Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mama, are you happy?

I get asked this question every day, several times a day. By my three year old. It is unnerving, but it also serves as an interesting check-in.

He asks it if he senses anger or irritation or sadness in me. Rarely does he ask it when I am actually in a moment of joy. It makes me pause every time he asks, because I'm never quite sure how to answer. I don't think he means it in a general sense. He means it in the moment, the only thing that exists for a three year old. And usually when he asks, I am not particularly happy in that moment. I hate to tell him that: "No, I'm not happy" because he seems to take it personally. He's told me, tearfully: "Mama, I just want you to be happy!"

That absolutely breaks my heart.  It is too much for a three year old to be concerned with his mother's happiness. I start to worry that this last year, which has been such a struggle for me mentally and emotionally, has somehow had an effect on him. And really, how could it not? We spend all of our time together. He's seen me at my absolute lowest. I just hope I can minimize the damage, or at least give him some perspective.

So, when he asks me "Mama, are you happy?" I try to let him know that what I'm feeling is my own, and not his, burden to carry. I tell him that I'm tired, or that I'm frustrated because or that I just need to get out of the house. Aedan constantly asking me to examine my mental state helps me to not completely lose it. It reminds me to examine what's going on in my head, to look at the reason behind why I am reacting the way that I am. It holds me accountable.

I do love the times when I can tell him, honestly, that yes, I am happy. And when I ask him the same question, his standard answer always makes me laugh:

"Aedan, are you happy?"
"I am just a little bit sad because I lost my t-rex."

(It's taking him a long time to get over that one.)

Some days it drives me crazy, the constant asking of that question, but at the same time, I've come to be so grateful for it. He really is my little guru.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The woodpile

If "getting your moose" defines fall in the Klondike, then "getting in your wood" certainly defines winter. Whether you have your own woodlot and cut it yourself, or (like us) you order it from one of the commercial woodcutters in the area; whether you prefer birch or spruce, fire-kill or clean, bucked or bucking it yourself, getting in a few cords of wood is hugely important around here. So many of us at least partially heat our homes with wood heat. Here on the Dempster, it's our only source of heat, and our woodpile is looking mighty fine these days.

We order our wood from a guy named Doug. We've spent the last couple of days bucking (cutting the logs to stove length with a chainsaw), splitting and stacking several cords of wood. It feels good to see all those neatly stacked logs: it is a warm, secure feeling. 


Saturday, October 18, 2014

A moment's peace

It's not been the best of days for me. Full of self-doubt and self-loathing. 

But now, as darkness begins to fall, I sit in a pool of lamplight listening to Chopin while Colm sleeps in my lap. Outside, it has started to snow. P and Aedan have made a bonfire and I can hear the wood popping. Soon, they'll come inside, and we'll have a simple dinner of pea soup and toast. And then it will be bedtime, and tomorrow will be different again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Colm is 1!

My sweet little Collie-saur,

I can't believe you've already been with us for a year, and yet it feels like you've been with us forever. 

With your sparkling blue-grey eyes and your silly little laugh, you bring so much joy to our family. You are such a good-natured little boy; through the very worst of your eczema, through all the rough times with your big brother, you still smile so easy. You wake up smiling every morning (unless you've been woken up too soon) and that smile carries you through the day.

You can be quite serious, too, watching me or Aedan with your curious gaze, your mouth drawn into a pout of concentration. You take the work of packing and unpacking things very seriously indeed, putting all the blocks you can fit into your little shape-sorter. You like to pack and unpack yourself, too, into baskets and boxes.

I think you're going to be a little dare-devil, like your Auntie Brea was, only because you seem to want to do whatever it is that your big brother is doing. Leaping over the back of the couch? Sliding down rocky slopes to the pond's edge? You are all too eager for these things, and you're not even walking yet!

In the last couple of months you are finally taking more than a passing interest in food. You don't seem to be much of a breakfast man, but you love chicken and turkey and tofu, hummus, noodles, rice and beans. You seem mildly interested in vegetables but you won't give fruit the time of day. Except for that one time, when you ate three blueberries. You love drinking water, especially from Mama's cup, and you're fast learning how to handle a cup by yourself. 

You like turning the pages of books but don't seem to care about hearing the story. The dogs make you laugh. You love crawling and tumbling all over our big bed, and you're even starting to rough-house with your brother--or at least, you seem to be a willing participant in his rough play. It scares the crap out of me, but I try to follow your lead. 

You clap and you wave and you're just a delight. We love you so much, Colm Ferguson, and I can't imagine our family without you.

Happy 1st birthday, little love!


Saturday, September 20, 2014


Something I've really been enjoying lately is watching the connection grow between Aedan and Colm. They just love each other so completely, without reserve or qualification. Though Aedan can sometimes get a bit carried away, he's generally full of kisses and pats. He'll tell Colm when he's getting into something he shouldn't ("No, Collie! Get out of there!") or offer random toys to him. He just can't wait for Colm to wake up in the mornings, and usually speeds the process along by climbing over me and bestowing kisses all over Colm's face and arms. And then sounds really surprised when he wakes up. "Oh! I think he's waking up now!" It's so sweet.

