food things and poo things

stories for my children

April 8, 2015
by Katharine Blair
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without Peter: making time to make

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The eldest asked me last week what I’ll do with myself once the kids are all grown and I have my days to myself again. “The babe is three”, I reminded her, “I’ve got years before that comes”. “Yeah, but, what will you do”, came the counter and I muttered something about not knowing and having some concerns about that myself before I finally landed on the best answer I could give. I’ll make things.

I’ve always made things. A quilt when I was nineteen, my prom dress, my wedding dress, blankets and shawls and hats. I’ve made thousands of meals and fumbled my way through more bits of renovation and construction than I could ever care to count. The gardens, the clothes, the children. It seems at times that if I’m not making something then I’m probably too busy making something else.

With Peter gone, finding time to make has been especially important. I make meals and copious piles of clean laundry to be sure, but time to make things of substance is often trickier to find.

I’m afraid seven months in I still have no sure fire method for obtaining the kind of balance I’d like between making for survival and making for fun, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped me. Everyday, little by little my hands are sneaking in a bit of work here and there amidst the chores, the shuttling to lessons and the conflict resolution (oh, the disputes these kids have!) and I am slowly but surely getting things done.

Two blankets, a cowl, two period dresses for the girls, a quilt for the youngest, a shawl, a rug, two baskets, and a wrap so big you could curl up in it.

At night watching Gilmore Girls with the eldest, as incentive to fold yet another load of laundry, while watching #3 show me his PlayStation skills, waiting for cinnamon buns to bake, row by row, stitch by stitch, I’m finding the time. Somehow.

January 26, 2015
by Katharine Blair
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handwork

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People who know me will know I don’t sit still. I listen best with the radio on and accomplish more when I’m moving but since some activities, game playing and movie watching for example, require a little stillness I do a lot of handwork. When I was on self imposed bed rest right after Christmas I cast on a little cowl using the end of some beautiful green fingering I had left from a sweater I knit four years ago as we drove to San Diego.

Simple mindless knitting as I lay in bed and rode the subway and sat in the ultrasound clinic waiting room. Just a pretty bit of softness I’ve had on nearly everyday since.

What follow is more of a formula than a pattern and is adaptable to any weight of yarn on any needles. It would also make a lovely gift for someone who needs a pretty little hug they can wear with them throughout the day. I’m calling it Silas and you can find a more proper pattern page for it on Ravelry here.¬† but what follows is more than adequate to get it done. If you’ve never knit before I suspect with a YouTube search or two you could easily finish this in a couple of weeks, an experienced knitter could knock it out in a fairly lazy weekend.

Silas

CO a multiple of six stitches in something nice and stretchy (I used a long tail cast on because I do reflexively)
*A swatch is always a good idea for estimating the number of stitches you want for the effect you’re hoping for but cowls are forgiving and so am I. I just cast on until I felt good about the number I had*

Join your work in the round.

Work five (or more) rows of 3×3 rib which means, in real words, knit three stitches then purl three stitches, repeating until you get back around to the start. Do this until your ribbed section is as tall as you’d like.

Work double that many rows in plain knit (knit every stitch).

Now, at this point it is really nice if you have an accurate kitchen scale or small weight scale. I used mine to weigh the yarn I had remaining and deduct it from my starting total. That told me how much would be needed to knit the end section and gave me the ability to use the entire ball. Without a scale you need to estimate what the ribbing and plain sections used up so you can be sure to have enough left to repeat them at the end.

Begin the pattern stitches.
This is a simple spiraling pattern of knit two togethers (k2tog) and yarn overs (yo). Eventually this pattern will begin to show you what comes next as the rhythm of the spirals emerges but I’m attaching both a written and charted representation of the pattern just in case.

Round 1: yo, knit 4 (k4), k2tog, repeat to end of round
Round 2: k4, k2tog, yo, repeat to end of round
Round 3: k3, k2tog, yo, k1, repeat to end of round
Round 4: k2, k2tog, yo, k2, repeat to end of round
Round 5: k1, k2tog, yo, k3, repeat to end of round
Round 6: k2tog, yo, k4, repeat to end of round

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Repeat the pattern until you have reached your estimated yarn requirement for the final section or until your cowl is approaching the height you’d like it to be.

Work the plain section again followed by the ribbing then bind off all stitches. Weave in your ends and you are all done.

