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love note no.13: dear routine.

There have been a halt in love notes because I haven’t been at a computer.  We spent a few days last week at a friend’s cottage and I have just returned from a solo trip to Chicago to visit a friend.  Because this time outdoors and with friends is so precious to me, I am not on the computer too much.  But with recent events, like my daughter’s sprained ankle and time away, I have discovered a few things…

So let’s try this again.  Instead of 100 days of love notes.  I am amending my project to simply “100 love notes.”  And here’s why…

Dear Routine,

You and I have been going steady for a long time now.  You were the trophy wife to my creativity, to my sanity, to my MO of “getting shit done.”  When I had my babies, you rode in like a knight in shining and armour to slay my dragons of chaos and exhaustion.  You even helped me mount several attacks against my arch-nemesis: laundry.

In fact, we took it to a new level of commitment in recent years and you became a sacred ritual – a morning must and a creative daily project like this one and this one.

And when it came to the kids and homeschooling, your edges became less defined and our relationship had less hard boundaries.  We were officially exclusive and you were a slow and steady rhythm that matched us to the seasons and helped us develop a family flow each year.

But we have had some rocky times lately.

Since we returned from Costa Rica in late March, and entered the Land of Transition, we’ve become estranged.  Sleep schedules have turned upside down – some children need me at midnight while others come to me in the early morning to be held.  I feel like I am nursing again.  With adolescence comes different sleep patterns and with change comes different needs.

My 5am sunrise wake ups haven’t been happening this year on a daily basis.  We are up at night talking, planning, researching, and wondering.  The kids wake up in the middle of the night more and crawl into bed.  They have trouble falling asleep.  I lie with them and stroke their heads. We wake up in the morning disoriented because we aren’t at home.

I have stared at my morning pages, the little piece of you I cling to like a security blanket, with so much to say.  They have become my constant companion transforming into mid-morning pages, lunchtime pages, afternoon pages, evening pages and late night pages.  Every moment I get lost in my head, I throw all the thoughts in there to make space to see clearly.  But I don’t have a dedicated morning time anymore to stay in that space.

We are out enjoying our favourite places with our favourite people savouring every moment we have with them this summer.  It feels like a lot of doing but it’s not.  Yes, we are moving and driving and visiting but we are also being.  So when there is a last minute text to hang out or a day trip to a faraway beach with family, we are saying YES.  Yes to being with the people we love.  The people we are going to miss.

This means saying NO to you a lot.  No to regular bedtimes. No to regular mealtimes.  No to familiar grocery stores and markets. No to pre-scheduled extra-curricular activities. No to sitting at the computer to writing these love notes.

After my daughter sprained her ankle and I looked at our calendar for the next month or so, I have realized that daily love notes is a bit of a stretch for me at this time.  I  made the commitment thinking it would fuel my creativity in this time of uncertainty and become a consistent place to ground.  But it only served as another reason to be hard on myself for not following through.  A chance for my shadow bits to rear their ugly heads and sit on their pedestals to cast judgement.

By trying to force us to return to the same relationship we have had, I forget one very important thing – I have changed.  What I want from this relationship has changed.

I need to loosen my grip on what we had.  I can’t be married anymore.  Not right now.  Mornings don’t need to begin the same every day and my bedtime may fluctuate.  What I loved about you, the solace you gave me, was feeling grounded and centred.  My challenge is to feel that without you, to stop struggling to keep you when what I need is to go with the flow.  This doesn’t mean flying by the seat of my pants and being non-commital.  I can still plan and decide what is important to me.

It means ALLOWING.

Allowing myself to plan around the events I want to show up for.  Allowing my heart to open up to experiences and the moments of connection that are staring at me right in the face that I would not have noticed if my head was preoccupied with you.  Allowing for the unexpected while being gentle with myself.  Allowing for busy days driving all over the place and late morning starts.  Allowing myself to dance in the car in traffic trying to get back into the city for my son’s baseball game that used to be five minutes away from our old house.  Allowing myself to visit a friend on my own for a couple of days just because.  Allowing nature to hold me in her arms every opportunity I can get.

Matthiessen Dells Nature Preserve

Photo Cred: Marisa Mackay-Barnett at Matthiessen Dells Nature Preserve

Allowing myself to say YES to it all (with a manageable to-do list).

For now, Routine, we are on a break as I focus on letting life move me.  This is the only way I can ease in to change and accept that we are living with mostly unknown outcomes for the next little while.  As I detach from you, I detach from the past and the temptation to assume anything.

This is not goodbye forever but I am discovering so much about who I am right now by letting you go.




100 love notes.




love note no.12: dear youngest child.

Dear youngest child,

It’s rare to have time alone with you these days.  You grab your baseball glove and call your dad to come play with you.  I’m the one who calls you in to get a drink or take a break or give you a kiss on the head.  You wave me off and play outside until it gets dark.

A few weeks ago, we had a morning together.  Your sisters all had their own busy lives to lead and we found ourselves alone.  We were downtown waiting for one of your sisters and I asked you what you wanted to do.  Take a walk and explore?  Find a park?  Or my personal favourite, have coffee and talk about life?

After that last option, you gave me a face and shook your head and made a huge sigh.  It’s been a long time since we did something together.  You didn’t know what to do with me.  We didn’t have baseball gloves to play catch and we were in the middle of the busiest part of the city.  You hate crowds and don’t like to walk city blocks.

We sat side by side thinking.  After a moment or two of deep thought, you looked up at me with a smile and said, “I would like a magnifying glass.”

I said, “Come again?”

You said, “A magnifying glass.  If I could get a magnifying glass, we could have some fun.”

I was intrigued and said, “Ok buddy.  I think that’s our first adventure of the morning.  Let’s go find a magnifying glass.”

Surprisingly it didn’t take long to find one.  We walked into one of those stores that sells pretty much everything unrelated and there it was, a magnifying glass.

