hives that don’t survive the winter. And next year, we will know to feed those girls when they first come out into the spring sunshine. Another lesson learned.
Oh my goodness! So much has been going on and I feel like it’s time to catch you all up!
First and most important: my dad’s health is fine. The biopsy was negative for cancer and while he has to deal with continued annoying pain, the scare is over. I am trying to talk him into acupuncture, but so far no luck. My parents came home from years in Hong Kong having picked up many Chinese customs, but I guess acupuncture is not one of them. We’ll keep looking for ways to solve his throat pain, but at least we don’t have to battle cancer, so we are grateful. At seventy, my parents are so grateful for their health and really do live wonderfully active and juicy lives while they can. They are ridiculously busy and so very fun!
And now, about that house that we looked at – the one that checked off all our boxes but didn’t really speak to us? It was a fantastic house and property but Russ did not like that it was situated on the edge of a corn field, insufficiently nestled. Well. Two weeks after we viewed that house, enormous billboards went up all around it. That house will soon be nestled within Paris’ newest subdivision. Being engulfed by a sea of new houses would be, for Russ, the only thing worse than a corn field! It can hardly be considered a home in the country when you are surrounded by suburbia. We definitely dodged that bullet. Whew! And so the search continues....
On the bee front, I was overwhelmed by the wonderful response from the community after I put the word out that I was in search of homes for beehives. I can’t believe the kind offers I received! So we poured over google earth images and traced water sources and looked for orchards and green space and landed on some choice spots. There are three properties, in three directions out of Paris, which will house a total of twenty hives for us later this spring. I’m told that beekeepers don’t like to let other beekeepers know where they place their bee yards. Beekeepers are a strange lot, indeed! Russ and Dad and I went to a beekeepers’ meeting a couple of weeks ago and laughed aloud several times during the evening. There were some real characters – an eccentric group for sure. I think you could have a reality show starring some of those folks and it would have a great following. It was pure entertainment! At one point, I turned to dad and whispered “Are we just like them? And I just never noticed?” Maybe not us. But Russ would fit in just fine!!! And he, a spectator up to this point, is going to join us in the apicultural activities this season, having received his very own XLT beesuit for Christmas. Bishop Family Bees is about to get very busy! I’ll share more in the coming weeks as we leap into action.
I’ve also been taking an online business course and it is amazing. I have had so many aha moments when I previously thought I had this online business thing figured out. It feels so good to learn new things and connect with a community of people who are also building a new business online. I am feeling so challenged and encouraged! Colette and I are working to revamp our website and business to include other fair trade gifts beyond just the awesome chocolate we have featured so far. So many gorgeous products are finding their way to me…. I can’t wait to introduce them to you!
On the Airbnb front, we have had many lovely guests stay with us in our home at William and Willow. I love hosting people in our home, and Russ makes an amazing breakfast. We are a pretty good team! We’ve hosted a few people who are here to scope out the town because they think, that out of all the towns in Ontario, they’d like to settle here. I guess the secret is out – it is a wonderful little town. Of course, it won’t be a little town for long if everyone keeps moving here, but I understand the draw. I didn’t intentionally choose to live here, but you’d have a hard time getting me to leave at this point. There is something very special about our little Paris. And the new cheese commercial proves it!!!
There’s much more to tell you, but since this is already reading like a Christmas letter, I’ll end here. We’ve got a house full of family and friends here this weekend. There will be plenty of time later in the week for us to finish catching up. Thanks for following along on the journey!
It’s March Break. In my past life, that generally involved sun, surf and sand. And a good book. And a piña colada. But this year, I am spending March Break in Paris. (The close one, not the fancy one). But really, if no one had told me, I wouldn’t even know that it’s March Break. And yet, now that I know, I feel like we are supposed to be making meaningful memories for our child. The pressure is on. We can’t settle for Paw Patrol and puddles. It’s March Break, after all.
There isn’t really a lot going on this week. The girls have orthodontist appointments. We have Airbnb guests staying with us. Russ is teaching because it's not March Break at the university. Yoga was cancelled, Nana is sick and any of our normal play structure haunts are over-run with big kids. And the weather, so magically delicious last week, has turned decidedly English on us. We have London’s weather, in Paris. On gray days such as these, one of my favourite escapes has always been to the greenhouse. They are wonderful places to run to when everything outside is dead and colourless. Any greenhouse will typically do, but today we went to our favourite - Walter’s.