January 24, 2015
by Katharine Blair
1 Comment

talking to children about miscarriage

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His name was Silas. He was conceived on one of Peter’s visits home and was due just two days after our younger daughters birthday. His due date would have been a week from Clementine’s.

On Christmas day I was just over twelve weeks pregnant. We had already begun celebrating with family the week before and so our news had begun to be shared. The kids had known for weeks and had done a wonderful job of forgiving my afternoon naps and putting up with my lack of interest in food.

We woke early that morning, the reflex of parents conditioned by early wake ups in the past, before remembering the kids had been up late and would likely sleep for hours. We made love and it was then that I saw the blood. An hour later the first little set of feet poked out of the bedroom and Christmas had begun.

By the morning of Boxing Day I was standing in the Greyhound terminal waiting for the bus to Barrie. I emailed my sister, the OB, saying I had sex, I’m bleeding how long until we have a problem. As always her reply was succinct and loving. You have a problem now. I passed the message to Peter as we were boarding the bus back home.

On the 27th, the toddlers birthday, I lay the whole day on the couch and began the wait.

On the 28th in the evening the contractions picked up as I traveled back and forth from the bed to the washroom. I watched all six hours of The Staircase while Peter took the kids out and looked after food and entertainment for everyone else. I’m so lucky he’s here was all I could think.

By around nine o’clock the worst of the worst of it was over and I felt ready to settle back in to waiting for the doctors appointment I had booked to confirm what I already knew to be true. In all of this the children were in and out and fully aware of what was happening.

I have neither the patience nor the inclination to shield my children from the realities of life and so just as we had told them the pregnancy had begun, we told them it was over. Our eldest boy, very nearly seven was heartbroken. He didn’t remember when Clementine died and his little heart is just so open it really was difficult to hold myself together to answer all of his questions.

Having lived through the loss of Clementine we knew that being as open as we could with the kids about our feelings while still giving them space to have their own was the most important part of helping them to understand. As always we told them the truth.

When our second was born she was ill, born with a genetic condition she cooked up all by herself, and we have always marvelled openly at how her life and her ability to live it to it’s fullest are a result of medical innovation. She is here today because of the thousands of hours and millions of dollars that were dedicated to research into her condition and the survival outcomes of kids like her. She is the beneficiary of the surgical skills of no less than five surgeons who carry the knowledge of hundreds of years. Had she been born fifty years earlier, she’d be dead. Thirty and her life would be one of pain and limits. Not all babies are so lucky.

Silas, and Clem, and all the others who die before they ever see the light are babies we are not able to save. They have massive complications, life ending¬† abnormalities. They are the unsaveable, those too sick to survive. Imagine, I told my son, what life would be like for one of these babies should they be born into the world. We can’t help them, we can’t cut out the bad parts then put them back together like they did with your sister. If Silas died it means he reached a point in his development he couldn’t surpass. There was something so limiting about his physiology that he couldn’t keep growing.

I am sad, I told him, heartbroken, but I wouldn’t want for him to be born to suffer. Silas lived as long as he could just like all of us, and he was loved. By his parents, his brothers his sisters and all his extended family. He is my baby and your brother and it’s okay to be sad, and angry and sad some more.

This past Monday a ring came in the mail. It is a thin band of hammered rose gold and I wear it just below the gold knot I wear for Clementine and above my wedding band. These babies of mine are as real to me as the one sleeping on my lap right now and just as important.

If nothing else comes of this I hope to have daughters who refuse to grieve alone should they also miscarry and sons who are as heartfelt as their father. May another baby never be lost but until then may another woman never face such grief alone. Talk about miscarriage, with your friends, your family and your children. Hug your children tight.

December 5, 2014
by Katharine Blair
6 Comments

about clem

Four years ago today I miscarried. The word makes it sound short and concise but it really wasn’t.

I was at the museum with a friend just wrapping up our visit when I felt a wetness I couldn’t explain so I ducked into the washroom to check it out. Blood. I was pregnant and bleeding. It wasn’t necessarily the end but it might be and I was alone in a public washroom with no idea what would happen next.

Upstairs I told Marnie I was pregnant and bleeding. The whole thing was news to her but there was no time for explanations. I found a phone and called Peter. He met me at the hospital.

I could talk about the way we orchestrated five kids and my tenuously functioning self on to the subway and home with Marnie. I could tell you about the triage nurse and the doctors and the transvaginal ultrasound I had the following day that felt like an assault to an area already in pain, but what stands out most is the pressure of a useless IV in my arm, the fort I built on the couch where I would spend the better part of the next two weeks and my sister, the only one brave enough to tell me the truth.