You grabbed it and looked at everything up close.

magnifying glass

Everything became interesting.  You called me every few seconds to show me the inside of a flower or the intricate movement of a potato bug.

We walked slowly down the busy city block.  I steered you away from the throngs of annoyed people because you weren’t looking where you were going. You had more important things to look at.  I never told you to stop.  I never asked you to stop swimming upstream.

We did make it to a cafe and you didn’t mind sitting with me while I had a coffee because there were so many cool things to look at with your magnifying glass.  You looked at the woodgrain on the table and the little ant carrying the crumb that was ten times its size.  And then we played a game.  I took out my notebook and drew tiny pictures and tiny words and you had to use your magnifying glass to figure it out.

You looked in my mouth to see if you could see all the way to my stomach and in my eye to see if you could see my brain.  As we were waiting for your sister on a bench in the museum, you discovered something cool.  You said that you could make light dance with your magnifying glass.  I watched as you played with the reflection of light on dark and on the pages of my white notebook.  You wondered and I didn’t give you the answers.  I wondered along with you.  I didn’t want to box you in with what I already knew.  I wanted you to come up with anything and everything your imagination could conjure up.

The little piece of light waxed and waned.  You said it was like the moon.  You made the light shape shift into tadpoles, shooting stars, and ice cream cones.

In one morning with you, I looked closer than ever before and watched light dance.  I lost myself in your world.  I let you lead the way.  It would have been easy for me to lead that morning instead. I could have run errands with you.  I could have been on my phone.  I could have made you sit in a cafe with an activity book while I read my own book.  I have done all those things before.

But that day, I wanted to follow you.  I was curious to see how you see.  You see things I don’t.  You give me permission to get on my hands and knees in the middle of a busy intersection to see a graffiti drawing up close even though I know the light is about to turn yellow.  You make me jealous of your childhood because you actually can’t see what I see, from eyes that are accustomed to grown up worries and fears.

I know that you are growing up.  I see how you go to Daddy first and how he makes you kiss me goodbye.  You still curl up in my lap when you are tired or sick but I am not the first person with whom you want to have fun.  But I will remember this day with you every time I am too busy to listen to your stories or to stop and look when you need me to.

The day I looked close enough to see what was really important and the day I first saw you make light dance.  I know it won’t be the last.

I love you,



love note no.11: dear patience.

Dear Patience,

It feels like we hardly know each other.  I admire you from afar as I see you emerge in others.  I, on the other hand, haven’t made your acquaintance.  We have not been intimate bedfellows or even cooperative neighbours.  Sometimes we don’t even share the same postal code.

But today I found you in the most unexpected place.

The emergency room.

My nine year old daughter has a badly sprained ankle.

ankle sprain

Yes the daughter who loves to move her body from the moment she wakes up to the moment she passes out after pure exhaustion late at night, the one who is practicing one-handed handstands, the one who has been playing volleyball every day for hours and hours until no one wants to partner with her anymore.  Yes that one.  When she did it, she cried in pain that is unusual for her so I knew something was wrong.  She was sidelined.  She couldn’t stand on it.  To make sure it wasn’t broken, we headed to the emergency room aka Hell on Earth.

Here is where I surrendered to the chaos of the hospital and found you.

My daughter was so angry.  She started to cry not because she was in pain, she now had a handle on that, she cried because she was pissed off.  She had to sit there in that wheelchair and wait.  She couldn’t move.  I have never seen her sit for so long.  Every time she would think about sports or an upcoming cottage weekend with friends, she became livid.  It wasn’t fair and she didn’t know what to do with her emotions.

Two days ago I wrote about her ninth birthday.  I talked about how important movement was for this child.  As she sat there in that wheelchair tearing up over not being able to do the things she loved, I couldn’t find the words to make her feel better.  She was raging and I let her.  I held her hand.  I put her bum ankle in my lap.  I didn’t try to make it better.  I channeled you instead.

A few hours passed and we sat.  We finally saw a doctor who told us it wasn’t broken and that someone would come by and wrap her ankle in a bandage and give her crutches.  An hour later and still no one.  You were quickly beginning to thin.  She was about to blow.  I was about to blow.  We both took deep breaths and a nurse came by and asked if we needed anything.  I told her what we needed and she helped us out.  She taught my daughter how to use the crutches and she jumped out of her wheelchair on her good foot, chomping at the bit to get going.

We were finally free to go.  We parked a little far from the emergency department and I didn’t want to leave her by herself.  It was starting to get late and it was starting to get busy there.  She started following me on the crutches and called out to me.  It was too hard.  She wanted to give up. She was exhausted.  This was taking too long. She wanted to walk, to run, to jump.

I looked at her and said, “One step at a time.  Don’t rush. You can do this.  You are one of the toughest kids I know.  Let’s go.”  She hopped back on those crutches and started to talk to herself, “I can do this.  Come on.  I can do this.”  We went slow.

I wanted to rush again but you held me back.

This sprain was a lesson for both of us.  A lesson about you.  A quick temper doesn’t change the situation.  I found a definition of you that said “a calm endurance of suffering.”  That is not something I have demonstrated.  Yes to the endurance part.  But calm? No way. I sprained my ankle in 2009 and remembered what a pain in the ass I was to everyone and my husband and you became BFFs.  Now it was my turn to support my girl through this.  I know exactly how she feels.  I freaking hate it when things don’t go my way.  But of course they rarely do especially with five kids so over the years, I have softened enough to get to know you on the regular (or maybe the kids have just worn me down and it really isn’t you that I have found but quiet capitulation).

Working with you takes practice and when I am tired and hungry and sitting beside an inebriated man who wakes up every two minutes and yells, “Rhonda!” in the “yellow zone” aka back closet of the emergency room waiting area, I have to dig deep.