Colm clearly loves his big brother, too. He can dissolve into a fit of giggles just by looking at Aedan. He crawls after him where ever he goes, and lately I've noticed him trying to do what Aedan does. We were at the pond the other day, Aedan throwing rocks (of course) and I watched Colm edge as close as he could get to the water, pick up a little rock, and drop it in. He did this multiple times, watching his brother carefully. I've noticed him do the same with sticks, at the river. He also tries to stand up on the arm of the couch, and launch over the back of the loveseat beside it, something Aedan does a million times a day. I'm beginning to realize that I'm going to have to watch this little one very carefully!


Parenting two kids is often exhausting. I have little time for myself (which is partly my own fault, I'm terrible at making time for myself, but that's another post.)  Watching these two grow together, though, is immensely rewarding. I wonder if they'll make up their own secret language, hiding out in a fort in the woods around our house. I picture them wrestling on the living room floor, or skipping stones at the river. I see so many shared adventures ahead of them, and I hope they'll always be friends.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


3rd Birthday
Little Aedan,

Yesterday was your third birthday. We had your first ever real birthday party, with your friends and Yukon family coming out to the house for a bonfire in the afternoon. You were so excited to have your friends visit! Every time a car pulled into the driveway, you ran alongside the dogs to greet them, barking just like Cilla barks. You had fun playing dinosaurs with Tristan and visiting with Tante Cat and Megan. We sang to you, and you blew out your candle.

I can't believe how much you've changed in the last year. You speak so well, and you are fearless when it comes to trying new and multi-syllable words (especially dinosaur names, like euoplocephalus and brachiosaurus). You run, and jump, and go up and down the steep stairs to our loft with no problem. You finally like the bath, but you still hate having your teeth brushed.  You're not so obsessed with diggers anymore, but you sure love your dinos and your sea creatures.

This year, we ended our breastfeeding relationship. You weren't very happy about it at first, but things are so much better between us now. You sleep the whole night through, and when you do need comfort in the night, you tuck your little hand inside my shirt, against my skin, and that seems to be enough.

One thing that has stayed constant in the last year: your love of throwing sticks and rocks into water. Forget slides and swings...give you a river and a rocky beach and you're occupied for hours.

You love a little touch of maple syrup on your oatmeal in the morning, and soy sauce on just about everything else. You love french fries, and tofu, and peanut butter sandwiches and frozen peas. Berries of any kind seem to be your favourite fruit these days.

You are really asserting your independence, and I try so hard to respect that and to give you space to be you. But sometimes I think you disagree with me just because you can. If I'm sitting in a certain chair, you will insist that I am not sitting in that chair, that it is your chair. I could observe that it is a beautiful sunny day and you will assure me that the sun is not shining. It's hilarious and maddening at the same time.

Perhaps the biggest change in your life this year has been becoming a big brother.  You have welcomed Colm into our family whole-heartedly. You've never seemed jealous. You love him (a little too hard sometimes) and I'm so excited to watch you grow together.

You delight me, you frustrate me, you amaze me. I feel so lucky to be sharing this life with you.

Love, Mama


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Our Home in the Forest

Welcome to the September 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Home Tour

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have opened up their doors and given us a photo-rich glimpse into how they arrange their living spaces.


Our home in the forest
When I look out of any window in our house, I see only trees: birch, poplar, aspen, and spruce. Mostly spruce. Our home is made of spruce: big logs peeled clean by my husband's hands form the high-ceiling'd family room, and smaller squared logs make up the kitchen and loft, the original building on these five acres. We heat our home with spruce, and birch, too, There is birch in the woodstove now; it smells faintly sweet.

We live off-grid: our house runs off a deck of 10 deep-cycle batteries. During our short summer, we get a boost from our solar panels, and run the generator every 3 or 4 days to fully charge the batteries. In the darker months, we run the gen-set more like every 2 days. We've got some running water now, too. We fill a 250 gallon storage tank in our house with water we transport from town in another tank on the back of an old pick-up truck. So far we've only got the kitchen sink plumbed, but the propane on-demand water heater makes doing the dishes or bathing the babies that much easier (before, we heated water in a big kettle on the stove). We shower in town. And we use an outhouse. Even at forty below. I grumble about it but I've seen some awesome displays of the northern lights while stumbling outside to pee in the night. It is a reminder to be thankful for the little things.


Our house is cluttered and usually messy. P and I both have a love of books, so the book shelves are filled until they break with the weight. There are books in stacks on the floor, books lining kitchen shelves, books in the windowsills, books balanced on the side tables. We try to cull every once in a while, but very few seem to make the cut. I tend to be more ruthless, but only by a little bit.