At the hospital they took blood and told me to come back for an ultrasound. It wasn’t a sure sign of miscarriage. My midwife told me some people bleed. It’s not a necessarily a miscarriage. My sister, an OBGyn, said “you’re ten weeks pregnant and you’ve been bleeding for hours. It’s a miscarriage”. She also told me what would come next.

“Expect more blood, and cramping. I don’t know why they are not telling you the truth”. I read her my blood results that confirmed I had the hormone levels of a person four weeks less pregnant and she told me point blank: “your baby died four weeks ago, your body is just getting around to expelling it now”.

After I hung up the phone it wasn’t the news that shook me, I expected that, it was the willingness of other medical professionals to string me along. After that call I checked in with my midwife once or twice but it was back to Mila that I went when I needed help.

The next two weeks were all about mourning. I cried on the couch, I shook on the couch. I cramped and bled and mourned on the couch. I tried so hard to be the person my family needed me to be until Peter told me to stop and I did.

By the forth week I realised that I had heard countless women of my mother’s generation flippantly mention that they had miscarried but that no one my age was talking about it. It wasn’t possible that miscarriages just weren’t happening in my circle of friends, possibly that they hadn’t yet, but I was determined that the next woman I knew who miscarried would know she wasn’t alone.

Friends who had never known we were pregnant heard about my miscarriage as did all my sisters. Maybe other people weren’t talking about this but I was going to make sure no one around me went through this thinking they were the only one.

By the end of March we were pregnant with the toddler and I couldn’t stop myself from doing the math, checking to see where our baby would have been, what she would have been doing had she lived. It took me more than a year to stop feeling sadness when I looked at my new beautiful baby boy. He made me happy beyond measure but there was always a sense of what if. In four kids this was my first bout of postpartum depression but I believe the seeds were planted that day at the museum.

Of all the things I did on the couch in that first week the best was to really allow myself to feel the whole thing. We had been close to losing a baby before, our second, to a rare and sometimes fatal genetic disease but we’re so focused, so determined on her survival that as our families prepared for the worst, we never did. This death brought all of it back to the surface so clearly. All that deferred pain and fear pushed right back to the surface again.

These are the things we need to talk about. Babies are being lost, women are grieving and they are complicated women with past experiences that weigh on them and threaten to burst forth from the places they’ve been hidden.

These women need to be heard and held and helped in whatever way they choose but first they need to know they are not alone.

My name is Katharine Blair and on December 5, 2010 I miscarried a baby we named Clementine. I wear a tiny gold knot above my wedding band to always remind me of the baby I lost. I know I’m not alone, neither are you.

For more information about miscarriage: http://www.cfsh.ca/Your_Sexual_Health/Pregnancy/miscarriage.aspx

For information about depression (please get help, I did): http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm

December 4, 2014
by Katharine Blair
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without Peter: priorities, priorities

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I want to document every minute of her now, while I can

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Catan, Small world, Six, Cribbage… everyday

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Getting out even if it’s only to the market

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Brotherteam scouting for salmon

In the lead up to Peter’s move I made a little list of things I thought would make our days easier with one less adult to tend to the littles. It is funny to look back two and a half months since he left and see how spot on it was.

Keep running
Something to look forward to every week
Find a way to delineate weekends
Get outside
Stay active
Figure out the food

Each of these goals has played a part in making our time without Peter as good as it can be.

Firstly, keep running. It was hard at first because the kids had never really been asked to look after each other and here they were adapting to Peter leaving, to going by themselves to lessons, and to getting themselves breakfast while I ducked out for a run, but adapt they did. With the freedom I gain from their proficiency I’m now running a little bit more than I was before Peter left and the kids are benefiting from a mom who has taken a little time to help herself at the start of every day.

Something to look forward to every week is a concept that took a little work at the start but now opportunities seem to find a way to sneak up without much planning on our part. Be it a movie or a visit from a friend, something everyone is looking forward to helps pull us all forward even through a difficult week.

As unschoolers our days happily bleed from week to week, or so we thought. Without Peter, and his work schedule, here to influence the flow of our days we discovered that weeks upon end without delineation are difficult to wrap your head around. As such we started planning weekend-like things for weekend days. A far away park visit, a trip to the movies, a longer adventure, by saving these for the weekend our weeks regained some of their familiar shape.