Now that I have soothed her to sleep and told her how much I know it hurts and that it will hurt for awhile, I can step back and see that you weren’t so hard to conjure up after all because I have discovered the root of your very word – pei.  It means to suffer and endure.  But there is another meaning.  It means firm and unyielding like a river’s current.

Well if you put it that way, I understand you.

I will be unyielding in my compassion for this child that will be forced to do one thing that she feels she can’t do – rest.  I will be firm in my love for whatever she needs to feel for however long she takes to heal.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.





love note no.10: dear library.

Dear library,

We miss you.  We miss our Tuesdays hanging out all morning at the library.

our favourite library

You don’t understand our love for you.  It borders on unhealthy obsession for some of us.  Some of us have lamented that you aren’t open on Friday nights so we can go out and party it up with you, perusing your aisles at leisure on a date with ourselves.

And as a homeschooling family?  Sweet Jesus.  You have saved us.  You are the gatekeeper for all of our resources.  Homeschoolers are traditionally one income households.  This means that we just can’t buy all the books that the curriculum of choice recommends.  There is an anxiety like no other than entering the name of a needed book for an upcoming block and clicking “search” to see if it is available at the library.  And the feeling when that book shows up as not only existing at the library but available for pick-up?  One word: orgasmic. (To my homeschooling peeps, you know what I’m talking about.)  The only thing slightly more exciting is when ten holds come in at once.  What shall I read first??? Gah!

Some days you have been our oxygen mask, our time out.  When we have felt cooped up from prolonged illness or inclement weather, you are a breath of fresh air.  Your audio books maintained our sanity on road trips.  You were a rainy day activity or a centre of research or a muse of inspiration.

We have been known to have 30-40 books out on loan.  While my husband reads one book at a time, you can find me rotating through at least five books during the day.  I have spiritual reading, some non fiction reading, curriculum themed reading, poetry, and of course, fiction for bedtime.  Sometimes I finish the book, sometimes I don’t, often reading exactly what I needed to read that day.  The kids all have their favourites too.  One loves thrillers, one loves fantasy and fiction, one loves non fiction, one loves craft books, and one loves books on panthers.  (Yup, just panthers. Last week, it was pumas.)

The library has become a place more than a resource for learning.  It is a lesson in itself.  A lesson in not having to buy everything.  We can borrow and give back.  We don’t need more things.  We can appreciate a book and even if it’s the best book we’ve ever read, we have to let it go.  If they really love it, then they can take some time to think about it before buying it.  It is also the equalizer.  Everyone has access to knowledge.  Everyone.

Right now I am reading A House Somewhere: Tales of Life Abroad.  Edited by Don George & Anthony Sattin, it is a collection of stories from different authors writing about their adventures in building a house and creating a home in a foreign place.  You would think that I looked this book up in light of our current circumstances and sought it out in your shelves.  But no, it found me.  One of my favourite sections is the travel section.  I like to read travel writers.  I wasn’t looking for any book in particular but there is was – this book that would have meant nothing to me a year ago but now feels written for me.

I stumble upon books like The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.  A great little piece twisting a familiar epic and telling it from the female perspective.  It hit the spot.  It’s what I needed to read.

This is the magic that happens to me with you.

I love how the kids could go down to the kids section and hang out while I wandered the stacks.  We did toddler time with all the kids and listened to the librarians tell stories.  I read story after story with many children squished in my lap on that blue cozy blue couch.  And I never got sick of saying no over and over again to the kids as they asked for a treat for that bloody vending machine in the snack area.

My kids missed you so much that when we were in the city today, they asked to visit you.  They hung out there for two hours with their grandfather while Chris and I renewed our passports.  But the best thing about you is that we can keep in touch while we are abroad.  As long as we have some internet, we can take books out on an electronic device in the jungle.  Or we can start our own little free library or book exchange keeping your spirit alive wherever we go.

As much as the kids think of you, they are excited at exploring a different one near their grandparents’ house.  A new library card and a new library to get to know.  They wonder if the children’s section there is any good: Do they have reading nooks? Do they have a good selection of picture books?  Do you think that they carry different Kit Pearson books? (My third daughter’s current favourite author.)  This is the same library that I visited every day when I first moved to this same area after my mom remarried when I was twelve years old.  It was my best friend and my sanctuary.    A place for me to lose myself in my imagination and in other people’s stories so I didn’t have to deal with my own.  I taught myself how to draw with the books in this library.  I copied down poetry from books in this library.  It is in this library that I fell in love with Tolkien, Bradbury, Asimov, and Clarke.

As they struggle through this transition period, between homes and facing a lot of unknowns, we will visit you as often as we can and spend time in the new library around the corner that once helped me through my own transitions.  I know what it’s like to read a good story where I watch a character finally live the life of their dreams.  And although they don’t see it yet, we are writing that story together.  But for now, maybe your magic can lead them to a story they need to hear today.

Thank you for helping my children fall in love with books and for allowing them to learn about anything they have been curious about.





love note no.9: dear fourth born.

Dear fourth born,

It was your ninth birthday on Saturday.


Each year on your birthday, you always want to move.  You are a Leo summer baby.

This birthday was a little rough because we had just moved out.  Your first birthday post-moving. We were camping so we all did what you wanted to do.  We hiked, played volleyball, swam in the lake, raced on the boogie board to the buoys, you buried me in the sand, and played some more volleyball.  The one thing I wouldn’t let you do was jump into the lake off a pile of rocks on the trail we were hiking and scale down a cliff.

I was exhausted by noon.  You never stopped smiling.

I have been asked about your “nine year change.”  When your sisters approached their ninth year, I could see how unsettled they were becoming as their growing sense of self made them feel uneasy. Their third grade year was full of building a “place to call their own.”  One sister built a desk for her own space to create artwork and another built a teepee and an outdoor playhouse as a place to retreat.  I could see why they needed these cocoons of safety.  The emerging consciousness was too much.  Instead of feeling connected to the world, the world started to feel very large and separate from them.  They could see themselves apart for the first time.  Their temperaments shifted after their ninth year.  You have also shifted.  But not in the ways that I expected.