I love Walter’s. Henry loves Walter’s. Who wouldn’t love Walter’s? Right now, the air there is fresh with the scent of hyacinths and dirt. There is colour everywhere and plenty of space to run. One of us welcomed everyone who came in with a loud “HELLO! I’M HAVING FUN!!!!” That very same little person also selected a bright yellow rake and marched it around the entire store, telling all passersby that it was a shovel. Only one very serious gentleman corrected him sternly, saying “It’s a rake, young man. NOT a shovel.” We pushed a cart all over the place, careening past succulents and topiaries. Henry made his first and last impulsive grab at a cactus (lesson learned). We oohed and ahhed over the teeny, tiny little tidbits that go into a miniature faerie garden. And then we got to do one of the garden crafts that they are featuring at Walter’s this week, in honour of March Break.
The flower pot person project was far too advanced for Henry, but the Mason jar terrarium was exactly up his alley. It was the perfect activity for a 2-year-old who loves to get dirty, methodically scooping stones and dirt into a jar. Of course, as a toddler, he was compelled to do it over and over again. Scoop, fill, empty, repeat. The young lady who was working the craft station was very patient and I was very appreciative. When he finally had enough stones and dirt in his jar, she popped in a little ivy plant, helped him scoop in some coloured sand, and let him select a little ceramic frog to go in on top. He now has his very own plant in his bedroom to talk to and nurture - a plant that he "made" all by himself.
Meaningful memories – CHECK.
I am ridiculously task-oriented. I like to make things happen. I love efficiency and logistics and the feeling of accomplishing things. So God gave me a toddler. And a dog. And a slow-moving husband, but that’s another story for another day. I spend my days with the toddler and the dog, and sometimes I swear they are slowing me down on purpose!
Today I had goals. I had an agenda for myself that involved accomplishing writing for several projects and catching up on coursework during the three-hour window that Henry’s afternoon nap typically affords me. He is a super-busy boy and there is no such thing, for me, as working at the computer while he quietly colours or does puzzles in the other room. If he’s quiet, there’s trouble. So the naptime is my only time to accomplish things.
Henry went down for his nap but did not stay down for his nap. My plans were shot. But it was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and I thought perhaps the boy and the dog and I could go for a quick walk to shake all the crazies out, and then maybe I could (gasp) settle him down with the ipad and a construction show for an hour or so.
Here’s the thing about little boys and little dogs. There is no quick walk. Ever. There are no straight lines and no short-cuts. And there is definitely no steady pace. The two of them, attached together by a leash, are a circus act – a comedy of errors. So I dragged them up the hill to the rail trail and set them free.
Here's the frustratingly beautiful thing about little boys and little dogs. There is no destination for them. The journey itself is always the destination. As Tolkien said, “not all who wander are lost”. Little boys and little dogs are not trying to get anywhere; they are wandering aimlessly. And therein lies the adventure. This afternoon, as the sun shone down on us, those boys engaged in all kinds of shenanigans. There was sniffing and rolling and sliding and splashing and chasing and way too much eating of dirt. I wish I could say that it was just Murphy who was partaking in those activities, but no - Henry went full-on dog this afternoon. But they played with such wild abandon that I envied them. I had already let go of my agenda, and any hopes of keeping either of them clean…. but I still couldn’t possibly let go enough to have as much fun as they were having.
Henry was so filled with delight at being able to run wild and free in the fresh air that he regularly ran at me, flinging his filthy self against me and yelling “I LOVE YOU!!!!” Murphy too, could not resist the urge to jump up on me, tail wagging and tongue flopping, ensuring that I was just as mud-covered as the two of them were. They were ridiculously happy and ridiculously muddy. As we trudged home, we made plans to go out shopping for some rubber boots for Henry and for me so we can return to the glorious rail trail and jump in more puddles.
Once home, Henry played in the back yard while I hosed Murphy down in the shower. Then Henry came in and I stripped him down in the kitchen sink. Our coats and pants and socks went straight into the washing machine and we settled down onto the couch for a cuddle and a story.
I didn’t accomplish much today, except all the most important things. These two always remind me of how blessed I am, to have the freedom to spend these days with them, in the puddles and the sunshine.