Get outside and stay active. These two both became particularly important as the cold began to set in. Making sure to get out and move around everyday go a long way for a family of five in a small space. It also has the added effect of wearing little people out such that bedtime moves a little easier. With our four, aged apart as they are, we really have three different bedtimes happening all at once. I’ve got a toddler that needs a long cuddle to settle (no distractions!), the two in the middle go to sleep with some reading and a tuck in, and the eldest grumbles about the reading then reads on her own until we finally take the book and push her wearied self down to sleep. Trying to navigate all of these at once had led to more than one disaster. The first two weeks were really rough, reading was hard to manage with the toddler and no distractions was impossible to ensure. After Peter took over the reading it evened out a little but still the toddler stays up until the older three are settled making for much fun the following day.

Figure out the food has been perhaps the hardest. We grocery shop on foot in all kinds of weather. With the boys I’ll take the bike trailer using it both the move people and groceries, with all the kids we’ll take bags and the bundle buggy but my preference is alone. The reality is that once a week some version of us drags our sorry selves to the grocery store and does our best to gather pantry staples and proteins and cat litter and then every day I run by a grocery store and fill in the gaps. Hitting the grocery store on my run serves to gives me an opportunity to do the job by myself and reminds the kids that letting me get out for a run helps them too.

Again, these goals make our easier but still not preferable. This week with Peter home, I was able to run without worry for the kids, nap in the middle of the day and sit out an activity or two. We miss him, of course we do, but with a little planning it’s not so bad.

December 2, 2014
by Katharine Blair
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choosing to succeed

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Since Peter left for California people ask me how I’m holding up every day. They ask about the kids and the demands of parenting alone 24/7 and whether I am resentful. The truth is, it’s fine. Not easy, but fine with Peter gone for the simple reason that I chose it.

I chose Peter and I chose my family and this morning, just like every morning before it, I woke up and chose them again.

Is it harder this way? Of course. I’d rather wake up to Peter every morning and see him read to the kids in person at night instead of over the internet but that is not the best choice for us right now.

Are there some days that I wake up and begrudge the choice? Yes. For sure, they aren’t even rare, but when I do I’m reminded of how Peter must be feeling, so far from home trying hard not to get used to the idea of trading our family bed for the one he sleeps in alone.

Am I ever resentful of being asked to carry the bulk of the weight while he is gone? No doubt. In the face of this resentment I remember how proud I am off him for all the things he has accomplished, what an example he is to the kids and how much he has given to all of us. In this context, it’s hard to feel resentment.

Marriage is hard, distance is hard and raising four kids alone when you planned to have someone to do it with is hard but watching the person you love grow and thrive and succeed at something they love is the goal of it all. So yes, this week, with Peter gone again, will be hard and sad and lonely but I’ll wake up, see all the ways in which my life is wonderful and choose it all again.

October 25, 2014
by Katharine Blair
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picking through the bones

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This afternoon the kids and I seized what may be the last great day of fall (please no) and set out on our bikes to explore the Leslie Street Spit. This route has been a constant in our lives with each of the kids remembering their first summit of the lighthouse hill by their own steam. Number three hit that goal last spring and now seems ever ready to prove that he’s still got it in him.

Today’s trip however was about closing a circle. Over the past six or so months or eldest has been doing her best to convert all of us to her love of ornithology and slowly over time she has done just that. Today we set off to visit the cormorant nesting ground for the first time since the fledglings set forth, our first chance to walk among the trees they so recently called home.

As late as September males could be seen diligently making the flight from one side of the spit to the other gathering the materials needed to maintain the nest while mothers squawked loudly for their return. Today we were finally able to walk among the remains of their homes to pick through the nests and corpses and bones this mating season has left behind.

We saw the remains of food brought to babes in the nest and whole nests fallen from their high perches, hopefully long after their inhabitants had moved on. There were the remains of predator and prey alike littered among the fallen sticks and at times the magnitude of the corpses was too much for our bird lover to bear.

As we pushed back past the night heron nests (far tidier by comparison) and returned to our bikes it was clear that everyone felt the power of the gift we’d been given by being able to walk among their lives. Like a house frozen in time you could feel the birds around you; hear their voices calling across the land. Even empty that space was never silent as it displayed it’s life in stark relief on the ground.

Returning to the path we struck out for a little lookout from which we had one seen a gorgeous egret standing tall in front of the far bank. Today he was elsewhere but just as we set back the older boy found a tuft of feathers and beside them a hollow wing bone and an owl pellet. Bikes down.

