Saturday, October 17, 2009

We are all Christopher Columbus

You are preparing to set sail with your three ships and all of your crew. You are the lead and the one responsible for all of their welfare. What you know is that you are setting sail from Spain and the goal is to reach India. Most of the population, contrary to today's popular belief, know with some level of certainty that the Earth is round. Aristotle, way back in the third century BC has explained this to the world after observing an eclipse. Yet the belief in some circles still persists that the sailors would at some point fall off the planet into unknown oblivion. What if Columbus himself secretly harboured doubts about the roundness of the Earth? What if he would have had a tether to the dock in Spain on some mystical level, or a self imposed limit that "I will go this far but not any further" just in case? What if he had secretly thought they might all be wrong?

Imagine now you are a few miles from the New Continent but you cannot see it. You do not even know it is there. India's out there somewhere but your crew is anxious and worn out. You have secret moments of panic. What is out there? What do you do? What do you tell your crew?

We all know how the story ends. But I confess I have found myself in the shoes of Christopher Columbus for the greater portion of my life...only the stake was much higher than finding India, or a few unknown continents. My struggle was with God Himself. I was educated in religion quite thoroughly, from the time I was small straight through University and into my adult life through my own studies. And yet knowing all these things about religion still left a gaping hole. I harboured a fear somewhere deep inside that at my core I was an atheist. It was unthinkable and horrifying to finally acknowledge. It was not the thought of a non existent Afterlife that bothered me, it was much more profound than that. It was a bigger fear of losing all that was Good in the world as I had known it. These things that are Good, if you will, are our very own Markers- those things that bring you back into Belief that there is something Greater out there in the Universe. Seeing a living creature being born or going through the stages of death are two of these Markers that can serve to make you a Believer very quickly. Nature in all of its beauty is another. So are moments of Enlightenment between you and someone you love. But as much as I Knew, I could not shake the fear that I was deceiving myself. It was much easier to Believe than not Believe. Until I ran into a brick wall in the form of a four year old.

Death is hard. No two ways about it. Wren, who is now four, had to learn about death way before I was ready to have the conversation. We were faced with having to put one of our cats to sleep. I did not have the faintest idea how to explain this to such a young child. I did the unthinkable- I allowed her to be in the room as Gaston passed away. It may prove to be one of the best things I have ever done as a parent. It introduced very tough concepts into her world at an early age. Death. God. The Soul. Heaven. Permanence. Infinity. And there were very little worlds I could rely on to help me explain all of it to her. Over the past few years the topics have come up regularly. She is coming into full realization what the concept of imagination is and I knew this would be a struggle for her to reconcile with her view of what God, Heaven, and Afterlife are because she cannot "See" any of those. I kept saying to myself that if only I was not so limited by my words. And it was after thinking this a few dozen times that I had a moment of Enlightenment myself. It was not that I was a secret atheist... it was that I would not allow myself to acknowledge that a great part of my Faith I would never be able to put into words. I would never be able to rationalize it to anyone else, or myself for that matter. It was out of my Realm. It was God. It was all that was Good. A lot of it is beyond my scope- there, but I just cannot see it from where I stand.

Wren asked me tonight if God Himself comes to get you when you die. Minefield. I want to choose my words so carefully now that I realize how entangling they can be. I answered her in the only way I knew how- that it was a Surprise. A big one- perhaps the biggest one she will ever have. She is fully aware that parents sometimes die very young and leave small children behind, and this worries her. But she also knows that there is usually a natural progression where people grow old and die after raising their families. I explained it might be God, but there was also a very good chance it could be a Great Grandparent, Grandparent, or Daddy or myself. It all depended on the "when" part of the question. How do I know this I asked myself tonight? I just do. I know it enough to realize that I do not need the tether, real or imaginary, to guard me "just in case". Sometimes, like Columbus, you just have to set sail.

Note: The painting above is by Graeme Wilkinson. Acrylic on canvas.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Our Little House


Wren has adored the first four and we are saving the rest for Christmastime. Over the years I have stashed 1/4 scale dolls and accessories away in hopes of someday building a replica of the Little House home on the prairie. Finding things in this scale is quite difficult but I have found salesman's samples of household goods to work very well. Most are old, however I am always surprised to find that they arrive in good condition. Our plan is to gather all the items first- which may take years, and then build the house around the three rooms we complete. The original Little House had just a Keeping Room separated with a quilt for the parents sleeping area, a loft for the girls, and a lean to off the back of the house.