The kitchen counters are crowded with jars of oatmeal, beans, lentils, spices, and jars of wildcrafted herbs: raspberry leaf, rose hips, plantain, labrador tea, and yarrow. There are boxes of tea, a tin of coffee, bottles of oils and vinegars and hot sauces. There is a bowl of fruit, a copper tea kettle, a loaf of bread, a jar of fermenting water kefir. There are glasses of water half-drunk, and always, always a stack of dishes: it seems to cycle from one side of the sink to the other, dirty then clean then dirtied again: rarely do they find their way back to the dish cupboard. 

Our loft, where we all share a Fraken-bed, is reminiscent of my teenaged bedroom, which is to say: the bed is never made and there are clothes everywhere. It's embarrassing. No one gets to see it but us.

Our home is unfinished, cluttered, dusty, a mine-field of blocks and dinosaurs and dropped bits of food. I've struggled with this off-grid life; it wasn't my choosing in the beginning. Even recently, I've posted about wanting to move to town. But these days, I see the beauty in where we live. I see the unique opportunities it provides our boys. I've come to love the wide open space: 5 titled acres, and nothing but forest, river and mountain all around. I love the total silence, and the complete dark of the nights.  I love the possibilities.

Thank you for visiting our home up the Dempster!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon September 9 with all the carnival links.)

  • Being Barlow Home Tour — Follow along as Jessica at Being Barlow gives you the tour of her family's home.
  • A Tour Of My Hybrid Rasta Kitchen — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama takes you on a tour of her kitchen complete with a Kombucha Corner, a large turtle, her tea stash, and of course, all her must-have kitchen gadgets. Check out Hybrid Rasta Mama's most favorite space!
  • Dreaming of a Sisters Room — Bianca, The Pierogie Mama, dreams, schemes and pins ideas for when her younger daughter is ready to move out of the family bed and share a room with her older sister.
  • Building a life — Constructing a dream — Survivor at Surviving Mexico-Adventures and Disasters shows you a glimpse inside the home her family built and talks about adaptions they made in constructing their lives in Mexico.
  • Why I'm Sleeping in the Dining Room — Becca at The Earthling's Handbook welcomed a new baby but didn't have a spare bedroom. She explains how her family rearranged the house to create Lydia's nursing nest and changed room in spaces they already had.
  • The Gratitude Tour — Inspired by Momastry's recent "home tour," That Mama Gretchen is highlighting imperfect snapshots of things she's thankful for around her home. Don't plan to pin anything!
  • Our Home in the Forest — Tara from Up the Dempster gives you a peek into life lived off-grid in Canada's Yukon Territory.
  • natural bedding for kids — Emma at Your Fonder Heart shows you how her family of 3 (soon to be 4) manages to keep their two cotton & wool beds clean and dry (plus a little on the end of cosleeping — for now).
  • I love our home — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings explains how lucky she feels to have the home she does, and why she strives so hard to keep it tidy.
  • Not-So-Extreme Makeover: Sunshine and Rainbows Edition — Dionna at Code Name: Mama was tired of her dark, outdated house, so she brightened it up and added some color.
  • Our little outdoor space — Tat at Mum in search invites you to visit her balcony, where her children make friends with wildlife.
  • Our Funky, Bright, Eclectic, Montessori Home — Rachel at Bread and Roses shows you her family's newly renovated home and how it's set up with Montessori principles in mind for her 15-month-old to have independence.
  • Beach cottage in progress — Ever tried to turn a 1980s condo into a 1920s beach bungalow? Lauren at Hobo Mama is giving it a try!
  • Conjuring home: intention in renovation — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama explains why she and her husband took on a huge renovation with two little kids and shares the downsides and the ups, too.
  • Learning At Home — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling helps us to re-imagine the ordinary spaces of our homes to ignite natural learning.
  • My Dining Room Table — Kellie at Our Mindful Life loves her dining room table — and everything surrounding it!
  • Sight words and life lessons — The room that seemed to fit the least in Laura from Pug in the Kitchen's life is now host to her family's homeschool adventures and a room they couldn't imagine life without!
  • A Tour of Our Church — Garry at Postilius invites you virtually visit him in the 19th-century, one-room church where he lives with his spouse and two kids.
  • Preparing a Montessori Baby-Toddler Space at Home — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the Montessori baby-toddler space she's created in the main living area of her home along with a variety of resources for creating a Montessori-friendly home.
  • The Old Bailey House — Come peek through the window of The Old Bailey House where Erica at ChildOrganics resides with her little ones.
  • My New House Not-Monday: The Stairs — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl shows you her new laminate stairs in her not-so-new-anymore house.
  • To Minimalist and Back Again — Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how she went to the extreme as a minimalist and bounced right back. Read how she finds it difficult to maintain the minimalist lifestyle when upsizing living space.
  • Our Life As Modern-Day Nomads — This family of five lives in 194 square feet of space — with the whole of North America as a back yard. Paige of Our Road Less Traveled guest posts at Natural Parents Network.