You have become, for lack of a better word, more balanced, emotionally speaking.  More even keel.  Your growing self-awareness has had the opposite effect on you than most children at nine.  It is almost a comfort to you.  As I begin meditating on each of you, like I did last year for our homeschooling year ahead, a theory of your changes has slowly taken shape.

You were born with this amazing awareness of your body that we have all admired.  You are kinaesthetically intelligent and have had a beautiful connection with your body since birth.  You have always needed to move, to challenge yourself physically, to feel ok.  When you don’t, you melt down.  Without movement, your energy explodes in other ways.  I believe this self-awareness that normally comes on at nine years old has been there since the beginning.  Because of your tantrums and anger, we have had to talk about what it means “to watch yourself.”  From a young age, we talked about what it feels like to feel the anger coming, sometimes we called it “the dragon.” I told you stories of angels slaying dragons and how we all can play both roles.

Lately we talk about the person that lashes out as not being “the real you.”  We talk about the person watching it happen, unable to stop the outburst, the one lovingly just standing back, as the real you.  You have had to become self-aware early because of the need for extreme physicality and what happens inside when you don’t release the energy with your body and you release it with your emotions.  I know that it has been difficult for you as a young child when the people around you don’t understand.

Your morning warm-up in your old room before coming downstairs to greet the day…

M_morning wake up

Now that you’re nine, I see the relief.  The relief that you have settled into yourself.  The self-awareness feels normal now and you are equipped to manage your encounters with yourself because you have had time to make friends with “I.”  Where the self becomes an abrupt realization for some children at nine, you have had to adjust in sometimes forceful ways in early childhood.  You are better at watching now and are comforted knowing you have the ability to choose again and again.  Choice doesn’t paralyze, it empowers.

Over the last month, you have wanted to move and you have wanted to use your hands.  You have wanted to bake, to craft, to sew, to knit, and to do pottery.  I have made it all happen.  I have sensed the urgency in your requests.  I woke you up at 6am to bake bread and you hopped out of bed without your normal moans of being shaken out of bed.  You have found craft books at the library and scoured materials in the recycling bin and craft cupboard and made things in your spare time.  You finished all your knitting  and sewing projects that you left undone over the last few years.  You begged me to keep the small loom to work on an unfinished bag strap that your sister had left unfinished.  And finally, we signed you up for a pottery camp with a friend.

You wanted to make things out of clay.  More specifically, you wanted to make yourself bowls, mugs, and pinch pots.  You loved every minute of the camp.  As you talked about using the wheel to make a bowl for yourself, and how it felt to shape the clay, I realized that this was your version of building a shelter, a place that was your own.  On some level, you have figured out that we won’t have a house to call our own for a long time, a place to hold us, to contain us.  So you have been drawn to creating a container for you. Vessels of your very own to hold food and water.  You poured your energy into these containers that hold what nourishes you.  We can’t give you a physical house to do that for you yet so you took it upon yourself to take care of this need in your own way.

Before the firing…


About half way through the camp, you flat out told me that you probably could get to camp on your own with your friend.  It wasn’t a difficult walk to the subway and riding the subway was pretty straight forward.  Turns out you don’t see the world as big and scary and separate.  In fact, I see you now connecting more with the world.  I quizzed you on possible subway scenarios and you answered each one matter-of-factly.  I still said no and you rolled your eyes.  I said you could lead the way and that was good enough for you.  For now.


Just like your other siblings, you are one of the great teachers in my life.  Thank you for teaching me what sheer will power looks like and how the greatest thing I can do for my body is to get to know it, to be aware of it, and to love it with every movement I make.  Thank you for being patient with me as I have tried to navigate how to always meet you where you are and that I am learning to never assume you will stay the same, that none of you will stay the same.

You inspire me to make and to move.  The two things that I have neglected for the last month.  You take me out of my head and remind me to let my body lead.  To trust that it knows better.

To see it as home.  The amazing container of my real self.

Thank you and I love you.

Happy birthday,



100 days of love notes…




love note no. 8: dear mama.

Dear Mama,

I almost forgot to show you the following picture tonight before we left your house.

sharbot lake

Chris and I woke up to watch the sunrise across the lake, steps away from a tent that housed all the pieces of my heart, the day after we moved out.  We sat in silence for a bit listening to the early morning birdsong and the lone frog in the marsh. Then we took a moment to talk about home, loss, and what we left behind.  But this act of watching the sun rise reminded us not to forget that this was also a beginning.  A beginning of dreams coming true and a choice to live differently.

Thank you for this.  Because of you and Mike, we were able to sit in this beautiful spot to breathe it all in, to sit in all of it without rushing to move on to the next step.

You invited us camping again this year.  Because camping coincided with the closing of our home, you offered to take care of all the food.  We even asked if you could set up our tent since we would be arriving in the evening.  You and Mike did that and so much more.

We arrived after dinner and the sight of the tent set up beside your tent and the smell of food almost brought me to tears.  Mike and the rest of your friends made sure we were fed.  Mike told me you went on a hike to watch the sun set.  He also told me how you got into trouble from the park ranger the night before for laughing too loud.  Amazing.  This is all a miracle to me: camping with you, you hiking in the woods, and you having way too much fun with your girlfriends.

For the last couple of years, I thought I was the only one pushing my edges.  I never imagined we would be camping together or that I would need you this way.  I would need my mom.  Not the mom of my childhood, the mom of my teenage years, or the mom who was around in my twenties.  I needed the mom who continues to show up for all of us.  This is the mom right in front of me.  The mom I have always wanted.  What we have now, what we have worked so hard to build, is a miracle.  The product of unrelenting forgiveness and a liberating love.