A lot of detail is given in the books about what the Ingalls had and did not have. Originally, I had planned to do a dollhouse a lot like that of Tasha Tudor's, but I feel now that there is a very valuable lesson to be learned from recreating the simplicity of a pioneer's life. It is a dual lesson in make-do along with a reality of how hard life was for people back then. Since we use wood stoves to heat our home, Wren is very familiar with the cast iron beauties, but learning that they also were responsible for heating all the Ingalls food and baking has been an eye opener for her.

The rope bed is not an unfamiliar concept as most of our beds have been on slats, one of them being a reproduction where the holes are visible where the ropes would have been. We used a sewing machine to make a burlap hemp tufted mattress, surely an extravagance in Laura and Mary's day as they would have most certainly slept on hay stuffed mattresses. A gingham sheet and handmade patchwork quilt provide the dolls with snug evenings. We have yet to find a sixteen inch Laura doll and hope to find one in blue. We will simply switch out the girls clothes to have Laura in red and Mary in blue, just like the books. These are the details that Wren picks up on. One of the neat things about our Mary is that she is wearing a simple bead necklace, just like the one the girls make for Carrie from the Indian beads they find with Pa when walking to the deserted Indian camp.

The girls have a pair of snowshoes and old wooden skis, both familiar concepts to Wren as we love winter sports. We sometimes snowshoe up the half mile to retrieve the mail at the road, and there are a lot of times that I would much rather shoe our way out than risk sliding off the road into the ravine or lake. Winter in the country can be a hair raising affair.
So our next book in the series is A Long Winter as we saved Farmer Boy for next summer. I think this will be a good story for the coming winter, as I do believe we are in for a long winter ourselves.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


There is something incredibly precious about little hands and little feet. I have wanted to document our children's' hands for some time now but did not want to do the traditional print in plaster. I also wanted to be able to show them how tiny they were in both the relation to each other and to us, their parents. We had fun doing simple paper outlines and had to rework them a few times to get them to nestle inside of one another. Then Wren picked out the embroidery colors for each of us, and an extra one for little brother or sister who is on the way. We stitched our outlines on to a hemp burlap and left the cloth in a painted embroidery hoop. The children liked to watch me stitch this up before bedtime- it was the same effect as knitting for them, calming and interesting to watch all at the same time. We will place the other little hand inside of Dane's sometime this Spring and then it will be complete. I have been using my 1960's sewing machine a little more as of late, but still find the method of hand stitching to be more soothing to the hands.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

An Apple a Day


Mother Nature has seen to it that we are being kept on our toes. What was a leisurely day a few weeks ago turned into an all out fiasco that had my six foot five husband and yours truly doing a jig dance of some sort while trying to catch a Brown Recluse before it sprinted into the plank flooring. My husband was lying on the couch and casually glanced toward the southeast window in the great room saying there was a spider web behind the curtain. I got up to examine the situation and knew immediately this was trouble. It was huge, tornado shaped, and disappeared into the hemp curtain. What was worse, it was just inches from our daughter's play kitchen. I motioned for some help and watched my husband's eyes grow big as he saw the full view of the structure. He pulled the curtain down from its place in one swoop because we weren't going to take any chances of this thing biting us as we fiddled with the web. Now the problem was coaxing it out, which was no problem at all as the thing sprinted immediately across the floor. I screamed scaring the tar out of both Wren and my husband. We threw the curtain back over the spider and my husband's size fourteen shoes called an end to the saga. The thought of that thing getting away was hair raising. I spent the next few hours looking for more webs. We found three on the back porch last week. I nabbed one in a beautiful Red Ware paper towel holder just this afternoon. I am over the spiders already. We have Wolf spiders the size of small rodents... this is the last thing I need. We began a quest to find a friend with Hedge Apples. We found a lucky owner and brought home a paper sack full. I was so reluctant to call an exterminator- I just hate the thought of chemicals. But I wondered about the Old Wives Tale of the Osage Orange. Would it really work? Well, let me tell you, after today's encounter in the paper towel holder, I dug into that paper bag faster than lightening. So I am about to find out. The fruits are hard and bumpy and it took a very large steak knife to do the job of getting one into six slices. They bleed a milky substance that is like glue, though they do not have a very pungent odor. If the scent can be described at all, it is like that of orange cleaning solution. The slices are resting happily in the tops of the windows on the main floor. We shall see how accurate the Old Wives really are. All I know is that if I have just a few more heart stopping encounters like the ones I have had recently, I am going to be sporting some Old Wives white hair! Just in time for Halloween...