Slowly working our way through the pellet we found mammalian teeth, both front and molars, leg bones of something with a well articulated double bone structure and tens of shards of incomplete bones all bound in the softest, finest feathers. Holding out one of the feathers, carefully flattening it out to it’s full length and width we nodded at each other silently, not wanting to alert the toddler that not all eggs end well.

Back on our bikes we circled the pond and headed for the metal bridge that divides the waters near the centre. Today only geese dotted the surface but the light was perfect and we paused to find each other’s spotted shapes in the sky. The winged shoes of Hermes seemed far fetched, but no, there they were along with a man in a pointed hat and birds and boats galore.

Riding back as the sun set I marvelled at this park, these kids and the way it feels when you get one right. This parenting gig is never easy but it is only through learning from the difficulties that we grow to know ourselves and our kids. Today with its late start and trip to the library before a hearty lunch, the ride, dinner and a movie was no accident. This is a day crafted to fit us. It fed our interests and our hearts. It worked in time to be alone and move at our own pace, time to sit together and share. It favoured each of us in turn which allowed us to cheer each other on.

These days are no mistake. They are the result of me picking through the bones of all the days before, carefully cataloguing the successes and the failures, piecing together our needs until it seems like second nature. When this movie ends they will read with Peter (the wonder of the internet!) then I’ll tuck them in knowing this was a good one and I’ll set to work picking through the bones of the day, rebuilding before we start again.

October 24, 2014
by Katharine Blair
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nails and conspiracies

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I have vivid memories of my mother just a little older than I am now. She’s perched on the couch in the front room of our house on West, feet on the floor filling her nails in one of her long white night gowns. What a ridiculous thing to do I thought as I passed through the room. Little did I know that one day I’d finally negotiate an uncomfortable truce with nail biting and have nails that would require filing of their own.

I was just older than my eldest then and Mom seemed a quite proper adult. It delights me to no end to reach this age myself and find out she was only a person with slightly more experience than I.

Today I filed my nails and painted them a color I would never choose but one I saw so often on Mom.

Today I’ve been chucking to myself as I putter through the day that these children of mine? They think I’m an adult but some day they’ll know the truth. Until then, let’s keep up the charade. Lord knows when they find out it’s going to get a lot harder to get them to do, well, anything really.

October 23, 2014
by Katharine Blair
0 comments

stillness by design

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There is a post all about how we have changed and adapted here since Peter left for California in the works but for today perhaps just a look at how we’ve been spending our days.

With the good weather waning we have been so happy with our decision to get out and explore as many of the parks in this city as we can before we go. Today was the Chester Hill Lookout followed by Todmorden Mills, The Brickworks and the south end of the Beltline Trail.

There was walking and hiking, sketching and a stop by the water to eat but mostly there were the beautiful moments caught between siblings. An older brother encouraging his little buddy to stop and sketch his findings. Two girls, one tall and a little awkward, one smaller and always struggling to catch up. On these adventures I usually lag a little behind, watching, documenting and listening. These children of mine never cease to amaze.

In the woods they quickly set aside their petty differences and become advocates for each other: ‘Mom, he’s having trouble. Can we wait?’, ‘no, it’s really great. It looks just like the tree you showed me’. They spot birds for each other and carry the little one’s scooter without being asked. They seem so happy here.

This is the stillness we’ve been working so hard to create in our everyday lives. Waking by our own clocks, listening to ourselves and each other to find just the right compromise between what needs doing and what each of us wants. Sometimes it’s as easy as trading off who does what or who goes where (oh, the joys of older kids!) but mostly it is a careful dance through the morning as people wake up and find their bearings.

Once we are all gathered and finished making our plans for the day we set out to one corner of the city or another and quickly lose ourselves in the trees.

Interwoven of course are lessons, like karate today, that pull us back onto roads but even then we sneak back home along the water. Throwing rocks into the lake at dusk, talking about dinner and pinhole projectors and the eclipse we only managed to see the beginning of before the city took over, obscuring it from view. This city that I
love, city within a park, you’re making it hard to leave.

August 17, 2014
by Katharine Blair
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revisiting

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I remember the first time I saw the looms in the Meeting House at Riverdale Farm. I was just old enough to understand that in that room crammed full of wood and wool and history amazing things were happening. I still look up at those windows every time I visit. So fun to sit down to do a little weaving at my own loom with a little friend on my lap and know that I’ve found a way to sneak them in.