I have never seen you have so much fun outdoors.  I don’t think I have ever even seen you in hiking shoes before.  It’s very cute. You even used the outhouse a couple of times instead of driving to the “nice” washrooms.  After pointing out the white pine to you, I watched you use a needle as a toothpick.  I think our jaws dropped at that point.  You were playful, relaxed, peaceful, and soft.

I am so grateful for not having to worry about food or pretty much anything this whole weekend.  I could sit and have my coffee and rest.  You didn’t let me help.  You puttered around the stoves and the prep area, doing what you do best – cooking for others.  You spent time with each of the kids and made #4’s birthday on Saturday a special one by finding a place to buy a birthday cake.  And when we got home, you invited us to the movies and threw a surprise birthday party for #4 with the rest of the family.  We slept over last night and you kept on cooking.

Thank you for holding the space for me in a setting where I least expected you to.  Thank you for taking care of me, Chris, and the kids.  Thank you for laughing out loud.  Thank you for being you.

I am so grateful that you are my mother.

I love you,



100 days of love notes…



love note no.7: dear new owners.

After we did the last bit of moving and cleaning up on Friday, we headed camping which explains why I have missed another day of love notes.  I needed a day to reflect on the following love note.  It was a tough one to write but a needed one…

Dear new owners,

On Friday you moved into our old home.  I want you to know that I did my best to clean it out especially because in our closing agreement, the term “broom swept” was emphasized.

That little bit of housekeeping was the last thing we did while the house was still ours.  We swept it out.  My oldest daughter took the broom and swept the main floor first.  I watched how she silently she swept it.  The rest of the kids were outside.  I stood there watching her sweep not sure what to do with myself.  I wondered what she was thinking.  She never really volunteers to sweep but she wanted to do this today.  I feel like she had to do this.

After she was done, she passed the broom to me.  I had already swept most of the debris the day before.  The bits of lego, crumbs, and stray bits of our everyday had littered the floor.  Today I felt that this last chore was a formality.  I was going through the motions.  I was going over every bit of floor space as slowly as I could.

Sweeping had always been meditative for me.  When the kids were little, I would grab the broom four or five times a day.  Some think it’s a futile endeavour but I happen to love the act of sweeping the floor.  When life was chaotic with five children, I could grab the broom and focus on this one thing.

Sweeping was the first thing I did when we arrived in the house after we took possession almost ten years ago.  We only had three kids at the time and they weren’t with us that first night when we moved in.  I was exhausted from moving from a small townhouse to this larger semi-detached home.  As I swept the middle bedroom for the last time, I smiled to myself as I came across a white paint splatter that was still on the floor.  I remember not putting a tarp down as we painted in a hurry those first few days in the house.  I wanted the middle room painted before the kids came home.

The middle room was for #2 and #3.  They were getting a bunk bed while the eldest would get her own room.  It was a perfect sized home for a family of five.  But the night we moved in, I didn’t feel well.  That night I would make my husband run out to the store to buy a pregnancy test.  That night we found out we were expecting our fourth.

I swept and reminisced.  With each sweep, I came across yet another mark we made on this house.  Two coats of trim paint couldn’t cover the growth chart that is outside the middle bedroom door – a physical reminder of time passing. I did a sweep under the master bedroom window and stopped in front of it to look out at the kids playing in the driveway for the last time.  This is where I would stand and watch.  I would stand and watch all of them as I rocked a baby to sleep, as I sipped my coffee, as I gathered myself for another round of refereeing.  I swept inside the linen closet which is the perfect hiding spot for hide-and-seek and even better for a game of sardines.  My second daughter once decided it would be her bedroom when our fourth was born.  I think she moved all her things in there as a protest for having to share her room with yet another sister.  It’s also perfect for a clubhouse or secret hiding place for extra snacks.

I want to tell you how the basement can fit three mattresses side by side for family sleeps for those hot summer nights or those rainstorms that scare your babies.  And the basement is perfect for a haunted house.   Sorry there are no locks on any doors.  We just never got around to it. The upstairs bathtub can fit three kids comfortably, but four if you can rinse them in less than a minute.  Watch out for the corner on the top high counter when the kids are going through a growth spurt.  Each of my children except the last one who hasn’t quite grown tall enough yet have pierced their head on the corner closest to the dining room.  The shed can fit ten bikes easy.  The best place for a Christmas tree is in that corner to the right of the fake fireplace.  (Trust me, we have tried every possible place in that living room.)  The stairs are perfect for mattress sliding (if that’s the type of thing your family is into).  The kitchen can fit five kids around the stove taking turns to flip homemade perogies. The dining room can also be a volleyball court, an art studio, and a school room.  Speaking of the school room, there used to be a chalkboard painted on the wall where the stairs are – it is where I learned to be an artist again.  The porch is perfect for star gazing, lunches and dinners al fresco, private (enough) talks, and a perfect spot for an adult time out.  The front window is perfect for looking out at our magnolia tree through the seasons.  Make sure you are around in May when it blooms.  We missed it a few times over the years and the kids were always disappointed to come home to green leaves on the tree and pink petals on the ground.  I’m sorry we got rid of the tree stumps in the back.  I wasn’t sure if you saw them as “debris” or as my kids saw them: endless props for their make-believe narratives.

Oh and the floor creaks and we love it that way.

I swept down the hall to the small bedroom at the back of the house.  It was my eldest daughter’s room for most of our time there.  There were a lot of cuddles and conversations in that room.  A year ago we moved her with her sisters to the master bedroom while my husband and I took this room for ourselves.  I wanted the morning sun and my growing girls needed more room.

Just outside this room is a special place where the stairs meet the hallway.  We have a decal of words up that our family has lived by all these years.  We have spent many times reading it to the children reminding them of who we are.


But you may notice that the space slightly to the right of it is worn out.  It is the space where once you get upstairs you are turning to head down the hallway.  I stop here with the broom because I feel it the most here.  I feel the overwhelming love for this house.  I feel the weight of knowing that I will not have this spot to stand in anymore.  You see, this is the place where I have stood and embraced every member of my family.  It is the place where we meet in the middle.  It is the place where we soften. I go up the stairs to say sorry or to check on them and they come out of their rooms to seek me to try again.  They know where to find me.  In that spot.  In front of those words  – our intentions, our family statement.

As I stood there one last time reading it, my fourth child came up the stairs beside me.  She read it out loud.  For the first time, I heard her read it all out loud.  Our theme song. I started to cry and she hugged me in that spot and went downstairs.  And then another child came out of the middle bedroom.  She saw me standing there.  She ran to me and fell into my arms sobbing.  I held her one last time in this halfway place.


I held her there for a long time.  And then we all held her together.  It was time to leave.  It’s time to move forward.

As I swept this house for the last time, I wanted to tell you our story.  I had this idea of making a map for you.  I wanted to be able to give you a tour of this house through my heart.  Maybe you would understand then what this house means to me.  I want to tell you that I leave here feeling mostly relieved.  Relieved that we did it – that  did it.  I did the thing that I never thought I could do, that I was scared that I would never do when I had my baby eighteen years ago.  I made a home.  The first home I never wanted to leave.  The first home that my kids will hold all their future homes as a standard – a home filled with tradition, a home filled with laughter, a home filled with love.

But of course, I won’t leave you a letter with all of this.  That wouldn’t be fair.  You will create your own manifesto and write your own story with your family.  I hope you feel how much love circulated through the walls and in all the rooms.  I hope you take care of this place that has given so much to us.  I have swept out the old for you so you can make it new again.  We did our best to leave the most beautiful energy for you to start your life in this house.

And maybe you will see a yellow bird on the wire outside the bedroom window.  If you do, it’s probably just my grandmother making sure we’ve moved on.




100 days of love notes…



love note no. 6: dear community…part 3.

I know, I know. I am a day late but for more than 24 hours, with a small sleep break, I have been occupied with moving.  Packing, cleaning, donating, moving, negotiating, compromising, and having our last supper of shawarma in our beloved house.

But of course, we didn’t and couldn’t do this final move by ourselves like pretty much everything else in our lives, we had help.  So this letter today is for a special group of people that have had my back during our years in the east end.  My tribe of peeps.  

Dear east end girlfriends and my homeschool peeps,

You guys.  No words. Well, of course I have some words for you.  I have had lots of words for you, some of them vulgar and unbecoming.  But you loved me nevertheless.  And you have listened and laughed, mostly at me, but laugh you did.  You commiserated and we bitched in unison which at times sounded just as sweetly as birds in song.

You know the saying, Birds of a feather, flock together and talk about our kids over a bowl of chips and hummus and a cup of coffee, and on those bad days, a bar (or two) of chocolate. (That’s obviously the homeschooler version.)

In When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “There are two important days in a woman’s life: the day she is born and the day she finds out why.”

My grandmother passed away in 2006.  I have told you this story before. After she died, I felt her guide me back to East York – back to the place of my beginnings and the place where I have felt some of the happiest moments of childhood.

The first morning that I woke up in our beloved east york home, the one we have just said goodbye to, I saw a yellow bird sitting on a wire outside my bedroom window.  She just sat there staring at me.  It was if she was saying, “You are home.” I haven’t seen her since.

I was re-born in East York in 2006.  And I didn’t know why at the time. I didn’t know why my grandmother was pulling me back.

But now I do.  It was to find you all.

Our biggest life choices began at that time – having a larger family, homeschooling, Chris taking a risk to work online to spend more time at home, eating food grown closer to home.  Choices that I don’t think I would have made without being surrounded by a tribe that nourished me in every stage I needed it.  They shone light on things that I took for granted.

Each of you have taught me something about myself.  A different variation of my own voice.  With you at my side, I could safely rewrite the story of a girl spending childhood in apartments overlooking a ravine system I would come to know dearly because of you.  I hiked weekly with a baby strapped on my front while “gently” guiding a three year old while my other children frolicked ahead in all kinds of weather.  We mamas camped on our own with our babies which I never in a million years imagined I could do.  I jumped in Ontario lakes for the first time ever because of you.  I learned that to know when to soften and when to be firm enough to set boundaries is probably the greatest strength a mother could learn which I did while listening to all of your stories.

I stood in awe of women holding space for their children to be who they’d to be, nursing outdoors and in cars in below freezing weather, building fires and tending them so we all could stay warm, giving permission to their children to dream big, and saying yes over and over again despite exhaustion and illness.

But we can say yes to these people over and over again because we have had each other.  I take your kids.  You take mine.  You have taught my children when I couldn’t.  You have hugged my children when I couldn’t.  You have taught me to forgive myself when I couldn’t by saying, “Yeah, me too.”

“Word by word, the language of women so often begins with a whisper.” – Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

We may have begun with whispers. But the memories of how we met elude me.  You are my everyday.  My normal.  Our language is a different one.

In one of the kids’ outdoor programs, their mentors taught them how to do a bird sit.  Everyone goes to various places in the ravine and sit quietly for a length of time and then listen.  They listen to the bird talk and the bird song.  They map out where they heard it and roughly when.  And then we all gather back and compare notes.  From all these different perspectives and songs, a story is told.  Someone talks about a group of chickadees totally freaking out.  Someone else says from their position they saw hawks circling.  The kids learn the different types of birdsong and what they might mean – mating, frolicking, danger, hunger, etc. Once you can interpret the song, you understand the language of the forest because birds are the storytellers.

I know your song.  I know your eyeroll and that heavy sigh.  I know when you say “I am looking into this other math curriculum” that means I should come over and talk you off the ledge. I know what February to April does to your homeschooling: sledding, skating, and afternoon playdates.  And friends who don’t homeschool or who are ex-homeschoolers, I know your frustration with school and the busy-ness of life.  This is my song too.  All of it.

We all sing different tunes and have unique flight patterns.   But I have found a tribe of women, my squawking flock, that find solace in knowing that we all end up singing the same song.

“The sin we commit against each other as women is lack of support. We hurt. We hurt each other. We hide. We project. We become mute or duplicitous, and we fester like boiling water until one day we erupt like a geyser. Do we forget we unravel in grief?”  – Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds

Fortunately, I have had you all during the good times and the bad times.  But now I am unravelling in grief.  I have nothing to say.  My cries are my song.  Thank you for knowing when to ask and not to ask how I am doing.  Thank you for the hugs and the gentle arm squeezes.  Thank you for the laughter to break the seriousness.

Thank you for helping me clean out my house and pack it up.

I am sure I will write another love note to you all within the next 100 days. I am sure I have forgotten some act of kindness and camaraderie that needs to be acknowledged.  But mostly today, I appreciate you for helping me through this process.  You understand this decision even when the outside world may not.  By virtue of being a homeschooler or being my friend in general, you probably do things unconventionally.

And of course, I can’t find a decent picture of all of us together.

East ender forever.

Love you,



100 days of love notes…



love note no. 5: dear community…part two.

For the next few days until we leave our house for the last time, my love notes are dedicated to our neighbourhood and community we have built for the last ten years.  They are love letters to places and people that have helped raise our children and who have supported our family in different ways.  In ten years, we were able to create a small town feel in the middle of a big city.

Today’s note is a blanket love note to all our neighbours on our street who have offered comfort, solace, encouragement, care, support, and love to our crazy homeschooling family of seven…

Dear neighbours,

First an apology.

our lovely burdock

I am sorry for letting the burdock grow to heights that make you cringe.  But I love this plant for many reasons besides it’s medicinal qualities. I am sorry for leaving the bikes out and the porch full of beach gear.  I am sorry for the after dinnertime ball bouncing in the alley. I am sorry for forgetting that I have left the windows open and you had to hear for the thousandth time my rhetorical questions such as “Why do people leave dirty dishes on the counter when they should know what to do?” or “Am I the only one that notices the spilt rice on the floor?” or my personal favourite, “Can someone tell me why on God’s green earth would anyone put back an empty fill in the blank  in the fridge?”  I am sorry that we knock on your doors to borrow an egg or two or a cup of something at least once a week.  I am sorry I may have missed returning a greeting because my head was down while I marched five kids in the van to avoid being late.  I am sorry for my kids sounding like elephants while they went up and down the stairs on the other side of our shared wall.  I am sorry for turning up the dancehall so loud first thing in the morning because it was the only music that would wake my body up.  I am sorry for all the house parties with my rowdy family and out-of-control homeschooling friends (you know who you are).  I am sorry that my husband works out daily with his shirt off in the backyard. (Actually, I’m not so sorry for that one.)

Not once did you complain about any of it. (Okay, maybe you did mention the burdock a couple of times.)

Instead you bought and planted native flora in the front yard because it was an easy-to-take-care-of solution when my hands were filled with babies. You accepted my children’s baked goods on festival days, sometimes choking down the pastries with burnt bottoms with the kindest of expressions.  You asked sincere questions about homeschooling in the beginning and became open to another option of learning.  You embraced me with pride when my first born got accepted into a university program of her choosing, an achievement that I think we felt we all shared.  You talked to me about spirituality, childbirth, single motherhood, poetry, travel, parenting, trauma, and of course, the damn burdock.

I could confidently send my children out to play each day, sometimes locking the door from the inside for sanity reasons, and know that there was a whole street looking out for them.  Rather than berate me for letting my children play outside unsupervised (and perhaps without enough clothes on in the winter), you looked upon it as refreshing and wished the rest of society would follow our lead.

You talked to my children about their sidewalk chalk art, their volleyball tournaments, and their driving lessons.  You took the time to show them the tiny cracked robin’s egg you found and the hawk that might have been the guilty culprit.  You let them pet your dogs and smell your pretty roses, both of which I couldn’t keep while raising little ones.  You gave them babysitting jobs which allowed my second born a sense of independence and confidence while being an arm’s length away from home and which also helped fund my first born’s world travel.  You hosted a lunch so that I could meet your friend’s daughter, an ayurvedic postpartum specialist, and sat for hours as I picked her brain.  You egg on the kids as they chase Chris and I around the house with the hose on a hot summer’s day.

You were our little village.  You made us feel safe to be unconventional out loud.  You even offered my oldest a place to stay if she needs to be in Toronto.  Home would not be the same without any of you.  We all live so close together that we can hear each other’s phone conversations and yes, even intimate exchanges (again, sorry that I left the windows open).  We know when each other is home and look after each other’s houses when we leave.  When we were away in Costa Rica these past two winters, you shovelled our driveways, collected our mail, and emailed us updates.

We take turns taking the garbage/recycling and green bin to the curb.  Sometimes we do it, sometimes you do it.  Whoever gets there first.  No one keeps score.  We all know that each one of us are just trying to do our best.  When I mentioned to a neighbour how rage-y I had been as a teen and how I do succumb to lady rage from time to time, she looked at me shocked and said that I was the most peaceful person she had ever known. Cue hugs and tears.

We may not know every detail of each other’s lives but I know enough to see that my family has been surrounded by genuinely good people for the last 10 years.  We were the last ones to move in and are the first ones to move out.  I can’t believe we are saying goodbye.

We love you and thank you for loving us right back.



P.S.  My last parting gift will be removing the burdock.  You’re welcome.


love note no. 4: dear community…part one.

For the next few days until we leave our house for the last time, my love notes are dedicated to our neighbourhood and community we have built for the last ten years.  They are love letters to places and people that have helped raise our children and who have supported our family in different ways.  In ten years, we were able to create a small town feel in the middle of a big city.

Today’s bite-sized notes are addressed to various places and people who have supplied some of our food that fed us physically – fresh and local fare mixed with grocery runs.

Dear local farmer’s market,

The kids spent the morning making thank you cards and letters for you.

farmers market cards

With images of sweet potatoes, honey bees, and strawberries, the kids wrote to their favourite vendors. The ones who we have visited every Tuesday from May to October for almost 7 years.  The Honey Lady.  The Sweet Potato Guy.  The Smoothie Man.  Mr. Cinnamon Bun and Mrs. Pepperette.  The Melon gals. To name a few.

You have been a reliable homeschooling resource.  Because of you, I have been able to teach my urban children where their food comes from, how it is grown, and what “seasonal” truly means.  We have had some great discussions at the dinner table about whether we should continue to buy bananas because of your presence.  They have taste tested a variety of apples, peaches, mushrooms, and melons and have an appreciation for growing their own little plant gardens from seed.  They have had the opportunity to learn to budget and to meal plan with just using local foods.  In addition to locally grown fruits and vegetables, you have surprised us with your other wares. We have bought Indian food, sprouted pea plants, chocolate mint, the fanciest stinky cheese, and bread named “Maria” from your stalls.

For the last six years, we have celebrated our first day of school with you.  As kids and parents hurried to get to school, we leisurely strolled down the street to hang out and have our first lessons in the park next door to you.  I remember pulling a wagon with two, then three children with one in the wrap.  We would buy a couple bushel of tomatoes and bring them home for freezing.  And we soon became known as that “homeschooling family” because we would be there to chat and to sample and to enjoy your presence on an ordinary Tuesday morning in the spring, summer, and fall.

We have made scavenger hunts centred around you and sang seasonal songs based on the treasures you keep.  You have also been a place to go when I needed a break, buying myself that sweet potato golden brownie and shoving it down in sweet bliss while the kids were off looking for that elusive rainbow zucchini on the bottom of the shopping list.  Thank for playing along. Wink. Wink.

We shared our love for you with other homeschooling friends with whom we would meet and sit on those park benches by the secret passage through the hedges.  One friend introduced us to the service berry trees that lined your perimeter and it always made me giggle a little to watch our children pick the trees when they ripened while market-goers shopped for berries.

Like many things in our neighbourhood rhythm, I will miss you.  Tuesdays are actually called Market Day in our house. Thank you for being a 10 minute walk away.  A 10 minute walk to fresh food and familiar faces…

honey lady

sweet potato guy

This year they are changing the way you look.  They have ripped up the grass in the centre where the vendors used to set up.  There is a little more concrete.  You are still a work in progress and we may not see you finished any time soon.  But goodbye and we love you.

farmer's market reno




Dear local grocery store ladies and gentlemen,

Today the kids also made thank you notes to you.  You beautiful people who have spent the last ten years watching my kids grow as we shopped at our local grocery store.

You are wonderful cashiers, customer service staff, stock people, bakers, deli and cheese staff, and managers that have made grocery shopping an amazing experience.

Yes. You heard me right. I had five young children and LOVED going to the grocery store for a decade.  This was because the people that work at our local grocery store became our extended family.

There were times when I was exhausted and you held my crying baby or gave a balloon to a toddler distracting them from a tantrum.  There were times when I was functioning on so little sleep that I couldn’t remember why I was there and you helped me find what I needed through guess-and-test and charades.  You signalled me over to the express checkout even when I had more than eight items (more like 300 items) because the kids were starting to get restless or the baby needed to nurse and you didn’t flinch when people complained.  When we had extra long chats and you talked to the kids individually at the checkout, and the customers behind us would start grumbling, you ignored them.   You always had our back.

You saved 50% off items for me.  You directed me to the organic items on sale even though you thought I was crazy trying to feed a family of seven paying an arm and a leg for this food.  You helped me search high and low for Borax when we needed it for a science experiment.  You took time to listen to my third daughter ramble on about her fourth birthday party even though you had about a million boxes of crackers to stock.  You gave us all hugs every time you saw us. You gave my fourth daughter free cookies at the  bakery when she went to get the sourdough sliced. You were the village aunties and uncles I needed in the middle of winter when all I could manage was to get four snowsuits on to go to the grocery store.

And you knew our names. You knew each and every one of our names.

It was not hard to be a young mom of five in that grocery store.  There was no judgement. No one made assumptions. You only showed compassion and support.  Everyone knew we homeschooled and looked forward to our daily visits in the morning when the store was empty.  While we homeschoolers worry about letting our kids out of sight in fear someone may “report them,” the grocery store was their safe haven where everyone took care of them.  And lately I would sit and have coffee and chat with one of you while my kids did the shopping.

This is Lorraine.  We love her. She opens a cash register up just for us every time we go so we don’t have to line up. Her son just got married.  She is an amazing woman.  She’s a young mama too.


I remember watching my daughter try to order at the deli.  I don’t think the deli guy could see her and she wasn’t speaking up.  Customers kept ordering ahead of her. I watched a manager come out of nowhere and help her himself.  He noticed her standing there and I could see him asking her what she needed and he went behind the counter and took care of the order himself.

You taught my children that the world is a loving place and that they matter, that their existence matters to you.

And today I cried in the middle of this busy grocery store.  I cried because I told them all how much I appreciated their small acts of kindness and patience and how grocery shopping with five children is a feat in and of itself and how they made it such a pleasant one.  We said goodbye and hugged.  You called people on the P.A. to come say goodbye and all of our favourites came off their break to give my children free chocolate and the biggest of bear hugs.  You took our picture and placed our thank you note and our pic on the staff bulletin board and expressed how nice it was to hear something good instead of another complaint.

When I first entered that grocery store ten years ago, my goal was to feed my family’s bellies.  What I didn’t expect was how you all would feed their hearts and spirits too.

Thank you all and we love you.




100 days of love notes…